Saturday, October 9th, 2010

Lipstick Comparisons: $13 to $25 (Part 2)

In this price range, lipsticks tend to be more pigmented, have less synthetic scents, and wear an average of four hours. I’m not typically disappointed beyond belief with a lipstick formula in this price range. Brands from MAC to NARS to Smashbox fall into this price tier, while designer brands like Chanel, Dior, and YSL are in the next tier. There are really SO many brands and formulas to choose from in this category that I had to split this post into two parts!

MAC Lipstick ($14.50)

  • PROS: Ridiculously large shade range, variety of finishes, wears from 3 to 6 hours (depends on finish/shade)
  • NEUTRAL: 0.10 oz., Depending on finish, shades range from sheer to opaque; similarly, more matte shades are drier while lustre shades are more moisturizing, vanilla-scented
  • CONS: If you’re not familiar with the MAC range and finishes, it can be overwhelming and difficult to choose the right shade; not all shades are great or consistent against other shades within a finish family
  • MY REC: I like MAC lipsticks quite a bit. I think they have some incredibly flattering shades as well as fun colors in their permanent line, but without having some MAC product knowledge, I can imagine it being daunting trying to figure out which shade is opaque, which is sheer, what finish might be best, and so on. There is a lot of variance between shades and even within finishes. Lustres and glazes tend to be sheerer, while amplified cremes and satins are creamier and more opaque. Mattes are on the drier side with some being exceptionally so (Ruby Woo, I’m talking to you).

Make Up For Ever Rouge Artist Intense Lipstick ($19.00)

  • PROS: Long-wearing (5 to 6 hours on average), pigmented, wide range of shades
  • NEUTRAL: 0.12 oz., range includes wearable shades as well as out of the box shades, scent0free
  • CONS: Shades are a bit one-note, texture is a little dry (but it’s not drying)
  • MY REC: If you have pigmented lips and struggle to find true-to-tube color translate onto your lips, Rouge Artist Intense is a good line to try out, because the colors really are opaque.

NARS Lipstick ($24.00)

  • PROS: Long-wearing (4 to 6 hours on average), moisturizing, creamy, good shade range
  • NEUTRAL: 0.12 oz., scent-free, some really sheer shades while others are opaque
  • CONS: Can smell waxy, lighter/sheerer shades fade in 1 to 3 hours
  • MY REC: Though NARS’ lipsticks are unscented, sometimes the waxiness of the lipstick itself comes through, and it’s not so pleasant. It’s a more moisturizing lipstick than your average lipstick, though if you have ultra dry lips, you may still want to prep lips with some balm. I’ve also found that their sheerer or lighter shades don’t last nearly as long as their medium to dark shades.

Shiseido Perfect Rouge Lipstick ($25.00)

  • PROS: Creamy, moisturizing, glossy, semi-sheer to opaque, wears 2 to 4 hours, good shade range
  • NEUTRAL: 0.14 oz., scent-free
  • CONS: Numbering system can make it difficult to determine colors
  • MY REC: I feel like I rarely see mentions for Shiseido’s Perfect Rouge lipstick line, and it’s really a top notch line. They’re creamy, smooth, and richly pigmented.

Smashbox Photo Finish Lipstick ($22.00)

  • PROS: Creamy, glossy, moisturizing, semi-opaque to opaque colors, wears 3 to 4 hours
  • NEUTRAL: 0.12 oz., vanilla-scented
  • CONS: Limited shade range
  • MY REC: It’s a shame that Smashbox doesn’t expand their lipstick range, because I’ve liked several of the ones I’ve tried from it–but there just aren’t many colors available. These are moisturizing with a glossy finish and creamy texture. Similar to Laura Mercier Stick Gloss and Korres Mango Butters.

Urban Decay Lipstick ($22.00)

  • PROS: Creamy, moisturizing, wears 3 to 5 hours
  • NEUTRAL: 0.13 oz., burnt sugar scent (“caramel” or “creme brulee”)
  • CONS: Sheer to opaque variances make it difficult to buy online or sight unseen, sometimes has an off-taste
  • MY REC: I know that one of the biggest drawbacks to Urban Decay is inconsistency in the scent and taste of their lipsticks. The more shimmery shades seem to have a stronger averse taste than creamier shades. I don’t notice the scent when I wear them, so it’s not a deal breaker for me.

The Lipstick Comparisons series is designed to provide a quick reference summary sheet for some of the many available lipstick formulas. It seems like most brands have at least a couple of formulas, if not half a dozen, and it can be difficult to find the formulas that will work best for your budget, coloring, style, or taste.

This is not necessarily a best of list, and it’s not exhaustive–it is based on actual lipsticks that I’ve tried; they are all, however, decent to excellent lipsticks. (And perhaps, some day, it will be an exhaustive list.) I have summarized my experience based on pros and cons, but also some “neutral” factors that may be pros or cons, depending on your preferences. I will update this series as I try new lipstick formulas.

Discussion and debate are highly encouraged, and we expect community members to participate respectfully. When asking a question, please check the FAQ section (above) for information about purchasing, price, dupes, and the like. If you have general feedback or need technical support, please contact us.

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29 thoughts on “Lipstick Comparisons: $13 to $25 (Part 2)

  1. baby in a corner

    I love these posts, such a good idea. Though your blog I have become pretty familiar with the MAC lipsticks but before I used to have no idea where to start! I find the lustres can be drying in that they wear off quickly and seem to strip the colour off your lips when they do. I find cremesheen fairly moisturising but overall its the amazing fun colours that I love about MAC.

    • I find cremesheen a little drying myself, LOL!

