MAC Metallic Lipsticks in Metal Head and Pale Rose, and a Lipstick Taxonomy

Now that beauty-throwback trends have slid forward in time from the Brown ’90s to the Iridescent ’90s, brands are releasing a flood of metallic lipsticks—or, at least, what they call “metallic lipsticks.” But there tends to be a huge amount of variation between one formula and another, and even between one shade and another. Some “metallic” shades have an even sheen; others have big chunks of glitter; others shift their color depending on the angle and light. Can all of these finishes really be described by the same adjective? I THINK NOT. So I present to you…

You might have to enlarge the image to see all of my neurotic little notes, but the main point I’m trying to make in this flow chart is that whether a lipstick can be classified as “metallic” depends on 1) the size of the shiny particles and 2) the color of the particles relative to the base color. I define a metallic lipstick as one with an even sheen (i.e. no visibly discrete particles) that is the same color as the base color. Here’s a close-up of the relevant section:

All of these categories are up for debate, of course, but this is more or less how I classify lipsticks in my head. Which brings me to the subject of today’s review: Metal Head and Pale Rose, two shades from MAC’s new Metallic range. I wish I had a macro lens or, you know, anything better than an iPhone camera, because my photos don’t remotely do justice to the sparkle.

I was a little confused when I saw photos of these lipsticks pop up on Temptalia. I’d been expecting something like the NYX Wicked Lippies, but most of the MAC shades appeared to have a sheer base color and a contrasting color of shimmer or glitter particles, which made them indistinguishable from MAC’s venerable Frost formula. (My flow chart would put most MAC “frost” shades into the “shimmer” or “pearl” category, since I define “frost” pretty narrowly as a white or silvery sheen. Again, up for debate; there’s a case to be made that a silver/white pearl or a gold sheen could count as frost, or that I’m putting way too much thought into this.) It’s unclear to me why MAC didn’t simply expand the Frost range, as they did the Matte range two years ago. My best guess is that “frost” is still a dirty word, evoking silvery bubblegum horrors from the ’80s, and MAC thought they might as well cut their losses and create an entirely new category. Hey, it worked on me: I spent an embarrassing amount of time one morning admiring Temptalia’s sneak peek of all 18 shades. If you’re in need of some extra beauty today (and who isn’t, these days), do yourself a favor and scroll slowly down that page. Here are some far less pretty swatches of my own, taken under Nordstrom lighting that’s pulling all the shades a bit warm:

L-R: Cold Front, Royal Hour, Pale Rose, Metal Head, Foiled Rose.

And the full display:

The first shade to catch my eye was Metal Head, a sheer purply black with fuchsia sparkle. Some of you will remember my ultimately futile search for a sheer black lipstick last year (posts here and here). After destashing my deluxe sample of Givenchy Noir Révélateur earlier this year, I gave up the quest, concluding that it might not be possible to find a lipstick that delivered the look I wanted. But when I saw Metal Head, my lust revived. Honestly, I didn’t even care how it wore; I just wanted to own and ogle that tube of cyberpunk perfection. So I bought it. 

A few weeks later I tried on Pale Rose, which seems to be the blogger favorite, and bought that too. 

Even before swatching these lipsticks, I had a feeling that the flow chart would place them in a category other than “metallic.” Below, I’ve swatched them next to two other shiny lipsticks: Urban Decay Roach and Milani The Ultimatte. Both of those shades have an even sheen that’s roughly the same color as the base color, which qualifies them for the “metallic” category. The MAC lipsticks, though…well, take a look:

L-R: Roach, Pale Rose, Metal Head, The Ultimatte.

Out of focus:

Pale Rose and Metal Head have much larger sparkles than the other two. And while Pale Rose’s sparkles are similar in color to its base, Metal Head’s sparkles are definitely not. My flow chart would put Pale Rose in the “glitter” family and Metal Head in “shimmer.”

But the chart has one big weakness: it assesses how lipsticks look in the tube, not on the lips. And unless I’m in direct artificial light, the two colors in Metal Head blend into a metallic-looking grayish purple. Someone commented on my Instagram that the shade looks very similar to Kling It On from MAC’s Star Trek collection last year, and after looking up swatches, I suspect that Metal Head may be a repackaged Kling It On. So if you missed out on that one, here’s another chance!

I worried that Metal Head might apply or wear off unevenly, but I’m impressed by the formula. It’s definitely sheer (the swatch above is two or three layers), and if you look closely, you can see that it bunches up a little in my lip lines. From a normal distance, though, I think it looks pretty good! It applies smoothly without being too slippery (though it does need touching up after two hours or so), and it feels comfortable and slightly moisturizing.

