Recently, I had a massive lipstick swatching session with my collection of lipsticks as I tried to pare it down to a more manageable number, or at least where it all fits into my storage. In the process, I was reminded of how much I really enjoyed certain formulas of lipsticks. For example, my favourite formulas include the Nars Audacious Lipsticks – a rather hard formula with superb pigmentation and a slightly matte finish but doesn’t dry up your lips and of course the infamously expensive Tom Ford Lipsticks – a creamy formula with great pigmentation and a satin finish that feels nourishing on the lips all day. That got me thinking too, what makes a lipstick formula and what sets them apart?
Thus, today I would like to discuss and try to understand what goes into a Tom Ford lipstick other than the luxury branding and marketing campaigns. Is it a product that is worth its hefty price tag based on its own implicit value and does it add so much value to our makeup application that it is worth keeping a space for in a curated vanity?
As a starting point, again I would like to reference its ingredient list that I was able to pull off the Sephora website:
Ricinus Communis (Castor) Seed Oil, Diisostearyl Malate, Trioctyldodecyl Citrate, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Lanolin Oil, Euphorbia Cerifera (Candelilla) Wax\Candelilla Cera\Cire De Candelilla, Ozokerite, Octyldodecanol, Silica, Bis-Diglyceryl Polyacyladipate-2, Hydrogenated Polydecene, Polyethylene, Microcrystalline Wax\Cera Microcristallina\Cire Microcristalline, Fragrance (Parfum), Tocopherol, Squalane, Triticum Vulgare (Wheat) Germ Extract, Glycine Soja (Soybean) Seed Extract, Hordeum Vulgare (Barley) Extract\Extrait D’Orge, Astrocaryum Murumuru Seed Butter, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Oil, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter), Cholesterol, Ceramide 3, Acrylates Copolymer, Linoleic Acid, Triethoxycaprylylsilane, Calcium Sodium Borosilicate, Calcium Aluminum Borosilicate, Synthetic Fluorphlogopite, Polyethylene Terephthalate, Barium Sulfate, Alumina, Vanillin, [+/- Mica, Titanium Dioxide (Ci 77891), Iron Oxides (Ci 77491), Iron Oxides (Ci 77492), Iron Oxides (Ci 77499), Blue 1 Lake (Ci 42090), Carmine (Ci 75470), Copper Powder (Ci 77400), Red 6 (Ci 15850), Red 28 Lake (Ci 45410), Red 7 Lake (Ci 15850), Red 30 Lake (Ci 73360), Red 33 Lake (Ci 17200), Yellow 5 Lake (Ci 19140), Yellow 6 Lake (Ci 15985)]
Please be aware that ingredient lists may change or vary from time to time.� Please refer to the ingredient list on the product package you receive for the most up to date list of ingredients.
What are lipsticks made of?
Basically, lipsticks are generally made of three categories of ingredients: wax, oil and pigment. Wax is mainly used to give lipsticks their solid form while oil is used to moisturise and make the lipstick emollient enough to spread across the surface of the lips. Finally, of course, the amount and combination of pigments will determine how opaque the lipstick is and its colour.
I was pleasantly surprised to find many natural oils present in the ingredient list, namely the castor seed oil, lanolin oil (sheep oil), astrocaryum murumuru seed butter, squalene (usually derived from shark liver oil), camomile flower oil, shea butter and ceramide. These oils act as moisturisers for the lips and are probably in high concentrations, given that the lipstick is a rather creamy, moisturising one. Aside from looking at the number of oils included, the types of oils do matter as well, as the molecular size and structure of different oils determines how effective it is, as do the scarcity or process of extraction of it determines how expensive it is. Other than oils, there are also other extracts included in the lipstick, such as wheat germ extract, soybean extract and barley extract.
The waxes used in this lipstick are candelilla wax and microcrystalline wax. Candelilla wax is derived the leaves of the candelilla plant in Mexico while microcrystalline wax is derived from petroleum. Both are commonly used waxes in lipstick formulation.
