The Science of LipSense Products

For those interested in the science of the product..

When looking at skincare or makeup, I agree with the philosophy that when looking at products the only thing that really matters is the ingredients list. Some ingredients are over hyped for how well they work or how dangerous they are or how safe they are. The truth is usually somewhere in the middle and I prefer to see biological data in order to draw my own conclusions. Sometimes it’s over my head but I try to understand all the science. That being said, I hope all the following information is accurate.


When looking into LipSense I had to look up the ingredients list. From the information I could gather, the main ingredients are the finely ground pigment bits (or molecules if I want to sound scientific) and the SD 40 alcohol. It is a lab grade alcohol meaning it will be free of any additives (like rubbing alcohols which “are unsafe for human consumption: isopropyl rubbing alcohols do not contain the ethyl alcohol of alcoholic beverages; ethyl rubbing alcohols are based on denatured alcohol, which is a combination of ethyl alcohol and one or more bitter poisons that make the substance toxic.”-Wikipedia).

The specific type of alcohol is called ethanol (or ethyl alcohol) which is made from grains and the drinkable kind (like Everclear) but is usually mixed with denatonium salt (this is the denatured part). This salt is extremely bitter and is added to discourage consumption and “so that it is not treated as an alcoholic beverage with respect to taxation and sales restrictions.” – Wikipedia.

I’m pretty sure by law they have to add this to cosmetic alcohols especially the unsafe alcohols (like in nail polish remover), again to discourage drinking it. Alcohol kills bacteria (think hand sanitizer) so your lipsense will never go bad and is what causes that tingly feeling (and what causes the tingly feeling in most toners) when you apply lipsense.

There are different types of alcohols in skin care – simple, fatty (gives liquids a smooth velvety feel), and aromatic (can be irritating to sensitive skin, especially for me when derived from essential oils). Ethanol (the specific alcohol in lipsense) is under the simple category and will dry out skin when used alone.

This product does not work without the gloss that goes on top and shouldn’t be used without it. The tingly, cooling sensation you feel when you apply Lipsense is the ethanol evaporating off your skin.

Ethanol is also what acts as an exfoliant and why when you start using lipsense your lips will peel a little. If you use lipsense every day, you are essentially exfoliating your lips everyday (cause it’s so hard to get off) and the product will last longer the fresher the skin layer it can set on.

Also the product will last longer depending on what color you choose and how many of those tiny pigment molecules are trying to settle on your skin.

Highly pigmented colors will come off easier because to get those bright colors you need a lot of pigment. These pigments are also why you have to shake the tube well before application. You need the pigments to be evenly distributed.

The pH of the skin (determined by lipids that make up your skin’s barrier) may have a slight affect in how well it lasts but not as much as how well exfoliated your lips are.

Now this is pretty much (from my knowledge) the only alcohol based lipstick and it’s what gives it all its cool properties – you can layer the colors, it stays on forever, and it feels like you have nothing on your lips!

The layer aspect is crucial for it’s staying power since your body breaks down the bottom layer, the environment breaks down the outer most layer, and it’s that middle layer that stays put.

Anything alcohol based will take your lipsense off and anything that has fats like coconut oil or olive oil will break the pigments down. The gloss you buy with your lipsense color acts as a barrier. When you are eating heavily oily foods, you need to put it on before you eat so the color will stay. It’s long wearing but it has to come off somehow.

Other ingredients in lipsense are acrylate and copolymer, (used in cosmetics for adhesive or binding purposes and is regulated), isostearyl alcohol (a fatty alcohol), methyl glucose and butylene (skin conditioning agents that are non irritating), and hydroxypropylcellulose (thickener and lubricant – sometimes used in artificial tears).

These ingredients are man-made and very common is cosmetics. Some ingredients that don’t use the scientific name are water, St. John’s wort (medicinal herb used for it’s antioxidant properties but can have cause irritation when exposed to sunlight) , tree peony (another medicinal herb used probably for its fragrance and skin calming properties), linden (a genus of tree species – used for antioxidants), citronella, and limonene (used for scent and probably derived from lemongrass and fruit – can be irritating in high doses). These other ingredients are probably in fairly small amounts since they are listed close towards the end.

