With masks off, it's time for your lips to shine
They surreptitiously appeared on fashion runways early last year. First, gloss-slicked and salmon pink at Dries Van Noten, then lined in silver and gold at Ferragamo and Vivienne Westwood.
Then, at this year's Spring/Summer shows in Paris Fashion Week, the colours became bolder and more unapologetic. Swathes of crimson red or fiery orange - sometimes wet and glistening and, other times , matte.
I am talking about lipstick.
And with optional mask-wearing outdoors and social events picking up in Singapore, many women have welcomed this lipstick renaissance with their own cherry-tinted smiles.
Just ask marketing executive Stefanie Koh.
"Pandemic or not, I'm still wearing lipstick every day," she says. "But I've just become more conscious of whether I've touched up my lipstick after lunch or not."
Squirrelled away in different bags are the 27-year-old's stash of about 50 lipsticks, each costing between $30 and $60.
Her most recent purchase? Makeup Forever's Rouge Artist in a rich burgundy shade.
"I'm definitely wearing bolder colours," she says.
By now, many people would have heard of how Covid-19 challenged the "lipstick index".
Coined by American cosmetics billionaire Leonard Lauder, the economic term describes how women during a recession would still splurge on little luxuries like lipstick while forgoing more expensive items such as clothes and shoes.
But after months of plummeting sales due to mask mandates, lipstick sales are now on the rebound worldwide.
In Singapore, make-up brands YSL Beauty reported an increase of 145 per cent in sales for matte lip products and 31 per cent for their shine counterparts, while Armani Beauty's total lip sales rose by 33 per cent on March 26, two days after the Government announced that it would be easing most of its pandemic restrictions.
Google Trends has reflected this growing interest. The search volume for "lipstick" in Singapore has more than doubled since March after declining sharply at the end of 2021 due to the Omicron variant.
"Putting on lipstick again will be a symbol of returning to life," chairman of the world's biggest cosmetics company, L'Oreal, Mr Jean-Paul Agon, famously declared last year.
Mr Agon predicted that there "will be a fiesta of make-up and fragrances" once the pandemic ends.
Ms Que Ramli, a social-media marketeer, was working remotely from Australia in March when news that masks would no longer be mandatory there - indoors and outdoors - took her by surprise.
"I'm so glad that this day has finally arrived," says the 29-year-old.
"I've been happily flaunting my lipstick-coated lips for more than a month now and I'm happy I no longer have to deal with smudged lipstick on my masks."
She took only one lipstick with her to Australia - the L'Oreal Rouge Signature in deep red, her "go-to colour" - but has since purchased several more.
"A bold lipstick helps to brighten up my face and can really help to turn my mood around," she says.
New trends have emerged along with the lipstick's return.
YSL Beauty Singapore's chief make-up artist, Ms Lala Chin, 31, reveals that while matte lipsticks are a good option for an "urban fast-paced lifestyle" due to its long lasting wear, this year is all about high-shine pouts, with an emphasis on formulas that nourish and hydrate one's lips.
"Since Covid-19, skincare and maintenance have been on the rise and, with the easing of restrictions, make-up products must not only have benefits that go beyond colour and coverage, but also skincare-grade ingredients that improve the appearance of your skin and lips," she says.
There is also a shift towards vegan and cruelty-free formulas as the eco movement continues to grow worldwide.
Several new labels - and some old ones including Body Shop, KVD Beauty and Kylie Cosmetics - have taken a stance against animal-testing and banned all animal substances from their formulas.
Beeswax, a common ingredient found in lipsticks, is no longer used in vegan brands because of the controversial and questionable ways in which it is harvested and processed - such as the force-feeding of bees with sugar water and the excessive use of pesticide - in countries such as China and Brazil.
Instead, these brands use wax made from fruit and plants.
One person who began transitioning to vegan and cruelty-free lipsticks last year is self-professed lipstick addict Cynthia Lim.
"I noticed that my skin improved drastically when I wore less make-up and resorted to more natural solutions during the pandemic," she says.
"I thought if this could work on my skin, maybe it would work on my lips too."
The 32-year-old digital marketeer, whose favourite vegan lipstick brands include KVD beauty and Fenty Beauty, reveals that she also cares about the environmental impact of her purchases.
"I look into the brand's ethos to see if they are cruelty-free and how long the product stays on me without side effects. I would always prefer to support local small businesses," she says.
The pandemic, however, changed more than just consumer preferences - it changed shopping habits as well.
For the past two years, social media has become the preferred mode of discovering beauty.
When customers were barred from trying on cosmetics in brick-and-mortar stores across Singapore, they turned to Instagram, Facebook and TikTok for information.
Ms Ameera Buhari, founder of Singapore-based e-commerce site Makeup Haven Cosmetics (@themakeuphavencosmetics) has been seeing a steady increase in sales since the beginning of the pandemic.
