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Color-Changing Lipsticks: Makeup, Magic, or a Little Bit of Both?


Frog green. Smurf blue. Electric purple. Color-changing lipsticks (and lip balms and lip gloss) can come in a range of unique, weird, and unexpected shades that tend to prompt a “Huh.” when you see them in their packaging. But one swipe over your lips, and you’re stunned for a different reason: The shade looks nothing like it did in the tube! Why? Because these shade-shifting products are reacting to the pH level of your lips to create a whole new hue.  

If you’re getting major mood ring vibes right now, you’re not alone. Nearly all ’90s kids donned those novelty pieces of jewelry under the pretense that the accessory would reflect back their mood, though the science behind that claim is debatable (maybe your mood ring turned black because you were cold, and not because of stress!). Color-changing lipsticks fall into a similar category of tailored-to-you fun, but with a beauty twist.

DEAR MIDNIGHT ATELIER In Phlux Mini pH Color-Changing Lip Balm

How Do Color-Changing Lipsticks Work?

Unlike how mood ring colors change based on your body temperature, the science of color-changing lipsticks comes down to the pH of the lip product and the pH of your lips. An optimal skin pH is around 5.5, which is higher than that of lipstick. But not all lipsticks undergo a shade transformation—so what’s the secret? It comes down to a pH-sensitive dye called Red 27. Red 27, when included in shade-transforming formulas, reacts when exposed to your lips’ moisture and specific pH levels. And because everyone has a unique skin pH, the final color created by this seemingly magic lipstick will look different on everyone. The contrast is subtle, but when you also factor how the shade looks against your skin tone, you get a shade that appears more bespoke than your run-of-the-mill lip balm, hydrating lip gloss, or long-lasting liquid lipstick.

But enough talking—let’s see a color-changing lip balm in action! We tapped a few IPSY staffers to test the DEAR MIDNIGHT ATELIER In Phlux Mini pH Color-Changing Lip Balm and share their thoughts, plus snap a before-and-after of the transformation. 

Before (left) and after (right) of IPSY staffer Thyra.

Thyra found that the DEAR MIDNIGHT ATELIER lip balm mimicked the hydrating, comfortable finish of a lip oil, noting the buttery-soft formula and how smoothly it applied. While the product didn’t completely change her lip color, she liked the healthy flush of pink it gave to her lips.

Before (left) and after (right) of IPSY staffer Khadijah.

Khadijah found that against her skin tone, the lip balm provided a glow without too much extra pigment. It got points for its moisturizing finish, but she decided she would reserve it for days when she wanted a more natural makeup look.

Before (left) and after (right) of IPSY staffer Chanel.

Chanel didn’t notice a magical color change at first, so she decided to add Chapsick and a little bit of matte brown lip liner before applying a second layer—and voila! She loved the formula’s enhanced hue, plus the shine it gave her lips without any stickiness.

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About the author
Susan Muramoto
Susan is a senior copywriter at IPSY and a Bay Area-based freelance writer and copyeditor. She has over ten years of writing experience that spans public media, higher education, and beauty.
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Article Last Updated May 20, 2024 12:00 AM