Artisanal or luxury, tinted or sheer, the lip care industry is exploding

By , on October 23, 2014


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NEW YORK—Artisanal or oozing with luxury, lip balms are having a moment.

Joining cutesy offerings intended for kids and go-to standards around for years are newer lip scrubs, colour tints and balms that ask buyers to put their money where their mouths are for good causes.

The world market for lip care products is projected to reach $1.7 billion by 2015. In the United States, lip treatments were valued at $534 million in sales last year.

“There’s definitely an explosion in popularity. It’s sort of the Angelina effect,” said Erin Flaherty, beauty and health director for Marie Claire magazine, referring to the lip-endowed Angelina Jolie.

“Moisturized lips look plumper, so it’s a cheap and easy way to make your lips look bigger and sexier,” Flaherty said.

Balms and other treatments come in a range of price points, from $1 or so at the drugstore all the way up to fancy Creme de la Mer’s The Lip Balm at $55. High end or economical, consumers are interested year-round.

“Everyone’s looking for a little bit of fun,” said Tad Kittredge, a spokesman for Burt’s Bees in Durham, North Carolina. “It’s a healthy alternative to candy or gum as a treat.”

Flaherty’s magazine recently asked about 20,000 readers about lip balm and other beauty tools, tricks and tips. She said 48 per cent cited lip balm as their must-have beauty solution at the office. Hand cream was a distant second.

Asked for the one beauty product they’d want on a desert island, other than sunscreen, 36 per cent said lip balm.

“Women wear a little bit less makeup now than they used,” Flaherty said. “There’s more of an emphasis on great skin and looking effortless. And a lot of women are intimidated by lipstick.”

Here’s our liptacular look at treatments for the mouth:

Tint’s around but clears are popular, too

Treating lips with some bonus colour is definitely happening, Flaherty said. But she finds it telling that 35 per cent of respondents in Marie Claire’s “most wanted” survey picked the clear, medicated Maybelline New York’s Baby Lips Dr. Rescue as their favourite product launched between October 2013 and October 2014.

Flaherty likes the Sugar balms from Fresh for sunscreen and tint. She’s also a fan of Dior’s Addict Lip Glow Sheer. It reacts to the wearer’s pH balance for a customized, long-lasting flush.

Burt’s Bees balms, now iconic after more than 30 years, come in about 10 flavours, but the original beeswax balm with vitamin E and peppermint oil remains the most popular, Kittredge said.

Fashion designers do lip balms

As in nail polish, fashion designers are fond of lip balm collaborations.

Rachel Roy is among the latest, according to Flaherty. There’s a limited edition set of four for EOS, the company that brings you those unique egg-shaped balms. Not the first designer to team up with EOS, the Roy-inspired balms are intended to evoke travel with flavours called Indian Summer, Orange Blossom, Aloha Hawaii Strawberry Kiwi and St. Barth’s Sunrise Pink Grapefruit.

Some designers have struck out on their own with branded balms, including Anna Sui’s in a distinctive rose-motif tin.

“The fact that you’re seeing designer collaborations in lip balms proves just how much of a moment lip balms are having,” Flaherty said.

Lip balms and the luxury market

Plenty of balms are available at drugstore checkout, but luxury treatments have reached the lips.

The geisha-inspired company Tatcha offers a touch of gold with its Camellia Nourishing Lip Balm—actual gold. There’s a hand-laid, 24-karat gold leaf that sits across each $36 jar. The idea is to drag a finger across the balm and the leaf, which crushes on contact and offers an added shimmer.

“It’s sort of a bridge between skin care and cosmetics,” Flaherty said.

Eco chic and lip balms

Many lip products tout natural ingredients and lots of beauty companies give back to good causes. But newcomer Zoe Mesnik-Greene, a 21-year-old senior at the University of Washington in Seattle, has taken that a step further.

She debuts her Fair Trade lip balms Nov. 1 as a way to help children in Peru, India and Burkina Faso receive surgery on cleft lips and palate birth defects, using small-scale farmers for certain sustainable ingredients she sources in those countries.

About 5 per cent of each $4.99 balm goes to the non-profit Smile Train, which provides the surgeries.

Why lip balm? Mesnik-Greene said 7 of 10 people use lip balm every day and have three or four products at a time.

“They pull it out between one to 12 times a day, so why not a product that is so accessible and so affordable,” she said.

Lip scrubs and plumpers

In addition to balms, other lip treatments have multiplied.

Fresh sells a Sugar Lip Polish with brown sugar crystals for exfoliating. At the higher end, Kaplan MD has its Lip 20 Mask for $48, instructing users to let it sit on the lips for three to five minutes for a tingling sensation from papaya enzymes.

Lip balms and men

Stewart & Claire, a Brooklyn-based newbie founded by Kristin Donnelly, sees hope in guys and balms. About 30 per cent of her customers are men and one of their favourites is a floral called La Nuit, with jasmine.

“In the way that coffee has gone very specialty and ice cream has gone very specialty, more micro lip balms are following suit,” Donnelly said.

She blends natural ingredients into Mint Julep and Old Fashioned flavours. Her Autumn balm was inspired by Indian Chai and includes ginger, cardamom, cinnamon and black pepper.

“I tried to think about it like a perfumer where you have top, middle and base notes,” she said. “I wanted to do something more grown up.”