As someone that grew up in the 2000s, I fondly remember wearing mood rings. More than just a fashion statement, these colour-changing accessories were supposed to reveal the wearer’s true feelings: black meant that you were feeling frazzled; blue signified a state of calmness; green symbolised vitality and pink signalled happiness. I later learnt that these colours were merely a reflection of the body’s temperature and had nothing to do with how the wearer was feeling. Shocker.
When I heard about Maybelline’s Baby Lips Color Changing Lip Balm close to a decade later, I caved to nostalgia and bought a tube. A grown-up version of the mood ring, Baby Lips promises to adapt to the wearer’s “unique body chemistry” to create the perfect pink flush.
Every few years, beauty brands such as Tom Ford and Fenty Beauty will launch their own iterations of pH-reacting or colour-changing makeup just like Baby Lips. While part of its appeal comes from watching the product transform from one hue to the next right before your eyes, the end result is what truly impresses beauty enthusiasts.
Perfect for that “no makeup, makeup look”, these fail-proof, beginner-friendly formulas that are often subtle in nature take the guesswork out (no need for swatching!) by adapting to your body’s potential hydrogen (pH) to create a custom shade that will complement your lips and even cheeks.
The magic (and science) behind colour-changing makeup
Cosmetic chemist Kelly Dobos explains that what causes the colour-change is the interaction between skin’s pH (which typically ranges from 4.7 to 5.57) and fluorescein dyes Red 21 and Red 27, two types of colourants commonly found in these products. “The base formula of the lip product or blush has a naturally low pH or a small amount of citric acid is added to lower the pH and these two chemicals that are colourless at low pH turn pink in the specific pH range of the lips or skin. These colourants can also stain the lips and skin,” says Kelly.
The science behind colour-changing products, while fascinating, is nothing new. In fact, makeup artist Larry Yeo is quick to point out that the thermo-reactive technology and pigments used to create these makeup items have been around since the 1940s.
Additionally, while many brands claim that their colour-changing products will adjust to match your unique skin tone, Kelly cautions that “there really isn’t much variation in the shade of pink that is achieved from the dyes themselves. The resulting colour only appears different because the natural colour of lips or cheeks can vary between individuals.” In other words, it’s your skin’s natural flush that’s doing all the magic.
This is the same reason that explains why these shade-shifting formulas might not suit people from all shades, from fairest to deepest. “When applied on extremely fair skin, they might look so flushed that they look sore and on tanner, deeper skin complexions, their redder melanin tones will negate the colours or make it weaker,” Larry adds.
Three popular shade-shifting formulas for lips and cheeks
“Upon application, I was pleasantly surprised to discover it had a magenta tint to it. I really like the richness of the colour and the texture of this lipstick. The lipstick glides on smoothly onto my lips and keeps it moisturised, though I do wish it had better longevity.”
“The balm felt hydrating and soothing upon application, gliding on as a moisturising balm before seamlessly transitioning into a pink stain. This is really ideal for someone like me, who has dry lips and is thus often touching up my lippie on the go.”
“The colour transitioned into a fuchsia hue (with a touch of shimmer) that made me look polished and well-rested despite not having a lot of makeup on. Macadamia ternifolia seed oil and vitamin E offered instant relief to my flaky, chapped lips and I found myself reaching for this lipstick throughout the week. It was also surprisingly transfer-proof.”
“To be frank, I was initially apprehensive when I first uncapped the blush due to the bright colour. But when it’s applied to my cheeks, the gel-stick melted seamlessly into my skin, leaving behind a light flush of colour. The fact that it can be used on both lips and cheeks is a definite plus. The hydrating and smooth application also offered a dewy finish without any cakiness.
“For cheeks, I found that gently swiping the stick across the cheeks and blending with either your fingers, a brush, or a sponge gave the best results. It’s easy to control the level of intensity by layering the product as desired. Similarly, on the lips, a sheer layer provides a natural tint, while additional layers build up the colour for a bolder look.”
“This is a staple in makeup artist Larry Yeo’s kit for good reason. It imparts a healthy wash of colour sans excess shine and tackiness. Additionally, it also has a forgiving, translucent formula so you can gradually build up the intensity without having to worry that you’ll overdo it. Best part? It can be applied on your lips and cheeks.”
“It glides on effortlessly without pulling at the skin, and has a vivid yet buildable formula. It offers remarkable colour payoff and long-lasting wear, even through workouts. It doubles up as a lip tint, freeing up space in your makeup pouch. Applying it directly onto your cheeks might lift your foundation, so I highly recommend using your brush so it looks more natural.”
“This is the perfect thing to throw into your bag for quick touch-ups. You don’t need a brush or sponge to blend it out – just dab your ring or index finger into the pot and tap away until you’re satisfied with the colour. Its watery-gel consistency is great for faking a glossy sheen even if your skin is dehydrated.
A word of caution: Even though it blends seamlessly without blotches or streakiness, it does feel sticky when it is first applied. If you perspire easily or have oily skin, I would recommend priming your face with a mattifying primer to prevent the blush from slipping and sliding. ”
“Looks pretty unassuming with its translucent, jelly-like texture. Yet, once applied to my cheeks, it magically transforms into a stunning rosy blush with a radiant, light-catching finish. A little goes a long way with this product; warming it with my fingertips before blending yields a healthy flush and glow without the need for highlighter.
However, it may not be suitable for those who prefer a matte finish and aren’t fans of the glass skin look. For a natural look, use a light hand when applying this product; it offers great colour payoff and even coverage. If you have oily eyelids, I’d suggest avoiding the eye area due to its glossy texture.”
“The inclusion of caffeine in the formula was also interesting (not because I’m a caffeine addict, but because of the ingredient’s skin plumping and firming benefits!). When applied, the unique jelly texture morphed into a glow-giving tint that perfectly suited my skin.
As soon as it touched my cheeks, the jelly formula seamlessly adapted to my pH, creating a blush hue that looked natural and radiant. Less is more with this product – I’d recommend starting off light (you can blend the product slightly on the back of your hands first) before building up the intensity. For those who appreciate a healthy, radiant look without the heavy feel of traditional blush, this is it.”