Reverse Lipstick Chronology #2: Maybelline Smoking Red

Drugstore makeup has become a lot more interesting over the past few years, and I can’t help but envy people who are just getting into makeup now and have access to so many weird lipsticks at affordable price points. I’ve always been drawn to slightly eccentric makeup, but in my early twenties it was impossible to find so much as a true purple lipstick at the drugstore, let alone the blues, blacks, and greiges that are available now. In fact, there were so few purply lipsticks on the shelves of my local CVS back in 2011 that I can remember the exact shades that were available. There was Revlon Va Va Violet, which leaned more burgundy than purple and looked depressingly streaky in the photos I saw online. There was Revlon Berry Haute, a sort of purplish mauve. There was CoverGirl Divine, a bright magenta that looked purple if you compared it to a true pink. And that was it. The first real live purple lipstick I ever found at the drugstore was Maybelline Brazen Berry, part of the Colorsensational Vivids collection that launched in early 2013. Brazen Berry was followed that fall by Revlon Matte Balm in Shameless, a dark true purple. And so a new era of drugstore lipstick dawned.

Because of the Vivids collection and subsequent releases, I’ve come to think of Maybelline as one of the more innovative drugstore brands, in color if not in formula. So it didn’t surprise me that Maybelline was the brand to debut the 20-shade Loaded Bolds collection last summer. The collection comprises not only a true bright purple (of course), but also a white, a black, two blues (you saw Midnight Blue on my mom in this post), a few trendy greiges, mauves, and browns, and a handful of more conventional lipstick colors. All the Loaded Bolds come in a silver tube with a square cover in translucent dark blue, a huge improvement over the tacky orange Vivids tubes.

To my surprise, the Loaded Bolds shade that first called to me was one of the least quirky: Smoking Red, a dark red with a slight brown tone. It came to my attention through a post on the now-defunct xoVain (RIP). Yes, it was a sponsored post. Yes, Sable has the uncanny ability to make any beauty product look exceedingly cool. No matter: Smoking Red was beautiful, and I wanted it. I held off for a few months, though: I prefer to patronize cruelty-free brands, and I already had a couple of dark, murky off-red lipsticks that I loved. But inexorable fate intervened. Back in San Francisco during winter break, I had a peek in one of my mom’s makeup bags (as you do) and found an untouched tube of Smoking Red! My mom never wears red lipstick, so I asked her why she’d bought it. She couldn’t remember, but speculated that she might have intended it as a birthday present for me and forgotten to send it. Clearly, this lipstick and I were meant to be together.

Smoking Red looked decidedly warm-toned in Sable’s xoVain post, but on me it’s a dark neutral red, somewhere between brick and berry. It’s rare to encounter a nicely balanced red in the drugstore: I’d expect such a complex color from NARS, maybe, but not Maybelline. (Smoking Red actually reminds me of the darker red Audacious lipsticks, like Charlotte, Jeanne, and Olivia.)

I was surprised to find that Smoking Red wasn’t a dupe for any other lipstick I owned. I expected NYX Alabama to be very similar to Smoking Red, but it looks almost orange in comparison! NARS 413 BLKR comes a bit closer, but it’s warmer and rosier.

L-R: MAC Eugenie, NARS 413 BLKR, Smoking Red, NYX Alabama, NARS Cruella.

The formula of Smoking Red is…unusual. As you can tell from the arm swatches above, this is a very pigmented lipstick, opaque in one swipe. As with many pigmented lipsticks, though, application can be tricky. The formula has a tendency to drag and feather at the same time, which is pretty remarkable. After applying Smoking Red from the bullet, I often find myself tidying up my cupid’s bow with a bit of NYX Cabaret lip liner. When freshly applied, the lipstick has a satin finish with a bit of shine (hence the slight feathering). After about ten minutes, that shine fades to reveal a matte finish, which I much prefer. It’s as if there are two layers to the formula, one slippery and short-lived, the other matte and tenacious. Here’s Smoking Red just after application, sans lip liner:

To be fair, the slight unevenness at the edges probably wouldn’t be visible if you were talking to me at a normal distance, but it annoyed me enough that I went in with Cabaret for a cleaner look:

Isn’t that a beautiful ’20s-style wine-red? It lasts for hours, too. I find it a bit drying after half a day or so, but not so drying that my lips feel ravaged the next day.

Smoking Red looked pretty great with the sequined blazer I tried on at the very fancy Nordstrom in Palo Alto.

Despite my quibble with the formula, I’d highly recommend Smoking Red. It’s an affordable gem and a reminder of how dramatically drugstore makeup has improved in just the last five years.

