Colour cosmetics : An introduction to formulation and approaches for lipsticks

Colour cosmetics : An introduction to formulation and approaches for lipsticks

Abstracted Section from Harry’s Cosmeticology, 9th Ed.

                       By Charles Warren


The lip area of a person has been one of the attraction features of beauty in many cultures around the world [5]. Properties such as fullness, shape, definition, and volume have all been associated with desire to enhance beauty and attractiveness. An example of extreme contrast enhancement can be seen for geishas in the Japa- nese culture, in which case bright red lip color is commonly used on a near-white skin background makeup. It is therefore natural for consumers to have a high inter- est in products enhancing the lips. While in the past, lipsticks have mainly focused on bringing decorative benefits (color shade, gloss), they now also bring functional (sun protection) and skincare (moisturizing, plumping) benefits to the lip skin.

The importance of lipsticks and lip-gloss in modern culture can be seen by the wide selection in color shades available in commerce. An interesting point is the large proportion of color shade names associated with fruits or senses such as berry, pomegranate, plum, luscious, passion, sensual, all of which use the mentally associated image of fresh/richness with an enhanced feel of beauty.

a.  Formulas

Formula 26.4. Example of transfer-resistant lipstick formulation

PhaseIngredients% W/W
Octyldodecyl Stearate
Diisopropyl Adipate
Isocetyl Stearoyl Stearate
Shea Butter
C12–15 Akyll Lactate
Hydrogenated Polyisobutene
VP/Eicosene Copolymer
VP/Hexadecene Copolymer
Tocopheryl Acetate
Retynl Palmitate
BIsopropylparaben (and) Isobutylparaben (and) Butylparaben0.40
CRed 7 Lake (C6507 D&C Red #7 Calcium Lake)
Iron Oxides (C33-8073 Yellow Iron Oxide)
Titanic Dioxide (White)
Iron Oxides (C33-5198 Black Iron Oxide)
Isocetyl Stearoyl Stearate
Tricontanyl PVP
Mica (and) Iron Oxides (and) Titanium Dioxide


  1. Prepare phase C color grind using roller mill (Melt Ganex® WP-660; add to color mix before milling)
  2. Melt phase A ingredients. Heat to 90–95°C; mix until uniform.
  3. Cool batch to 82–85°C.
  4. Add phase B; mix until smooth.
  5. Add phase C color grind; mix approximately 30 min.
  6. Add phase D, avoid aerating batch; mix until uniform.
  7. Pour samples at 82–85°C.

Formula 26.5. Example of lip-gloss formulation

PhaseIngredients% W/W
AMyristyl Lactate
Tocopheryl Acetate
BIsopropylparaben (and) Isobutylparaben (and) Butylparaben
Mica (and) Titanium Dioxide (and) Red 7 Lake (and)
Hydrogenerated Polysiobutene (and) Palmitic Acid (Cellini Red)
CMica (and) Iron Oxides (and) Titanium Dioxide (Gemtone Tan Opal)8.00


  1. Melt phase A ingredients; heat to 85–90°C until melted and uniform.
  2. Cool batch to 80°C.
  3. Add phase B; mix until uniform.
  4. Add phase C; avoid aerating batch; mix until uniform.
  5. Pour samples at 80°C.

a.  Color

First of all, lipsticks are intended to enhance or bring color to lips. This is generally achieved by adding colorants to the product, which is applied to lips as a thin coating. Most shades found nowadays contain some red dye and range from pale pink/orange to bright red and to darker tones of red, brown, or purple. Some unusual lipstick colors such as green, blue, or black can also be found. The color imparts a higher visibility to lips and shades are also considered to reflect the occasional environment of the consumer. Color has also been found in the form of skin dyes such as eosin and bromofluoresceins. These dyes penetrate slightly into the first lay- er of lip skin, which makes them more wear resistant. As a consequence, they also can induce some sensitization, even irritation or allergic reactions in consumers.

The color of lipsticks can be modulated by a degree of transparency. Lipsticks can thus range from “natural” near colorless or slight coloring to high coverage in their applied layer on lips. Titanium dioxides are sometimes used to increase coverage, but they also introduce a whitening effect on the resulting lip shade due to their white initial color. These particles also need special attention due to their mat- tifying effect on a formulation, which can counter an expected gloss or high shine expectation. Color is imparted by absorbing dye pigments such as D&C dyes. Ad- ditional optical effects can be introduced by means of interference pigments (based on silica, mica, borosilicates) reflecting selective color wavelengths. The size of these pigments plays an important role, since larger particles give a glitter effect but finer particles can bring a silky appearance to a lip product. Interference pigments (positive color component system) can often contrast with darker base colors of a lipstick. For example, fine golden interference pigments, bring a warm tone to a darker red/ochre lipstick. Typical colorant concentrations range from 4 to 20%.