      I do really like the permanent range of lipsticks MAC has, though – fun colors to MLBBs… I wish they had more corals and a few more warmer pinks.

  2. really loving these posts!!! thanks!!! :)

  3. Luxury

    Love this series Christine. However, I was hoping for a bit more of a ranking in terms of comparison. With super dry lips like mine, my focus is how moisturizing they are. With that said, do you have a recommendation for a super moisturizing lipstick? I currently use the Rosebud Salve treatment at night, Fresh’s lip treatment in the morning then MAC’s prep&prime right before I put on my lipstick. I still peel. :(

    • Hi,

      The ones that I listed as moisturizing would be the ones I would recommend if you need a more moisturizing lipstick. :) For instance, I mentioned that MAC Lustre and Glaze finishes are more moisturizing (but other finishes are less so), while NARS, Shiseido, Smashbox, and Urban Decay are moisturizing. I did not intend to rank these, because it is not a best of list – it is merely a reference guide – that way you have an idea on different lipsticks and can look at the qualities most important to you.

      Are you drinking a lot of water? If you’re using both a salve and lip treatment, it sounds like there may be more going on than just needing a moisturizing lipstick. Perhaps even doing too much — e.g. vaseline is very thick and it can lock in moisture, but it doesn’t necessarily add much moisture.

      • Luxury

        I’m just naturally dry really. I drink a LOT of water. Definitely more than 8 cups a day. I’ve tried nothing, to just vaseline, to just lip treatment, to what I’m using today.

    • Violet

      I actually really like the qualitative comparisons as opposed to a ranking… the pros/cons are really helpful because different things bother people differently. Like you, it’s important to me that a lipstick isn’t too drying, but for someone else it may not matter… so I think it would be hard to universally rank all of these.

  4. Christine, this is the site that got me into the wonderful world of MAC lipsticks :) I used to scoff at them and I thought it was just expensive makeup for drag queens, until I saw that they were cheaper (and better) than the ones I drooled over :O Even though I have only four shades, those four kinda complete my life, lol. I *do* think their formulas are overwhelming, and I wish they had more matte colors!

  5. I’m glad you mentioned Shiseido. They’re my FAVORITE out of any lipstick. I feel that the price is reasonable too -they’re cheaper than YSL, Givency, and Dior but I like them better. The only downside though is that I wish they offered more shades.

  6. margo

    mac can be a giantic experiment…but when you find what really has your name on it, you will buy 3 especially if it is limited edition. they can be drying. But glosses are swell………………………………..

  7. Eileen

    Love Sheisido #2 a brownish orange …. doesn’t feel dry but I do like to add a little gleam with lipgloss. Not sure, it may be discontinued. Looks great with #6 lipliner. You’re right though Christine I would prefer names to numbers. Thanks for this great comparison chart!

  8. ash


    I love loveeeeeeeeeeeeeeee your site :) it has me hooked to make up..I had a qs- Mac went on sale in 2008 and 2009 -Are there any plans to go on sale this year.Can you find out?Also do you have any recommendations in how to get Mac makeup for sale other than from a CCO

  9. 53

    I agree about the Shiseido Perfect Rouge Parfait there. It is such low profile despite being quite a good lipsick! I love it!
    They do have names for each of them in their japanese website. But it is not seen in the counters.
    I have it in 3 colors. PK419 – Ariel (Bubblegum cool pink), BE209 – Baby (warm nude) and RD514- Dragon (blue undertones red). All 3 colours were in the first batch during their debut.
    Currently there are another 2 different finishes? matte and sheer. Yet to get 1. haha. i’m waiting for their sets of 3 to appear.

  10. Lilac

    MACs lipstick scent is the only scent I can tolerate. I hope they never change it and it´s one big reason for me (besides that I simply like MAC lipsticks a lot) to not buy them from any other brand. I just don’t want to waste my money on any waxy / synthetic / rose-scented-lipstick which I then can’t use after all..

  11. Fiona

    Great idea these posts are! Maybe you could do the same for other beauty products in the future! They’re really helpful! Thanks! I know this is a little off the subject, but I was wondering what the brands of the lipsticks in the picture after Shiseido and before Illamasqua?

  12. Wow, thank you so much for this!

  13. Inaya

    i feel you about the warmer pinks from mac chrsitine

  14. Violet

    I was surprised to see Shiseido Perfect Rouge lipstick listed because of the same reason you said – it’s rarely mentioned! I have one – ONE! – of these and don’t know why I never bought more because I really love it. It’s my HG red, Shiseido RD 514 – Dragon. It’s not just the perfect color, but it’s the ideal texture for me. I’m definitely putting more shades of this on my wishlist, thanks for the reality check here!

    • I loveee the texture!! Moisturizing and creamy but it doesn’t slip around too much. At $25 it’s a little on the higher end for high-end (like Urban Decay, Smashbox) and approaching designer brands like Chanel, but it’s a really good lipstick!

  15. Mandy

    No Laura Mercier lipstick?

  16. Mor

    I love this series :). Very helpful! The only thing is that I’m still puzzled about the smell of my Urban Decay lipstick (“Apocalypse”). Either my sense of smell is defective, or I stumbled upon a good batch, or I don’t know what- but to me it actually smells more like Licorice. I’m actually quite fond of this smell, it’s quite unusual but I don’t find it offensive. I might be the only person who doesn’t loathe it XD. But seriously, to me this one smells more like Licorice than burnt sugar…

  17. I know this post is over a year old, but when i read about Urban Decay’s lipsticks having a ‘unpleasant taste’ it got me thinking if the ones i bought weren’t off as i’d thought (bought them from discount shop). Are they all like that…even now?