19 thoughts on “Reverse Lipstick Chronology #2: Maybelline Smoking Red

  1. That blazer though.I used to LOVE Maybelline when I was a teenager, but it's been a long time since I bought something from them that wasn't a mascara (some Colour Tattoos in 2013-2014 I think were the last non-mascara purchases). I think I need to take another look, since you're right, they have been coming out with a lot of innovative colours for a staple drugstore brand. Smoking Red looks lovely, even if the formula isn't the best – but at the Maybelline price point, I don't expect as much.


  2. The lipsticks are the standout Maybelline products for me (though my mom has been buying their black eyeliner since the mid-'60s). I actually have no idea what else they're offering at the moment! From what I've seen in reviews, the Loaded Bolds formula does vary between shades, with the weirder colors being more problematic. I'm really impressed with Smoking Red, though; it feels higher-quality than a drugstore lipstick to me.


  3. Ooh, I love this colour. Definitely reminiscent of NARS Charlotte. We only had a handful of the Loaded Bolds this summer, and they weren't made permanent up here. I've never tried any of the regular Maybelline lipsticks, but the matte ones are incredible. Probably 75% of my lipsticks are mid-range to high-end at this point, but the Maybelline mattes are seriously the best mattes at the drugstore. I always eye up some of the colours in the regular line, but I prefer a matte finish so I'm not sure I'll bite the bullet. I mean, not that I need more lipstick, obviously.


  4. I'm a big fan of the Maybelline lipstick formula. Do you think it's similar to Nars Cruella? I love how it looks on you, but I am wary of these dark reds, since Cruella was so awful on me. (Last thing I need is another red lipstick, though, really.)


  5. The blazer looks fabulous!Ah, I've been looking for NARS Charlotte-like lipsticks that is not NARS Charlotte, mainly because of the price. I seriously WAS gonna buy Smoking Red, only to discover they don't sell it in the UK. We only have Midnight Merlot, which is cooler (are you thinking of maybe buying/testing this one? given you seem to prefer cool-toned lipsticks). I am thinking of getting a NYX dark burgundy, but I'm weary of their matte formula. From what I remember, you don't find the formula of NYX Alabama that impressive, right?


  6. I have a friend who raves about the matte formula, and I probably would have tried a few by now if not for the cruelty-free thing (not that I'm particularly consistent about that). I'm very tempted right now by Naked Coral, one of the new Inti-Matte Nudes, which seem to have a similar formula to the regular matte line.


  7. Cruella is the rightmost swatch on my arm, and I find it to be much lighter and redder than Smoking Red. On me, Cruella isn't very dark–it's basically a muted true red–but if you don't like it because it pulls too dark on you, then you definitely won't like Smoking Red.


  8. Haha, I sort of wish I'd bought the blazer, even though I can't think of a garment less suited to my lifestyle.I actually love the formula of NYX Alabama! It's one of the best drugstore lipsticks I've ever tried. I recently gave a negative review to another NYX matte, Up the Bass, which you may be thinking of. In general, the original NYX matte shades like Alabama seem better than the newer shades. That said, I wouldn't call Alabama a \”dark burgundy\”: it's more of a medium brick red.Midnight Merlot looks beautiful, but I have enough dark plummy reddish shades to last me a lifetime!


  9. I bought this today based on your photos and it looks like a purple-brown on me. I like it well enough but it wasn't the beautiful true red that it looks like on you. Also hi, I figured it was time to comment since I stalked you from xoVain awhile ago and just read your whole blog (which is my all time favorite beauty blog [of..uh, two that I read. but still]). I've now bought three beauty products and one type of candy due to your writing.


  10. Hello there! 😀 What was your name on xoVain? I'm very curious what else you've bought after reading my blog, though I hope those other things turned out better for you than Smoking Red did. It's so weird how different one product can look on two people. Sometimes it makes me question the value of writing product reviews at all. Though I'm very happy that you've been enjoying mine!


  11. I never commented there due to shyness. I *like* smoking red, just doesn't look the same on me as you, but I think my lips can darken most lipsticks. I've also bought the milky lavender stain, which I LOVE, a violet lip balm in a pretty tin (perfumeria something brand?) and the Anis de Flavigny violet pastilles (also in a pretty tin). Violets and pretty tins are of particular interest to me so I like both of those products as well.


  12. Oh, somehow I missed, that, sorry! No, it's not that it's too dark, but it's too . . . something that makes me look sickly. Anyway I have since talked myself out of buying another red lipstick, I think. Only took a few days!


  13. I LOVE Smoking Red in the tube, but something in my lip chemistry changes it dramatically to be almost fuschia. So near, and yet so far… [tragical sigh]


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