This week, I explore the lip category, which has moved beyond lipstick and liquid lipstick in favor of other, more skin-beneficial varieties.
“I’m a lip-gloss girly; I wear lip gloss every day,” said Laney Crowell, founder of the clean minimalist makeup brand Saie. “[A traditional lipstick] is just not us. We’ll never create something that isn’t nourishing or great for your skin.”
Such a bold statement may have been contentious as little as three years ago, but today, Crowell’s sentiments are du jour for the cosmetics industry. Since the beginning of the year, brands including Gisou, Tata Harper, Iris&Romeo, Summer Fridays and Charlotte Tilbury have launched some version of a lip oil, a lip crème, a lip gloss, a tinted lip balm or an otherwise innovative take on traditional lipstick. Kendo-owned Lip Lab, which relaunched in March after focusing for years on lipstick, began offering customizable high-shine glosses in its storefronts this month. In June, even Kylie Cosmetics, an early acolyte of liquid lipsticks in 2014, launched a selection of tinted butter balms. Crowell’s statement about wanting to create more nourishing and beneficial cosmetic products encapsulates a bigger shift happening in the cosmetics space, with the ascent of lip products that eschew the traditional lipstick format.
Crowell said Saie products are formulated through the lens of “Saie Science,” or the brand’s idea that ingredients should nourishingly penetrate the skin barrier. Saie’s newest product, Glossybounce lip gloss, debuted Tuesday. It contains a fatty acid complex called SFAC, which includes polyglycerides and jojoba oil.
The lip glosses on the market now are not the same as those of yesteryear, with their gloopy stickiness and artificial tastes and smells. Instead, today’s lip glosses offer users the chance to nourish their lips just as well as if they’d used a traditional balm, if not better. At the same time, they offer a non-sticky shine and a barely-there touch of color that complements a no-makeup makeup look. Other popular lip products include lip oils and overnight masks, which offer similar nourishment. As a result, lipstick and its cousin, liquid lipstick, are no longer the basic building block of a beauty collection of a person’s routine.
According to Circana (formerly IRI and NPD) data, the first half of 2023 was a great boon to lip makeup, though the data did not specify sub-category products. Lip makeup was the fastest-growing segment across all the beauty categories in prestige outlets and mass merchants. Gen-Z consumers are likely the drivers of this industry shift toward non-lipstick lip products, as they are likelier to wear lip gloss than any age group. Nearly 70% of Gen-Z makeup wearers said they use gloss, compared to 55% of other makeup wearers. Furthermore, Gen Z is the least likely consumer to wear lipstick, at 48% versus 62% for the total consumer base of makeup wearers.
Simone Xavier, founder and co-CEO of cosmetics brand Sigma Beauty, said she saw the shift in the lip category emerge as early as two years ago, attributing the change to the at-home routines of the Covid-19 pandemic and the decline in the heavy artistry-focused makeup looks popularized in the late 2010s. After examining social media and following beauty trends, she saw how customers, influencers and other beauty community members were decluttering their makeup routines of lipsticks. At the same time, they were complaining that liquid lipsticks were drying, she said. In addition, retail partners including Dillard’s and Nordstrom began informing Sigma Beauty that liquid lipsticks were not selling as strongly as they had before. Sigma Beauty quietly began phasing out its liquid lipsticks in Nov. 2022, offering them on sale or $10.50, which was a 50% discount. The most popular shades, Nude Mauve and Cor-de-Rosa, will be repurposed in a new lip cream product that the brand will launch in September. The lip creams will feature nourishing ingredients like jojoba oil, vitamin E and hyaluronic acid. Sigma Beauty has already leaned hard into the lip care category: It launched a lip balm in 2020, a lip oil in 2021 and an overnight lip mask in 2022.
“What people are willing to put on their lips right now is lip oil or a lip cream,” she said. “It’s a shift from the heavy makeup to a more natural look.”
Sigma Beauty also sells through Target, QVC and Saks Fifth Avenue, and is distributed in 70 countries. Xavier said that retail partners in India and the Middle East were actually displeased of the liquid lipstick discontinuation due to regional preferences for bold colors, lending credence that changes in the lip category are predominantly an American trend.
Like Xavier, Crowell said she suspects that the global health events of 2020 spurred this new approach to lip products, particularly as skin care took center stage over makeup and people expected their beauty products to do more. “Why have a lip gloss that only looks good, when it could also be plumping and nourishing?” she said.
Other brands have adopted a similar viewpoint. In 2021, Lawless Beauty debuted its Forget the Filler franchise with lip glosses offering hydrating and plumping features and color. Forget the Filler expanded to skin care in August, utilizing the same core peptide and hyaluronic acid formulation technology.
Aside from Saie’s and Lawless Beauty’s efforts to show that makeup can have skin benefits, brands like Laneige have likely deeply influenced what different lip product formats can offer consumers. The Laneige Lip Sleeping Mask, which is a best-seller for the brand, made Laneige the top-selling K-beauty brand at Sephora. Lip sleeping masks are now available from Glow Recipe, Lawless Beauty, Tatcha, Mario Badescu and E.l.f. Beauty, to name a few new adopters.
“What our customers respond to is that their skin looks so much better because the products melt into your skin and are easy to apply. It’s how you get the effortless no-makeup makeup look,” said Crowell.
Saie offers another lip product called Lip Blur, which is creamier and has more pigmentation. As part of Glossybounce’s marketing, Saie will feature side-by-side imagery of the two products on models to show how they differ. Saie sent free products to 30 content creators who are friends of the brand for feedback and social posts.
But like all things in beauty, the trend will change with consumer desires. Perhaps Gen Z will grow up and want more sophisticated lip products. Or, lipsticks and liquid lipsticks may adopt better ingredients and become both hydrating and matte or offer long-wear ability without drying out lips. The trend is expected to stick around, offering lips some much-needed TLC. But when lipstick does come roaring back, we may not even recognize it.
“Makeup trends are all cyclical; as with fashion, everything can return at some point,” said Xavier. “But [bolder makeup] will not come back as liquid lipstick. The industry may still use that product format, but it will come up with a name so innovative that people will think it’s a new product, but it’s not.”
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