When I posted about Metal Head on Instagram, I got some questions about whether it would work as a topper for another lipstick. So I layered it over MAC matte lipstick in Men Love Mystery, a bright warm purple. Here’s Men Love Mystery on its own (top) and under Metal Head (bottom):

Layered over Milani Matte Naked, Metal Head produces an interesting purplish taupe:

Metal Head made both lipsticks darker and cooler-toned, but the sparkle didn’t really translate in either case, which was disappointing. Still, much better for a “smoky lip” than Black Lace Rabbit.

Some reviewers have praised Pale Rose for being more opaque than MAC’s darker metallic shades like Metal Head. What they haven’t made clear, though, is that it’s not the base color that provides that opacity; it’s the thickly packed glitter. Metal Head looks metallic under certain lights, but Pale Rose always looks as sparkly as Lana Del Rey’s décolletage in the “Music To Dangle Prepositions To Watch Boys To” video:

If Metal Head is cyberpunk, Pale Rose evokes trashy ’60s and ’70s futurism, like Lana Del Rey in a lamé catsuit and fake antennae. I don’t know why I’m so attracted to that aesthetic this spring, but I really am (not that my attraction translates into any meaningful difference in my fashion or makeup). Pale Rose is a sheer pinkish brown with abundant gold sparkles and a glint of pink here and there. I’ve swatched it between two other nudeish lipsticks, Bourjois Beige Trench (left) and Milani Matte Naked (right). Beige Trench looks shimmery here, but that’s just the sunlight.

Pale Rose on my lips:

When I say “abundant gold sparkles,” that’s exactly what I mean. Pale Rose feels gritty when I’m applying it (though not when it’s sitting on my lips). And I wasn’t aware until I tried Pale Rose that a lipstick could have glitter fallout. Here’s the tissue with which I removed it last time I wore it:

All this sounds like complaining, but I’m actually pleased with Pale Rose. It’s not an everyday shade, but I like it as a retro-futuristic variation on an ordinary MLBB. Here I am wearing Pale Rose with a Modern Renaissance “smoky eye” that got almost entirely lost in my eyelid crease. I’m wearing Warm Sienna in the crease, Antique Bronze all over the lid, Cyprus Umber in the outer corner, and (I think) Primavera in the inner corner:

It was smoky, though, I promise. I need to start blending my crease color way higher, I guess. But how much higher can I possibly take it before it runs into my eyebrow?

Overall, I really enjoy Metal Head and Pale Rose. I’d recommend the MAC metallics to anyone who enjoys offbeat lip colors, with the caveat that most of the shades are not true metallics but sheer lipsticks packed with shimmer of a different color. If that appeals to you, then knock yourself out. Have you come around to the Iridescent ’90s yet?

25 thoughts on “MAC Metallic Lipsticks in Metal Head and Pale Rose, and a Lipstick Taxonomy

  1. You had me at the mention of Lana del Rey, now I want Pale Rose too!!!! To match my shimmery decolletage that only exists in my fantasies.Your flow chart is adorable and nerdy, although I still find shimmer, pearl and frost very hard to discern. Haha


  2. Yes, it seems like everything shimmery or reflective is now called metallic, because that's what the people want! Personally, I'm just happy that shimmery lips are acceptable again, as someone who can't stand wearing matte liquid lipsticks (for the most part) and who is still hanging on to an ancient tube of Maybelline Wet Shine lipstick from 2001 with 1/4 of the bullet left. (I don't wear it, but it seems to still be perfectly fine.) These both look great on you! Better than I'd expected from Temptalia's macro shots (and ratings).


  3. I've actually anticipated this review since the first time you showed Pale Rose on Instagram. I'm very on the fence about this one. One the one hand, I really want it, on the other hand, I might already own something similar. Urban Decay Peyote might be a functional dupe, and I am lucky to own two tubes (one of my own, and one from my mom who destashed it). It's perfection for my complexion in my opinion, but it's rather shimmery/has some fine pearl, it's definitely not \”metallized\” as UD claims. So, I'm still struggling to ignore Peyote and to spend money on a functional dupe. I'm participating in Reddit's makeup rehab, so this stupid voice of reason is in my head.


  4. I know I talk about k-pop all the time, but I'm a huge LDR fan (and have been since, like, 2011). I love her commitment to her aesthetic. And I agree that shimmer, pearl, and frost are pretty similar! Especially since each finish can change from the tube to the lips.


