Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Tricky Tricky! Which lipstick package holds more product?

(This is the time of year when the light gets progressively lower and consequently my photos get progressively worse. I experimented with different lighting and a new background here, and I don't think either of them are winners. Grainy as shit. But since we are just looking at sizes and packages, this ought to suffice for now. Back to the drawing board next time.)

This is a long one, so get comfortable.

I'd been thinking about writing about lipstick packaging ever since my first "tricky tricky" post more than two years ago, but I kept putting it off. (See the others in the series here.) The reason I hesitated is that with most of these lipsticks, I don't think the packaging is deliberately designed to trick you into thinking you're buying more product - at least not in the same sense as some of the packaging I've discussed before. Nevertheless, one of the moments of inspiration for the series was when I realized that the actual product that twist up lip crayons contain is only a small fraction of the length of the tube. That fact came as a bit of a surprise to me, because I hadn't thought carefully about it before and simply assumed, sort of subconsciously, that I was getting a bigger lipstick in this format than in a traditional bullet. Maybe it was obvious to everyone but me that this was not the case. But that is really the goal of a tricky package - you get the impression that you're buying more without ever being prompted to look closer.

In case you think I am just being paranoid (fair enough, because who spends so much time thinking about this shit?), there have been cases where companies have been fined for using deceptive packaging, like Unilever in Europe recently (for Axe body spray). Paying close attention to how much you're paying per unit is especially important this time of year, when a lot of holiday gifts sets are coming out. If you're like me, you probably assume that buying a set or palette is more economical than buying individual products, but that's not always the case. For instance, the new Hourglass palette costs significantly more per unit than if you were to buy individual powders or blushes, and LORAC has managed to decrease the weight of the eyeshadow in the Mega Pro 2 palette while charging the same price as the first palette (whether less weight means less product in this case is debatable - a whole other issue to consider!). Check out these reviews (Hourglass and LORAC) from Temptalia for more information. Bastards!

That said, I think in the case of some of the packaging I'm going to compare today, there is an actual advantage to making it larger. That means it's not necessarily deceptive in a troubling way. But if you're like me and you hadn't thought much about different types of lipstick packaging and how much actual lipstick they contain, you might also find this interesting.

Let's start with traditional lipstick bullets. For each of these comparisons I chose three lipsticks at different price points. I also chose examples from my hoard that I had used infrequently so that the comparison photos are a accurate as possible. I've used each of these only 3-5 times (with the exception of the Revlon crayon below, which I will explain there).

Here we have Maybelline Creamy Matte lipstick in Divine Wine (average price $7) (reviewed here), Wet N Wild Megalast lipstick in Rose-bud ($2), and Lipstick Queen Jean Queen ($22) (reviewed here). Which do you think contains the most lipstick?

Maybelline Creamy Matte lipstick in Divine Wine, Wet N Wild Megalast lipstick in Rose-bud, and Lipstick Queen Jean Queen

When I twist them up all the way, the Maybelline appears to contain the least product, while I'd pick the Lipstick Queen as holding the most, though the different shape of the Wet N Wild makes it hard to judge. Let's look at the actual sizes on the labels then: 

Maybelline is 0.15 oz./4.2 g or $47 per oz.

Wet N Wild is 0.11 oz/3.3 g or $18 per oz.

Lipstick Queen is 0.13 oz/3.7 g or $169 per oz. 

So I was completely wrong. The larger tube for the Maybelline does correspond to a slightly larger product. The vast fucking chasm between the unit price of the Wet N Wild and the Lipstick Queen should come as no huge surprise, I guess, though I'm going to keep that $169 in mind the next time I think, "Maybe $22 isn't that much money." I certainly don't think it represents a 13-fold increase in quality (I didn't like Jean Queen very much).

The extra packaging on the Maybelline lipstick is a little unnecessary, but the square shape at the bottom of the tube may make it easier to use. I have found these lipsticks very easy to apply, and it's possible the size and shape contributes to that. The Wet N Wild isn't trying to trick you at all, but the packaging kind of sucks anyway. I'd pay an extra 50 cents for a tube long enough that I could twist the lipstick all the way down inside. As it is, it always smears all over the cap, no matter what you do. More packaging would be beneficial here. The Lipstick Queen has a nicely designed tube that I have no complaints about - it's the least you can expect, I think, for a lipstick at that price.

Tarte Lipsurgence Lip Creme in Heartfelt, Revlon Balm Stain in Lovesick, and Wet N Wild Balm Stain in Coral of the Story

Now let's move on to the lipstick crayons. These are the ones that fooled me, because I originally thought that the product inside would fill almost the full length of the tube (like an eyeliner that you sharpen). It doesn't. Again, three examples at different price points: Tarte Lipsurgence Lip Creme in Heartfelt (average price $24), Revlon Balm Stain in Lovesick ($7) (reviewed here), and Wet N Wild Balm Stain in Coral of the Story ($3) (reviewed here). The packages are all roughly the same size, though the Tarte is slightly shorter from end to top of the lid. 