Most lipstick’s main ingredients are waxes and oils and lip stains are mostly water or gel. When I started researching for this post I looked into lead being in our lipsticks (which lipsense does not have and is well advertised). From the FDA’s website I found that “Lead occurs naturally in the environment, and its occurrence, as an impurity, in cosmetic products can’t be avoided. FDA has taken action whenever necessary to remove products from the market that contain lead at unsafe levels.”. Unsafe was determined to be no more than 10 ppm (parts per million).

There are two ways you can be exposed to lead, through ingestion or absorption through skin. With lip products, it’s both, but what’s more troubling is the ingestion. No lead in our lipsticks is a good thing. Lead poisoning is rare but has very varied and general “sick” symptoms and high toxic doses can cause seizures and comas. Most cosmetics do not have higher than 10ppm of lead but for the rare few that did, it is good that this is now regulated!

Lipsense is also advertised as vegan (a personal conviction for some and also should be mentioned – it is not tested on animals), GMO free (this is a different conversation and one I have opinions on but is not related to lipstick), gluten free (important for some especially those who have celiacs disease), and wax free.

The wax free advertisement is meant to be a pro because while wax provides a protective barrier it doesn’t moisturize the skin directly. However wax can lock in moisture which is why most chapsticks aren’t completely useless and your skin arguably needs this barrier.

Petroleum is also used often in chapstick or glosses (think Vaseline) but again just provides a barrier. Beeswax could be considered an exception since it has moisturizing, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and an anti-oxidant properties. Propolis is a tree sap that allows the last three properties in beeswax but can be an irritant to some so beeswax in cosmetics tends to be man made. Synthetic beeswax is the vegan option and has moisturizing and barrier qualities mentioned above.

The lipsense gloss ingredients mainly include dimethicone, beeswax (as I just mentioned), shea butter, and tocopherol (organic compound with Vitamin E activity). There are small amounts of octoxynol-40, isolaureth-6, (helps the ingredients mix, can be an irritant, regulated by FDA), propylene glycol (organic alcohol used to control viscosity), and propylparaben (probably used as a preservative since it doesn’t have the alcohol like the color and you don’t want bacteria growing in your gloss). Dimethicone is a silicon oil that makes products easily spreadable and adds a protective barrier like waxes do. With it being listed first, and the largest proportion of the ingredients, I believe this is how the lipsense gloss doesn’t break down the pigments and will keep your color on, while still using shea butter as a moisturizer. Shea butter is the next ingredient listed and is extremely moisturizing. It is a fat just like coconut oil or olive oil. My go to lip moisturizer is lanolin which is “wool fat” or oil from sheep’s wool, which I argue moisturizes skin the best but goes on very thick.

Mica is a reflective mineral that can be found in your sparkly glosses. Minerals I like to think of as really tiny rocks. They are harmless but if you inhale the powder it’s really not good for your lungs. Titanium dioxide is also a common mineral that can be found in makeup (in lipsense) and sunscreens specifically for sensitive skin as it will not be absorbed into the skin which is what causes a lot of irritation. Iron oxides (CL 77499, 77491, 77492) are your pigments I was talking about earlier. All the CL numbers you see are pigments and dyes or colors. “FDA also allows companies marketing their products internationally to use dual labeling for colors, listing names acceptable to the FDA as well as Color Index (CI) numbers that are required for labeling colors in the European Union and other countries in the world.” (personalcarecouncil dot org) Since lipsense is vegan, none of these colors should be derived from insects.

One last comment I would like to make on this product is the sun protection aspect. Lipsense provides sun protection by being a physical barrier between your skin and the sun. Now most opaque lipstick will do this but you don’t get quite the same coverage and variety of colors in lighter shades that are also opaque. Usually to receive the benefit of sun protection, it would require a lot of product on your skin that feels heavy (think of the zinc oxide surfers put on their noses or under their eyes). However this stuff feels light and like I have nothing on and will be a staple in my summer sun protection arsenal. Many of the sunscreen chapsticks I have used before tasted awful and made me sick to my stomach. This is one of the biggest reasons I was sold on this product as I have very fair skin and finding a solution for my lip sunscreen has been on my radar for a long time.

Overall you can tell I love this product on many levels and if you made it this far, thanks for letting me nerd out on you!

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