  5. Ooh, have you ever posted about that lipstick on your blog or instagram? I'd love to see it. I'm with you on the matte liquid lipsticks, though the trend now seems to be matte liquid lipsticks with sparkle, which is ominous (I know Urban Decay just released a set of glittery lip toppers that dry down fully). And yes, Temptalia's reviews had me worried, but these really aren't bad lipsticks unless you're expecting full opacity.


  6. I just looked up swatches of Peyote, and from a Makeup Rehab perspective, I don't think you need both. Peyote definitely has finer shimmer than Pale Rose, but I doubt they'd look all that different from a normal distance. And I wouldn't call Pale Rose \”metallized\” either, for that matter! NYX Wicked Lippie in Power might be closer to what you're looking for, but it's a cooler-toned pink than Peyote.


  7. I think I have a photo of the bullet on an old post about the oldest makeup I have, but I don't remember if I swatched it. This post of yours has got me thinking about writing about metallic-ish lipsticks I already have–partly to talk myself out of buying more, and partly because I just want to write more about things I already have instead of buying new stuff. It would definitely fit in there. But that would require a lot of photos, which always take me a long time.


  8. Metal Head looks awesome on you! And oh, LDR in that music video… Which of her songs/albums do you like the most? I'm going to see her live this summer for the first time and it feels slightly surreal.


  9. I approve of this flow chart! I love your handwriting, too.I really like the look of Metal Head. It's very strange but weirdly harmonious with your colouring. I think it looks cool layered, too. It gives the other lipsticks a certain je ne sais quoi. Maybe you'll discover other fun combinations with it!


  10. Thanks for your helpful thoughts on this, I guess I can skip Pale Rose then, or at least miss out on it without being too sad. Maybe, I will just see how much luck I'll have once I'm at the counter since everything is always selling out quickly here and I actually quit buying LE items because it's too stressful and I don't want to invest my time on release day. I'll let fortuna decide.


  11. OMG I'm a huge fan of Lana too since around the same time. Like, working on a huge post all about her make up huge. I don't really watch her videos though so I never knew about the glitter face and decolletage until a few days ago 😛


  12. I'm not so much one for the YES side of the \”does your lipstick sparkle/glitter/gleam?\” half of the flowchart but this whole post definitely speaks to my love of taxonomy. MLM is suuuuuuch a pretty color though, I need to go check that one out.


  13. \”Ride\” is definitely my favorite LDR song, though \”Summertime Sadness,\” \”West Coast,\” and \”Born to Die\” are runners-up. My favorite album is probably \”Paradise\”–I tend to prefer her earlier stuff, though her new song \”Love\” is pretty great. I'm so jealous that you get to see her live!


  14. I highly recommend MLM! (I almost reviewed it in this post, but decided to stick to the two metallics. I'll get around to it one of these days.) The MAC matte formula is one of my very favorite lipstick formulas.


  15. I love Metal Head on you! Also, I don't think you can really take your crease color much higher. You have sort of the opposite of hooded eyes or monolid – hooded and monolid eyes have little/no visible lid space and plenty of under-the-brow space. You have lots of visible lid space but a smaller amount of browbone space. I have hooded eyes and I find that the traditional darker color in the crease placement works ok, but itsn't the best for my eye shape. One of the things that works really well is to do a horizontal gradient, with the lightest color on the inner corners of my eyes and the darkest color on the outer corners. I bet something like that would work well for you – since you have lots of visible lid space, you'd be able to really see multiple lid colors. And since I'm going on a long tangent about eyeshadow, do you ever line your bottom waterline? It can close off the eye and make it look smaller, but since you have big eyes I think it might actually emphasize your eyes and be super flattering on you.


  16. Thanks so much for the advice! You're right, my eyebrows come down pretty far, so I can't get as much color action in the crease/browbone area as other people can. I do have quite a bit of visible lid space, but I also have to reckon with the fact that my deep crease can act like a hood and devour half the color I put on my lid. Eyeshadow is such a pain sometimes (which obviously doesn't stop me from buying more of it).I wear contacts most of the time, so I've always been wary of putting anything on my waterlines, but I might try lining my lower waterline next time I wear glasses! I'm curious to see how it will change my overall look.


  17. Your flow chart is amazing, right down to the lower left corner. I'm about to head to Temptalia to check out the full MAC collection, but you've already sold my matte red loving self on that glittery pink number. I'm not sure I'd be able to talk myself out of it at this point, either, so I guess it's a good thing that I've told my husband I'm done buying makeup for a few minutes. Also, that Cindy Crawford \”natural\” look really is lovely on you.


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