August 23 2014

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The Chemistry Behind Those “Long-Lasting” Lipsticks


This column features weekly tips and advice from a revolving cast of industry leaders, on hand to discuss your beauty dilemmas, from blemishes to Botox. To submit a question, e-mail

Whenever I apply lipstick, the color goes on super-rich out of the tube, then fades after a few hours. I’ve tried long-lasting formulas, but there’s something about them that dries out my lips. Why does this happen and what are my alternatives?

Long-lasting lipsticks use very resilient polymers and waxes to keep the product in place and on your lips for an extended period of time. Unfortunately, some of these materials can also make your lips feel dry, chapped, or flaky. Traditional lipsticks tend to be formulated with an oilier base, which may help to keep your lips extra-moisturized, but when it mixes with the natural oils on your skin, it can create a situation in which your lipstick slips off or fades away after a few hours. However, most of the new lip stain formulas work pretty well—the color tends to absorb into your skin, as opposed to sitting on top of the surface, so the pigment stays put without pulling moisture out.

James Hammer is a cosmetic chemist who analyzes and formulates products for the beauty industry. He works with the Pharmasol Corporation in Easton, MA.

Photo: Antonios Mitsopoulos/ Flickr/ Getty Images

The Doctor Is In