The final part of the ingredient list denotes the pigments used, and for each colour in that lipstick line the combination would be slightly different. Pigments can be derived from plants, animals (such as carmine from the bug cochineal), minerals (like iron or copper oxides) or even be synthetically produced. In this ingredient list I find a mixture of animal, mineral and synthetic pigments.
Other ingredients are added that have various functions to the formula too. For example, acrylate copolymer is added as a binder to help in the film forming function that helps the lipstick stay on snugly on the lips. Linoleic acid and octyldodecanol are fatty acids (essentially building blocks of fats) and are included for skin conditioning functions. Silica is also included as a filler ingredient.
Comparison with a cheap drugstore lipstick
As this article aims to discuss the value of a Tom Ford lipstick, I thought it would be helpful to compare the ingredient list with lipsticks from other brands. Firstly, let’s examine the following ingredient list of a low end drugstore brand lipstick that I had found had a similar creamy consistency to the Tom Ford lipstick.
Catrice Ultimate Colour Lipstick:
It is easy to identify the differences immediately. Instead of castor seed oil as the main solvent, octyldodecanol is used. Candelilla wax and microcrystalline wax are used just like in the Tom Ford formula but a clear difference is seen with the oils. Oils that are more expensive such as lanolin, shea butter, squalene and ceramide are out of the equation. Instead, in replacement, cheaper plant-based oils such as sunflower seed oil, camelina sativa seed oil, euterpe oleracea fruit oil and oilus oil are used. There is also a lack of additional plant extracts. Carmine is not used as one of the pigments, instead, synthetic pigments are used. (probably because Carmine is more expensive) Therefore, is there more value in a Tom Ford lipstick as compared to a cheap drugstore alternative? Based on the ingredients, yes there definitely is.
Comparison with a luxury brand lipstick
However, that is not how business works. With giant conglomerates that buy up companies and brands, many beauty brands in fact are bought up or operate as a derivative of a main mother company. Tom Ford Beauty is owned by Estee Lauder. The basic idea is that Estee Lauder, being a well established brand that’s been around for a long time and has amassed alot of wealth but has not been able to keep itself current, needs to branch out into smaller, more contemporary brands, while these brands can rely on Estee Lauder’s wealth for RnD, distribution channels and formulas. Thus, I find that it is worthwhile then, to consider when we pay for a Tom Ford lipstick, are we just really paying for an Estee Lauder lipstick with Tom Ford’s name and packaging?
Estee Lauder Pure Color Envy Lipstick Ingredients:
While the previous comparison was stark, this makes you do a double take in the sense that the Estee Lauder formula is really similar to Tom Ford’s. There are even some additional ingredients such a sodium hyaluronate and apricot kernel oil that are included that are used for moisturising the skin. It is perhaps tempting sometimes for us to think that because it is from a different “brand” it means that the product has a unique, bespoke formula, however, it is rather sobering to see when you compare the ingredients list.
Thus, I believe that when you are paying for a Tom Ford lipstick, you are really paying for an Estee Lauder formula lipstick and Tom Ford packaging and branding. A Tom Ford lipstick costs 54USD while an Estee Lauder lipstick costs 32USD. The difference of 22USD means you are possibly paying that 22USD to the branding and marketing for Tom Ford. I won’t say that one should not buy a Tom Ford lipstick. If you pay the price and you feel that you get the luxury experience and enjoyment from the product and feel that it is worthwhile, please do what you like. However, in the spirit of being minimal and looking beyond beautiful packaging and marketing, I would think that a Tom Ford lipstick is not really worth the 54USD that you are paying for it if we are just talking about implicit worth. It is, however, one of the best lipsticks I have used in my life.
On the other hand, it is true that Tom Ford’s lipsticks are not all just air either. The oils and pigments used in its formulation sets it apart far from that of a drugstore brand lipstick. However, similar oils and pigments are used in Estee Lauder’s lipsticks. Thus if you are purchasing the Tom Ford lipstick or Estee Lauder lipstick over a Catrice lipstick, I would agree that you are paying for a difference in implicit value to some extent.
In the next article we will discuss the practical application of the lipstick and further consider the lipstick’s value from the experience of wearing it.
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