Lipstick: A Clean Beauty Odyssey

My “clean beauty” journey has been slow-going, but I’m kind of embracing that.

I know it’s not as impressive (or Insta-friendly) as a wholesale all-at-once transformation, but I like it because I can really soak in information and make guided, meaningful changes that actually stick.

I started by switching sunscreens — a product that’s easy to “green” and has a major chemical impact. But now I decided to do something fun next…lipstick!

Lipstick is often the only makeup I wear. It also gives me the most “lift” to my spirits when I need it most. And when I really need a “twist” to my look, changing the color of my lipstick has massive impact. I have many tinted lip balms, but lipstick for me is where it’s at.

I had also reached the point in life where I had my lipstick game down. I had my favorites — a lipstick wardrobe, if you will. Nars lipstick in Heat Wave for a red-coral for summer (I’ve long loved coral), Nars Velvet Matte lip pencil in Cruella for a true red, the Katy Perry mauve for Cover Girl that functions as my nude “my color but better. (It’s called “Catoure,” which is funny.) The pigmentation was superb for all of them — but they also weren’t clean/green. So I set about finding replacements.

Sounds easy — and it’s also nice knowing what your true “go-tos” are when it comes to beauty. I knew I needed a true red, a more orange-y take on red (much more flattering for my olive skin), and a mauve-nude-rose. Should be easy, no?

The first step: narrowing down the options

The first thing I need was look at the market and see what was available. I’ll be honest — I can’t really spend $25+ dollars on a lipstick, really. (Those Nars lipsticks are definitely pre-baby!) I knew I had to stick to the mass market, which limited my options. I knew I was limited to around $10 a tube.

Luckily there are more and more green possibilities available in drugstores. I settled on two companies I generally trust and buy already: Burt’s Bees and Pacifica.

Pacifica’s options aren’t many, but Burt’s Bees have been ramping up their color options and formulas. And I’ve bought tinted lip balms from both companies and liked them.

With my bounty of Walgreen’s points — and a gift card from Target — I ordered a few different colors and formulations from each. I was so hopeful, but a little nervous, too — like buying jeans, ordering lipstick on the Internet is a bit of a crapshoot, especially since colors can look one way on the screen and a totally different way in real life.

Next: finding an “effortlessly pretty” nude is a lot of effort

My initial search began with my everyday basic: a rosy brown-pink that works as a nude for me. (Most conventional nudes are too brown for me — my lips are fairly pink naturally.)

First I tried Burt’s Bees lip crayon in Sedona Sands. It’s a nude-pink and looks close to the brownish pink I like in a nude. But on my lips and olive skin tone, it looked more pale nude pink, with less rose and brown tones than I like. It’s pretty, but not what I usually wear. The formula of the pencil felt nice enough — but I do prefer something a touch more emollient. But in terms of color, it was nicely opaque and didn’t leave behind much color or an aftertaste.

Then I tried Burt’s Bees Satin Lipstick in Blush Basin and Suede Splash — both again too pale for my darker skin. I really liked the formula for these lipsticks — they felt nicely moisturizing, the colors weren’t drying and they left just a hint of color behind. But the colors just weren’t right for what I wanted — both again were true nudes that come off as pale brown next to my olive skin.

Next I tried Pacifica Devocean lipstick in Natural Mystic, which is a lovely brownish raisin color. (I found it went on browner than it initially appeared in the tube.) I didn’t like the look and feel of this lipstick as much as Burt’s, but it’s still moisturizing, non-drying and the colors go on pretty saturated. It does have a coconut smell — it uses coconut oil as a key ingredient, but I know some people find fragrance in cosmetics to be off-putting. And it’s more brown than rose, and I needed just a tad more pink rose.

I was beginning to despair that I’d ever find a green/clean mauve nude rose. (I also wondered why it took so much work to find what is supposed to be an “effortless” color!) Then I picked up Burt’s Bees Glossy Lipstick in Peony Dew and…”YAS QUEEN!”, to quote my favorite girl buddy comedy Broad City. The Glossy formula is just a tad shinier than the Satin formula, but it’s still got a nice “slip” and good color payoff. Peony Dew more of a pink/rose in the tube, but on me it works as a nude. (The Nude Rain shade also intrigued me — it looks like it would be a bit more rose, but I didn’t buy it.) On my darker olive skin, dark hair and full rose lips, the Peony Dew shade works perfectly as a “my lips but better” shade. Done!

That’s me wearing Peony Dew, below:

Then we find a red, because “red” means glamour

Next was a red, which is really what I lean on at night, or on days when I need a bit of glamour boost. Most reds turn bright pink on me — dang rosy lips! — so I tend to skew to red on the brick/orange end of the spectrum. Finding a true red is quite a journey on its own, but added the green/clean directive was like an additional wrinkle in the process.

I first got Burt’s Bees Satin Lipstick in Scarlet Soaked, which ended up being a truer blue-red, with a little more pink. It’s pretty, and I can see it working really well on a large range of skin tones. It’s a classic film siren red, with no orange or warmer yellow tones in it. It works well as my “true red,” but it didn’t have that zing of excitement you get when a color totally suits you. Still, I don’t wear red proper as much any more, so I thought “good enough” and then went on to the orange-red I tend to favor anyway.

I’m wearing Scarlet Soaked below:

As it turns out, Pacifica’s Devocean lipstick in Firebird was a perfect inadvertent orange-y red. I was wavering between Firebird and the other red shade they have in the range — Rebel Sol, which on the site looked more coral than red. But I kept reading reviews that Firebird looked more orange-y in real life. which is just up my alley.

Happily, I’m glad I trusted my instincts! Yes, on the Pacifica site Firebird looks more red-red, but it’s actually got strong orange tones in it. It works great on my olive skin, but for those of different skin tones, it might work differently. And it’s not as orange-y/coral-y as my favorite Heat Wave by NARS — but it’ll do for everyday use. For all intents and purposes, my green lipstick journey is done for now.

I’m wearing Firebird below:

So there you are: a new clean/green lipstick wardrobe with my most basic colors accounted for. My general sense is that the Burt’s Bees lipsticks will be the first place I go to when I’m in the mood for a new color: a nice berry, for instance, or a wine. But the Pacifica colors are trendier and more fun — their purple-y Beach Goth shade seems pretty irresistible, and a lot prettier than you’d imagine.

An unexpected discovery and new favorite

You do a lot of trial and error when you buy lipstick, especially when they’re not available to try on. But you also make unexpected discoveries. I was just in the market for a few reds and a mauve-nude-rose, but I ended up discovering Burt’s Bees Glossy Lipstick in Blush Ripple, which to me is bright pinkish red with a bit of warmth to it. It’s sort of indescribable, and yet somehow it works beautifully on my skin as a bright, happy color that doesn’t call too much attention to itself but somehow brightens you up.

I’m wearing Blush Ripple below:

It’s a perfect lipstick to warm up the skin without “popping” like a coral or red. It feels good to wear on a winter day when you need a bit of lift, but I can also see it working brilliantly in the spring or summer with a tan. I can also see it working nicely on paler, bluer-toned skin, since it has a bit of peach in it as well. Anyway, I added this to my arsenal and feel very set for warmer weather. I highly recommend Blush Ripple, guys — something about this color just makes me happy when I wear it, and really, that’s the most important thing when it comes to fashion and beauty.

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