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clean lip products: your rundown

You know that question on magazine quizzes, the one that goes: “if you were stranded on a deserted island and could only have one beauty item, what would it be?”

While my logical answer to this illogical question would be sunscreen, I can’t deny my love affair with lipstick. There’s something about a little lip color that makes me feel put together and ready for the day, even if I wear no other makeup at all.

And that’s exactly where I found myself in March of 2020 when the work-from-home mandate began— locked down and bare-faced. Like many of us, my usual morning beauty routine shifted as my days did. I had actually transitioned to a sans-foundation look a few months prior, opting instead for a glowy serum with dabs of concealer. Now that it was really just a skincare situation, I wanted something lighter for my lips too, like a balm but with good color payoff.

I also wanted to find some cleaner options. Believe it or not, it was my dad who first mentioned that my mom and I should switch to more natural products years ago (hi, I’m finally listening!). Do some digging and you’ll see recent studies have confirmed the presence of the compound PFAS, known as “forever chemicals” due to their inability to break down and thus build up in the human body, in several types of makeup. These compounds aid in longevity— think “waterproof” and “long-lasting”. Heavy metals like chromium, cadmium, aluminum, manganese and lead join the deadly cocktail, especially in lipstick. This is a multifaceted issue at many levels, from lax FDA regulations to complex manufacturing supply chains. Regardless, we consumers have agency to armor up with the facts and support healthier alternatives. Good news, there are plenty of options out there and I’m testing them for you!

OGEE Tinted Sculpted Lip Oil

The newest products out on market are living where beauty meets skincare. These jumbo pencils are packed with plant powered ingredients like olive fruit, coconut and jojoba seed oil to condition and create a buildable color. The hydrating oil-based formula is in-between balm and creamy lipstick. One swipe gives a whisper of color, two creates a more opaque look. The first I chose to try was “classic pink” Camellia. My default lip color usually falls in the pink/rose family so this felt like a nice place to start. I ended up enjoying these so much I bought five more shades! I love the crayon pointed end— great for lining then filling. The softer tints like Camellia and Linnea have a sheen to them (Linnea also has some shimmer). With the more pigmented shades like Dahlia and Azalea, the texture is similar to if you blotted a traditional lipstick with a tissue— lived-in and effortless. I love the minty fresh feeling from the peppermint oil that I’m used to getting with a balm.

These have become my go-to for everyday. I recommend not wearing a clear balm underneath because it slips around too much for my liking. This one’s already got the balm built in. When I do decide to go all out with a full face look, a neutral lip liner extends the wear time but they don’t get past a meal like lipstick does. But hey, if that’s what happens when a product doesn’t have those pesky PFAS, I’ll take it!

Cleo Cosmetics Lip Care Trio

Some initial thoughts upon arrival:

  1. Unique and modern packing. I’m intrigued.
  2. Oh they are.. connected? I feel like I want to separate them. Hmm.

Out of the three products in this trio, the clear lip oil was my most-wanted. But I have to say, the whole lineup has been beneficial. Kathy from FUTURE LYNN and I were chatting about how gorgeous this would look sitting atop a desk. So that where it sits now. I find myself grabbing it throughout the work day. Applying from left to right, the PH Peel dries down pretty fast. The formula includes gluconolactone, a naturally occurring polyhydroxy acid or PHA, to gently exfoliate, without the potential to damage lips like scrubs can. Love that! Then you can layer on the Nourishing Oil right after, which feels more like a thin gloss that isn’t sticky. Also a yes. Finish it off with the tawny Nude Gloss that’s a bit thicker than the oil. The end result is a juicy, natural look. Bonus: it feels nourishing, like a little hug to your lips.

Final tid-bits after my testing period:

  • I thought I might want to separate the trio for travel because the block has some weight to it. When I brought it on a road trip though, I was glad I did. The versatility had me reaching for it often. And there’s actually a little mirror hiding under the cover!
  • At a higher price-point then I would typically pay for this kind of product, I think this makes a lovely luxury gift. A stocking stuffer if you want to get a head start…

W3LL People Optimist Lipstick

I was originally on the hunt for a clean setting powder for special events when I found myself on the W3LL PEOPLE site. I’ve heard good things from natural beauty buffs so I thought I’d give the brand a go myself. In the spirit of my lip quest, a couple products hopped into my cart… like this warm pink hue called Choose Love. Swoon. I love how soft and natural this looks. Plant-based ingredients like organic shea butter, jojoba oil, and silk condition lips for a smooth feel. However, the formula is more matte than I like, especially for all-day wear (the cracking, I can’t!). It does fair better against a mask than satiny oils or glosses though. A balm underneath will do the trick for me. To be noted: the shade images on site aren’t super accurate as per the reviews. Oh and the packaging! To get the lipstick out of the cover, pop the button at the bottom. That was a fun touch.

W3LL People Nudist Lip Butter SPF 15

From the title, I wasn’t sure what texture to expect from a lip butter, let alone a nudist one? It sounds like it would be thin like an oil. I also anticipated the color to be a wash, more sheer than opaque. It turned out to be a full-on lipstick to me, a hydrating one. And thiccc. Checking back at the product details on the site, the Lip Butter is described as the “love child of a lipstick and a lip balm”. This makes sense now. Jojoba oil, organic aloe leaf extract and red raspberry seed oil are the conditioning agents, with SPF 15 for sun protection. It definitely didn’t go anywhere after a day outside wine-tasting. I appreciated that. The metallic copper hue is perfect for fall too! I liked wearing it with similar tones on the eyes for a monochrome look. All in all, a wildcard I’m not mad about.

I have to say, I’m on board with clean beauty. There are some established names in the game and many new brands stepping up to innovate for the void in the market. While quality is understood to be higher, there is this stigma to break that more natural products won’t perform as well as your big-name drugstore companies or designer labels that get all the love. And to some extent, that can be true for longevity depending on your pick. But do we really need our lip products to stay put for 14+ hours if it means long-term exposure to neurotoxins? I will happily go to the deserted island with OGEE in the shade Camellia, thank you. 🖤

Alexandra Porter is a Magna Cum Laude graduate of Savannah College of Art and Design with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in fashion design. Her senior thesis collection of hand-sewn garments was chosen to be showcased at the SCAD Fashion Show in 2018. As a trend forecaster, stylist, writer and artist, she enjoys many vantage points from which to understand and contribute to the industry. With an intrinsic desire to pursue the purpose and meaning behind design and beyond, she is guided by this phrase: Think with dimension, Create with invention, Live with intention.

all photos also by Alexandra.

all opinions are our own; no free products or compensation were received from manufacturers for these mentions.

Do you have any follow up questions or comments? Or do you have your own favorite product recommendations to share? Please send an email to Would love to hear from you!

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