She operates her business on Instagram and sells indie beauty brands that are not commonly available in Singapore - such as Jeffree Star Cosmetics, Milk Makeup and Iconic London, among others.
"Overall, lipsticks were still not doing well at the start of the pandemic. However, most brands have started working on new transfer-proof and mask-proof formulas and that's when the lipstick market started booming and picking up gradually," says the 25-year-old law undergraduate.
The brand that started it all was The NYX Shine Loud High Shine Liquid Colour, according to Ms Ameera.
When it was released last year - along with a flood of #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt videos singing the praise of the lipstick's glossy finish and ability to stay on for hours - this $21.90 product became a viral sensation, spurring other brands to create their own versions.
Ms Ameera says: "When we started promoting the Shine Loud Liquid Colour on our page, that was when our lipstick sales jumped by about 40 per cent."
Not everyone is taken with the merits of online shopping, however.
Ms Que claims buying lipsticks from e-commerce stores poses challenges of its own.
"It's hard to tell the texture and the colour exactly without looking at it in person," she says.
"I saw how NYX's shine range exploded on TikTok and all the influencers were raving about it. I hated the texture and consistency, but by that time, it was too late - I had already bought six colours and they all went to waste."
Ms Chin says: "If TikTok has taught us anything, it's that trends are fleeting.
"You should choose a lip colour you feel the best in, no matter the occasion or time of day. If a fuschia shade evokes confidence in you but is not a match nor an 'everyday look', go ahead, push the boundaries and rock it."
The hottest lip looks
Here is what beauty experts and make-up artists have to say about 2022's biggest lipstick trends and how to rock them.
Mad for monochrome
"Using a single peach or terracotta lip colour on the cheeks, eyes and lips looks modern and fresh."
- Ms Vanessa Eckels, global artistry trainer of cruelty-free cosmetic brand Hourglass
"Glazed lips are juicy, plump and high-gloss. Try iridescent shades like Anastasia Beverly Hills Lip-gloss in Moon Jelly or Fenty Beauty Gloss Bomb in Diamond Milk, or opt for a colourless high-shine layer over your favourite lip liner.
"Pair with a fluffy laminated brow and brightly coloured draped cheeks." - Ms Angelique Hogan, director of retail training for Sephora SEA
For the love of liners
"I'm loving the contoured look with lip liner and lipstick - the contrast between the lighter lipstick and deeper liner is on trend with a 1990s vibe. I also love clear gloss paired with lip liner for a bare and defined look." - Ms Claudia Soare, president of cosmetics company Anastasia Beverly Hills
The variety of lipsticks available today is mind-boggling. Here is a list of old classics and new launches to help you turn up the drama when your mask is lowered.
Guerlain KissKiss BeeGlow, $55
For something a little sheer, try BeeGlow. Made from 98 per cent natural-origin ingredients, including honey cultivated on the hills of Corsica, this lipstick has a glowing, soft-focus finish to bring out the natural tint of one's lips.
Infused with hyaluronic acid, propolis and shea butter, it also serves as a balm that can soften, nourish and plump lips.
Anastasia Beverly Hills Lip Liners, $30
Lip liners - which define your pout and stop your lipstick from going rogue - are experiencing a revival.
Anastasia's liners have a square-shaped tip that allows you to sharpen it to a fine point for extreme precision. Pick from 18 creamy matte shades and wear it with lipstick - or even alone.
KVD Beauty's Epic Kiss Nourishing Vegan Butter Lipstick, $35
Powered by cupuacu butter (made from the cousin of the cocoa plant), KVD Beauty's range of vegan lipstick blends high-pigment colour and hydrating, lip care-infused formula to hydrate and nourish. The studded white case, meanwhile, is made from 80 per cent recycled materials.
Nudestix's Intense Matte Lip + Cheek Pencil, $42
Nudestix's pencil is a soft, non-drying matte lipstick, a lip liner and a blush rolled into one.
Apart from its intense pigment load, this pencil is also water-proof, kiss-proof and free of any nasties such as gluten, preservatives and animal-derived ingredients.
Fenty's Icon Refillable Lipstick, $34 for fills and $20 for case
With a range of seven neutrals and three reds curated by pop star founder Rihanna, Fenty's Icon delivers high pigments without the heavy, cloying texture.
Semi-matte and creamy, the formula combines hyaluronic acid, vitamins C and E and amino acids to keep that pout pretty.
Armani Beauty Lip Maestro's 400, $55
Despite the dizzying assortment of colours, textures and finishes, there are "universally flattering" lipsticks out there designed for all complexions.
Shade 400 is one of them. The story goes that the luxury label's founder Giorgio Armani himself rejected more than 90 colours before landing on the perfect shade of crimson known as "the Armani red".