HomeThe science of cosmeticsHow Does Make-Up Work?How does lipstick work?

Lip products are one of the most widely-used cosmetics, and come in a variety of forms, including glosses, shimmers, mattes, sheers, lip-stains and long-lasting colours. The basic ingredients have much in common but the quantities of each vary according to the effect desired.

Lip products contain a blend of waxes, oils, pigments and emollients. The wax gives lipstick its shape and makes it easy to apply. The most commonly used waxes are beeswax and carnuba wax. The oils include olive oil, mineral oil, castor oil, cocoa butter, lanolin and petrolatum. These give the lip product its shine and the slick feel. Lip glosses contain more oils and fewer waxes to make them more liquid and glossy.

More recently moisturising agents such as aloe vera and vitamin E have been added to lipsticks to help keep lips soft.


Lip products are evolving constantly, with new products offering enhanced effects and textures.

Some lipsticks now contain UV filters, which work to protect the lips against sun damage as well as adding colour and texture. Others create a 'shimmer' or 'moist' effect by adding a pearlising agent.

You can also try longer-lasting "lip stains" which use dryer oils (e.g. castor oil) that set to form a tough shiny film when dry. Like cling-film, this film helps to protect the lip colour from being rubbed away by drinking or eating.

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