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.
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.