c. Gloss ingredients

Lipsticks and lip-glosses are often intended to bring high gloss and shine when applied on lips. This is generally obtained by use of oils, esters, and silicones helping to form a homogeneous coating on lips and enhancing the light reflection by increasing the refractive index of the lipstick film. These ingredients also help the cohesion of a formulation, especially when using fillers and larger pigments that disrupt the cohesion of a lipstick during molding.

c.   Oils

Many oils can be used in lipsticks, such as castor oil, mineral oils, and hydroge- nated vegetable oils. Their viscosity ranges from liquid to near wax-like, and they play a role of dispersant for colorants as well as cohesion enhancer in lipsticks. Excessive amounts can lead to heavy feel, rancidity, or too much payoff when lipsticks are being applied by a consumer. Many oils need a co-solvent such as fatty alcohols to ensure their good dissolution in a formulation. Typical oil concen- trations range from 6 to 10%.

d. Waxes

The most commonly used waxes in lipsticks are beeswax and Carnauba wax. Generally, waxes are used to increase the viscosity of a lipstick and balance the effects of oils and esters. Waxes are harder ingredients and they raise the melting point of a formulation. This control in the melting temperature of the lipstick also controls the payoff of a lipstick, which is the amount of product transferred from the lipstick to the lips of a consumer. Payoff needs to be adjusted based on the amount of colorants and the expected degree of coverage. Excessive use of waxes can lead to tackiness, graininess, and unpleasant application feel. Typical wax con- centrations range from 8 to 18%.

e. Solvents

Alcohols and esters are generally used as solvents to disperse color pigments and waxes. Many esters are available for this: linear and branched alkyl esters, and from stearates (e.g., glyceryl-, iso-, hydroxyl-stearates) to palmitates, lanolin alco- hols, caprylates, and others. Typical solvent concentrations range from 3 to 10%.

f.   Silicones

These ingredients can range from liquids to wax-like consistency. They bring a lighter feel to the lipstick and decrease the greasy/heavy perception for consum- ers. Polar esters are often used as co-solvent with silicones. Typical concentrations range from 1 to 5%.

g.   Polymers

Polymers are used to impart film-forming properties to lipsticks as well as to ensure the global film cohesion once applied onto lips. Another critical benefit of poly- mers is wear resistance. Usually, a large-scale polymer is used for film adhesion and flexibility to follow the movements of the lips while a finer-branched poly- mer serves to create the three-dimensional local network inside the film and traps colorant dyes, preventing their release on textiles or drinking containers (glass, ceramics). Polymers such as an acrylate/C12–22  alkylmethacrylate copolymers also provide good adhesion of the lipstick during application on lips. Finally, polymers can contribute to gloss in a lipstick by improving the quality of the film on lips and/or by increasing the refractive index of the lipstick [6].

Typical polymer concentrations range from 0.2 to 2%.

i. Additional ingredients

Sunscreens are often included in lipstick products to bring protection against ultraviolet light. Sun-protection factors range typically from 8 to 15. These ingredients are generally oils, so higher amounts of waxes are used to counter their lowering of viscosity. A good dispersion of sunscreen filters can be obtained by alcohol co-solvents.

Moisturizing ingredients such as glycerol are sometimes used in lipsticks. Adding a moisturizer helps maintain the skin condition but also the fullness of lips and thus more attractiveness. Antioxidants are sometimes used in lipsticks at lower concentrations (0.1–1%) and intended to remove ultraviolet-induced radicals inside the skin of lips. Numerous fragrances can be used in lipsticks to give a fruity smell/taste to products or sometimes to mask heavier greasy ingredients

Discover pigments for cosmetics.

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Meyer Rosen is the President of Interactive Consulting, Inc and a nationally certified Consulting Professional Chemist and Chemical Engineer.A Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry; Fellow American Institute of Chemists, Meyer is also Editor-in-Chief of Eurocosmetics Magazine and was previously Editor of Elsevier’s Personal Care & Cosmetic Technology Series; Chief Scientific Advisor & Director (Emeritus): HBA Global Expo Technical Conferences & International Safety & Regulatory Programs. Mr Rosen is also Editor-in-Chief of “Harry's Cosmeticology”, 9th Edition and Editor of “Delivery System Handbook for Personal Care and Cosmetic Products: Technology, Applications, and Formulations”.Meyer provides consulting services in chemical technology assessment for intellectual property & trade secret litigation; technical content editing & Cosmetic/Industrial Product Development for specialty chemical applications.


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