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Lip Gloss Is Beauty’s Secret to Sales and Sex

Recalling the appeal of Lip Smackers balms and Lancôme’s Juicy Tubes, skincare brands like Rhode, Summer Fridays and UBeauty have the lip category cornered.
A woman lying on a life size jellybean.
For her 27th birthday in November, Bieber debuted a Jelly Bean lip tint, a celebratory, sparkly gloss with a “candy-coated scent.” (Rhode)

Hailey Bieber probably didn’t set out to be a lip gloss mogul, but somehow, that’s where she landed.

When she launched skincare brand Rhode in 2022, peptide lip treatments were part of the initial offerings. Three flavours of clear gloss, at the time, seemed secondary to a peptide glazing fluid that couldn’t stay in stock. But by last summer, it was Bieber’s lip products that became the main event.

In August, Rhode released Strawberry Glaze, a lip gloss collaboration with Krispy Kreme that was meant to look like you took a bite of a doughnut and smeared your lips in strawberry jelly (but sexier). The founder was most likely just looking for the latest extension of a running pastry theme; the limited-edition version of the line’s Peptide Lip Treatment followed “glazed doughnut skin” and “glazed doughnut nails,” two Bieber-fuelled beauty trends to hit it big online.

A month later came lip tints, a new product, in berry, pink, mauve and brown, all of which are currently sold out on Rhode’s website. For her 27th birthday in November, Bieber debuted a Jelly Bean lip tint, a celebratory, sparkly gloss with a “candy-coated scent.” There was less effort to lay the groundwork for candy-themed cosmetics, but the product attracted a massive waitlist before its release and sold out quickly.

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A spokesperson for Rhode said that the brand has sold over one million units of lip gloss to date. That figure includes lip treatments and tints.

A lip gloss stuck into an ice cream
Rhode, which launched in 2022 with a small range of skin care products, has recently started to experiment with colour cosmetics. (Rhode)

Bieber isn’t the only one making a killing on lip gloss. According to Euromonitor, sales of the product in the US reached $508 million in 2022, up from $406 million a year prior (data for 2023 due out in March will almost certainly show an even bigger increase). Even within the wider category of prestige makeup, lip is the fastest-growing overall beauty category, according to Circana. Lip oils, balms and gloss have the most momentum, all growing at afaster rate than lipstick.

I talked to Emily Sundberg, who pens the Substack “Feed Me,” about the collect-them-all mentality that keeps everyone buying gloss. We compared Rhode’s growing lip lineup, Lancôme’s Juicy Tubes in the early 2000s and Lip Smackers, which I had an excessive amount of in the mid-1990s.

“Young women get exposed to that usually in succession. You’re at the checkout aisle with your mom getting a cherry Chapstick, and a few years later you’re tall enough to see the counter at Bloomingdale’s and getting exposed to Juicy Tubes,” Sundberg said. “Now, young girls are getting exposed to Rhode because that’s what’s on TikTok, but it’s the same experience. It’s a very easy entry into beauty and pampering yourself.”

Sundberg, who is 29, added: “My friends carry it the same way they would carry a Juul. It’s an object to carry with you everywhere, and there’s usually a few of them in people’s bags.”

Lip gloss is having a broader cultural impact, too.

Content creators use it while shooting videos to get more views, a phenomenon detailed in The New York Times last fall. Applying lip gloss at the start of a video, the piece explains, could hook viewers and increase the likelihood that people stay and watch your content.

Lip gloss may even get you laid, Sundberg told me.

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Apparently, if a girl puts lip gloss on in front of someone it means she wants to sleep with them. And if you’re wearing lip gloss when you’re making out with someone, “you’re branding them because it sticks to them.”

But it’s how these products are marketed – as treatments and “lip care” versus gloss, which is what they are – that explains their resurgence. Lumping lip gloss in with skincare, rather than makeup, appeals to our pathological quest for self-care and betterment. The inclusion of skincare ingredients could, for some shoppers, justify higher prices.

And it’s skincare brands, not makeup brands, launching the most successful lip gloss products right now, at every price point, whether it’s Naturium’s $10 Phyto-Glow Lip Balm to Rhode’s $16 tints to Summer Fridays $24 Lip Butter Balms to UBeauty’s nearly $70 Lip Plasma.

In under a year, UBeauty introduced 12 shades of The Lip Plasma Compound, including “Shanghai,” a special-edition red that came out for the holiday season. At $68, the product definitively skews more millennial and Gen X, similar to the rest of the brand, which counts a $148 resurfacing compound as its hero. But as evidenced by the product’s rapid expansion, it’s clear that lip – and colour – is a priority for Craig.

“The pendulum tends to swing in between lipstick and lip gloss; one goes out of style, and one goes right back in,” said Manola Soler, senior director at Alvarez & Marsal Consumer Retail Group. “It’s a fashion-oriented category, usually, but the trend now is not about having 100 shades of lipstick – it’s skewing more neutral and [towards] more limited colour ranges, but then with skincare credibility or skincare claims.”

Soler said a creation of “new occasions to wear these products” is partly responsible for the craze. While one may not wear a traditional lipstick around the house, they may wear a lip treatment, a hydrating oil or a mask, which Laneige has the market cornered on with its Lip Sleeping Mask.

On Jan. 18, Summer Fridays will launch a pigmented Dream Lip Oil, almost four years after the debut of its Lip Butter Balm. The balm is one of the brand’s top three best sellers, co-founder Marianna Hewitt told me, and comes in seven shades, five of which are tinted pink, coral, red, nude or beige. The balm, at $24, is priced lower than the rest of the line’s skincare and remains “great for customer acquisition.”

Last November, the skincare line won a CEW award for best lip product (interestingly, the award did not go to a makeup brand). Casey Lewis of Gen-Z focussed Substack “After School” reported that Summer Fridays’ Lip Butter Balm was one of the most popular items among TikTok Christmas hauls, alongside Stanley tumblers and wide leg Lululemon leggings. More recently, Rihanna was seen carrying a Lip Butter Balm on the street and actor Jeremy Allen White wore the vanilla flavour of the gloss to the Critics’ Choice Awards this month.

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Summer Fridays’ decision to go with an oil as its next lip product is timely; lip oils exploded on TikTok in 2022, thanks to Dior’s lip oil and the more affordable options (and dupes) that followed. The #diorlipoil hashtag has 1.1 billion TikTok views. Google’s top growing lip care trends in search are peptide lip treatment and lip oil, according to Spate.

“We’re still a skincare brand and skin is always at the core of what we do. There has to be this skincare throughline in all of our products,” Hewitt said. “You won’t see us launching something like a glittery eye shadow palette because that doesn’t make sense for who we are as a brand.”

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