In Search of Maskproof Lipstick, Part 1: YSL Tatouage Couture in Crimson Rivals

This is the first post in a series of three. In each post, I’ll wear a supposedly indelible liquid lipstick throughout a day of teaching and track its performance under a New York Times-approved double mask: a surgical mask, ear loops tightened and ends tucked in, with a cloth mask on top. The second post in the series is here.

Remember when we all thought we’d finally moved on from liquid matte lipsticks? When every new lipstick release was touted as sheer, glossy, juicy, luminous, etc? When the flat finish and chalky lipfeel of liquid matte formulas seemed safely consigned to the early Trump administration?

Yeah, I remember June of this year, too.

But as the pandemic continues to spread and large numbers of people remain unvaccinated, I’ve come to terms with the fact that masks will be part of my life for the foreseeable future, especially now that I’m teaching in person again. Which means that if I still want to wear lipstick, I have two options. The first is to keep wearing bullet lipsticks, but to choose colors that don’t look too bad when worn away by a mask and that don’t stain my masks beyond repair. In practice, that means dabbing on a light layer of a soft, neutral shade. But what if I want to wear something bolder? Well, there’s always the second option: seek out lipsticks that claim to be smudgeproof.

(Of course, there’s an obvious third option, the one favored by more sensible people than I: give up wearing lipstick until the pandemic dies down. But I can’t bring myself to do that. Lipstick has been my thing for so many years that I don’t feel fully dressed without it, especially in a professional setting, and even if no one else sees it except on my two-minute walks from one school building to another.)

So I’ve done the formerly unthinkable: I’ve started buying liquid matte lipsticks again. “We knew you’d come crawling back,” I thought I heard the vials of colored goo whisper at Sephora last weekend as I pulled YSL Tatouage Couture Matte Stain in Crimson Rivals from the shelf.

Crimson Rivals is not only my first liquid matte lipstick in several years, but also my first YSL lipstick since I bought the Glossy Stain in Rouge Gouache nearly a decade ago. Since then, YSL has added several more liquid lipstick formulas. The Tatouage Couture Matte Stain line came out in 2017, at the height of the liquid-matte craze, and today contains just over a dozen shades. Crimson Rivals belongs to my favorite lipstick-color category: it’s a deep but slightly muted berry red. I also love the name, which sounds like it could be the title of a Jacobean revenge tragedy, e.g. The Crimson Rivals: or, the Tragique History of Giovanni Alfonso Sanframondi, Duke of Arezzo.

The liquid lipstick is housed in a rectangular frosted-plastic vial; the gold lid screws off to reveal a fuzzy paddle-shaped applicator with a slanted edge. I thought the applicator might be tricky to use, but I find it very effective for outlining and filling in my lips.

The formula is extremely lightweight but almost opaque in one swipe, with a texture somewhere between liquid and mousse, and it takes a few minutes to dry fully. It has the classic YSL boozy-rosy scent that always takes me back to my early years of grad school, when that fragrance was the height of luxury for me.

Needless to say, I have several lipsticks in this color family. L-R: ColourPop Liquid Courage, NARS 413 BLKR, Maybelline Divine Wine, Crimson Rivals, MAC D for Danger, Maybelline Crimson Race. In this photo, Crimson Rivals seems very similar to the brick-red Liquid Courage, but it leans cooler and pinker on my lips.

Here’s Crimson Rivals just after application. My lip texture is very evident beneath the pigment; this isn’t the kind of liquid matte formula that makes your lips look fake.

I applied Crimson Rivals around 8:10 and did my first check an hour later, after teaching my first class of the day. According to Sephora’s website, Tatouage Couture is a “long-wearing lip stain [that] features a non-drying, ultra-thin formula that won’t feather or fade. The matte lip color dries instantly, stays fresh, and moves with your lips for up to 8 hours of wear.” So while I didn’t expect that Crimson Rivals would resist my mask entirely, I expected a better outcome than this:

“Maybe that was user error,” I thought. “Maybe if I apply the very thinnest coat possible, I’ll have better luck.” So I wiped off the lipstick, reapplied, taught another class, and removed my mask, to reveal this:

Clearly, there was no point in continuing the experiment.

While Crimson Rivals won’t be accompanying me on another day of teaching, I think it’s a great lipstick for unmasked days. It’s comfortable and non-drying, and it transfers only minimally onto cups. (If I’d been wearing a mask that protruded more from my face, instead of one that brushed against my lips when I talked, Crimson Rivals might have stood more of a chance.) I would quibble with the “matte stain” moniker, though, since Crimson Rivals doesn’t have much staining power at all. It leaves a trace of color after fading, but no more than a normal bullet or liquid lipstick does.

Anyway, I think the results of my first experiment are clear: the YSL Tatouage Couture formula is nowhere near maskproof. In my next post: will a popular drugstore lipstick succeed where a $38 lipstick failed?

6 thoughts on “In Search of Maskproof Lipstick, Part 1: YSL Tatouage Couture in Crimson Rivals

  1. That YSL packaging looks so beautiful and the formula sounds nice! Personally I’m also not a fan of matte liquid lips because I find so few of them actually last and feel comfortable. I do like the stila and MAC formula though, and recently I just tried the Revlon lipstain that seems pretty good. I too have been wearing makeup under my masks and the only lipcolor that works is the L’Oreal Brilliant Signature Shiny Lip Stain. I think I have 5 colors. Transfer is pretty minimal with a lighter color and a thin coat. I also wear one of those sponge-y masks and it lasts fairly well, so I recommend those! Looking forward to seeing your other lipstick efforts!


  2. I have 3 of these lipsticks, all in natural colors, and none of them stayed on when I wore a mask (but they did leave a stain on my mask, even after repeated washing in hot water). I am one of those people who has given up on wearing lip products under masks, which makes me unhappy, because I love lipstick! I relate to you in feeling like lipstick is my thing! Tbh I haven’t worn much makeup in the last year and a half. I did start making a point to wear makeup more consistently since this summer though. I recently got a new Maybelline lipstick which is so perfect for fall. I’m excited to wear it, even just at home.


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