Things I learned (about lipsticks)

As a translator I get to work from home, which means I rarely directly see my clients and generally don’t have to worry about wearing make-up. But when I’m translating corporate communication for the beauty industry, this is the kind of terminology that I need to research, and sometimes it can take me down some bizarre rabbit holes…

I thought lipstick (“rouge à lèvres“) was a relatively straightforward affair. Not so. Apparently there’s also something called a “lip stain” or “lip tint” (the French call it “encre à lèvres“, literally “lip ink”)  which is made with a water or gel base – unlike lipstick which uses wax or oil – and uses dyes to stain your lips for up to 18 hours. As far as I can tell, lip tints are a type of lip stain with a matt finish. They do not appear to be the same thing as “tinted lip balms” (“baume colorée pour les lèvres“) which are mainly used to moisturise and protect the lips. Lip tints can be applied as a first layer under your lipstick, and some also double as a creamy blush.

Alternatively, you can apply “lip gloss” (“le brillant à lèvres” or “le gloss“) over you lip tint to make it look more like a lip stain. And a “lip shimmer” is like a very shiny and/or sparkly lipstick, but less glossy than lip gloss. Still following? There are also “lip liquids” or “lip laquers” (I have seen these called both “encre à lèvre” and “laque de lèvre” in French) which have the pigment of a lipstick with sheen of a gloss, but less sparkly. This is basically the same as a matt lip gloss, which is also a term some brands use. As for “lip oils” or “lip-tint oils” (“huile à lèvres“), these are a type of slick, tinted lip moisturiser that also claim to minimise fine lines around your mouth.

Since this wasn’t confusing enough already, a French brand recently launched a “vernis à lèvres” (literally “lip varnish”, but they have chosen to call it “glossy lip stain” in English). It is a combination of “laque à lèvres” (a liquid lipstick), lip gloss (for the shine), and with the lasting effect of traditional lipsticks.

Feeling a bit befuddled? So am I. In truth, there often seems to be so little difference between these products and in what they seek (or claim) to offer that the descriptions also vary from one brand to another. Since these descriptions are more marketing terms than anything else, I’m not sure whether a good beauty terminology list would even include them. But if you know of one, or have better definitions, let me know!