Tarte Lipsurgence Lip Creme in Heartfelt, Revlon Balm Stain in Lovesick, and Wet N Wild Balm Stain in Coral of the Story

You have to use your imagination a little here, because I've used the Revlon stuff several more times than the others. (The Revlon Balm Stains are my favorite lip products.) So mentally add a few millimeters to its point to make it about the same length as the Tarte. The Wet N Wild had a slightly stubbier tip to begin with. I'd say that the Revlon looks largest and Wet N Wild smallest. See what I mean about the product not filling the tube? Not even halfway. But then neither does lipstick in a bullet. The twist up mechanism takes up some space, I'm sure, though not all of it. Let's look at the actual amounts of product on the labels: 

Tarte is 0.10 oz./3 g or $240 per oz. (holy fuck!)

Revlon is 0.095 oz./2.7 g or $73 per oz.

Wet N Wild is 0.10 oz./3 g or $30 per oz.

Actually not much difference at all in weight, and some of the difference that does exist may be attributable to variations in formulas. 

Clearly, if you are looking for value per unit in lip products, you should go for a traditional lipstick, rather than a crayon. I am probably going to stay far away from higher end crayons in the future (fortunately I got the Tarte one on sale), but this isn't enough to make me hate the Revlon crayons. I love the formula, and I think the packaging isn't there to just be shady: it actually makes the product more functional. I find it much easier to hold and control a long tube like this than a traditional lipstick bullet. It functions similar to a drawing pencil, which I'm very comfortable using, and that makes the process more enjoyable for me. There's something to be said for that and for considering the overall price of the item. I said as much when I compared nail polish bottles, and in this review of Colorpop lipsticks from Bad Outfit, Great Lipstick, she make a similar point. If something isn't a staple or you don't foresee finishing it up and replacing it, you might be better off opting for the lower overall price. If you're going to buy just one or two lipsticks and use them every day, on the other hand, taking into account the unit price is probably a good idea.

I do wish I had a Colorpop lipstick to compare here, because personally I think that they are a bit egregious (and that's why I don't have any!) - being marketed as affordable, when they are $5 for 0.0357 oz, or $140 per oz. (Even worse, on the Colorpop website, they list the weight of the Lippie Stix as 1 oz. each, which they clearly are not.) Or how about Stowaway Cosmetics (I'm not going to link to them because I think it's total bullshit), which sells smaller sizes of products for more money and claims that it's a benefit. "You can use it before it goes bad! No waste! So cute!" They very helpfully do not provide the size of their lipstick on their website, from what I can tell, but say that it's "smaller than your pinky" and "battery-sized." I'm going to guess Colorpop-size or smaller for $15. Sign me the fuck up!

Okay, now I'm just ranting. Laying this all out and calculating it was helpful for me. I really have a hard time eyeballing these things. What about you? Do you take unit price into account when you buy makeup?


  1. Sometimes? It depends on how bad the longing for a particular product is. If the desire is small, I can generally talk myself out of it by looking at the unit price, or at least how many oz of product are being bought. For example, I will probably never buy another Stilla eye pencil because the amount of product is ridiculously small for the price you pay. And I've definitely talked myself out of various gift sets because you can tell that the amount of product isn't worth the money.

    On the other hand, I've bought sample sizes of products that were more expensive per oz then the full sized product, but because they're cheaper and it's unlikely I'll even go through that sample before it goes bad I don't feel like it was a waste.

    1. That's a good point. Sometimes I've considered buying travel size mascaras, since mascara always seems to dry up before I finish it - even though they would be more expensive per oz. So long as someone doesn't try to convince me that they are doing me a favor by charging me more for less product!

  2. I don't think I've ever made it to the bottom of a tube of lipstick, so I'm not really complaining as long as that holds true. I tend to be more concerned with the quality of the product itself. And of course price isn't always an indicator of whether or not I'll like the quality of the product.

    1. Yeah, I think if you have a lot of lipstick or you don't wear it often enough to go through a tube quickly, then getting something you really like is often more important than the absolute value.

  3. My desire to buy ColourPop has now ended! Lol!

    1. By all accounts it's good lipstick. But affordable . . . not really, unless you are planning to collect them all or something.

  4. Tarte Lipsurgence being $240 per oz just hurt my feeling a little. I did have a suspicion that it's overpriced, but I had no idea by how much. Granted I own only one, and only because I really like the color, which doesn't happen often.
    I prefer crayons over traditional lipsticks for ease of application, and I'm willing to pay a bit more for the convenience. Not too much more though. Like in Revlon Balm range, not Tarte range.

    1. That one surprised me too! I didn't pay $24 for it, luckily, though I don't remember what I did pay (and don't really want to find out). I agree, I think the Maybelline-range lipstick and the Revlon-range crayons are close enough that paying a bit more for the convenience is reasonable.

  5. I think stowaway is a great idea at a ridiculous price. I like minis because I realize it's nearly impossible to get through a lipstick or blush unless you use it everyday. If it were priced at drugstore level I would totally go for it (giving it the overall unit price of say, UD.)

    I always always check for weights of products before purchasing! Maybe it's just my neurosis, but i thought everyone did. But variations in formula can be huge: sheer lipsticks tend to be much lighter due to less dense ingredients, and creamy,,opaque lipsticks tend to be super heavy. Most of my tinted balms are 3g while Rouge Gs are like 4.5g or something. So weight doesn't necessarily correlate 100% with amt of product you're getting because one application of Rouge G would use up a lot more product than a tinted balm. The NARS lip pencils have a notoriously small amount of product but I used my pencil like 5 times with the tip being only ever so slightly blunted, so I think that would be a lot of applications as well.


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