When it comes to lipstick, the most coveted shades of the moment are not found on the counters of the big-box department stores. Instead, it’s all about natural brands founded by ultra-creative women who may not have traditional backgrounds in cosmetics but hail from the worlds of wellness, lab science, and beyond. With this fresh perspective comes a passion for sustainable ingredients and high-performance textures. Here, meet the four lip color leaders who are shaking up the beauty market—and your makeup bag.
Origin: Los Angeles, California
Founder: Sheena Yaitanes, 33
Prior experience: I worked as a laboratory scientist, then went to business school and worked in marketing.
Moment of inspiration: I have always been in love with makeup, and I had this very clear vision of wanting to create a makeup brand that was pared down and made of only the most flattering, current shades. I started out with four earthy shades and then added four brighter, more floral colors. Each lipstick evokes a different mood.
Point of difference: I got really scientific about exactly how I wanted the lipsticks to look and feel, and I chose only the ingredients that would make that happen. I knew I didn’t want to use toxic ingredients, so I didn’t, but I was surprised at how well botanicals performed: Rose hip seed oil, green tea seed oil, and grape seed oil have anti-aging effects because of their vitamin and antioxidant content. Shea, cocoa, and mango seed butters nourish and protect lips from further environmental damage.
Lipstick philosophy: If you view your lipstick as war paint, it can be a magic wand—or it can just be a stick. You decide.
Origin: Bend, Oregon
Founder: Ericka Rodriguez, 30
Prior experience: I worked at a smoothie and juice bar in New York City and was a blogger for the vegan community. I had a website dedicated to simple smoothie recipes and made YouTube videos surrounding raw veganism.
Moment of inspiration: Veganism was the thread that led me to creating Axiology. When searching for vegan makeup products, my options fell short. I was also unhappy with ingredients I couldn't pronounce. So I started formulating lipsticks after work and tested about 200 different recipes before ending up with the one that is now Axiology's.
Point of difference: Our range is filled with colors you don't see in the natural beauty world often, such as purples, blues, and blacks from natural pigments. We don't use artificial colorants (FD & C) colors because those are made from oil and coal tar. Instead, avocado butter gives a creamy, buttery feel and sweet orange oil is what makes our lipsticks smell like citrus, which is an instant mood booster.
Lipstick philosophy: You can feel beautiful while also feeling ethical about your cosmetics choices. In fact, we work with a women's cooperative in Bali who hand recycle used paper from the island to create our signature boxes.
Origin: Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
Founder: Sage Lehman, 41
Prior experience: I worked in the film industry for years, first in casting and then as the assistant to a movie director.
Moment of inspiration: I just enjoyed making products and giving them out as gifts to my friends. Then a friend of mine who has the best beauty store in the neighborhood (Shen Beauty) tried one of my lip balms and loved it. As soon as she told me she would put them in her store I knew I had to turn it into a business.
Point of difference: I wanted to create a brand that was both completely natural but also has a clean, modern, and fashion-minded aesthetic—a lip balm that could fit as easily in a health food store as a beauty counter. I did a lot of research on ingredients that are nourishing and healing and also feel great on. It's a little like casting for a film—you need to find the right players that can perform well for you. I basically cherry picked essential oils for scent, add-ons like castor, jojoba, and argan oils, and fiddled with the formula until it was just right. Beach Rose is a light pink tint that works on virtually anyone, and Sunday Morning is an untinted balm scented with bergamot and neroli.
Lipstick philosophy: If you feel good about yourself, you in turn feel stronger and capable of anything. Not to mention, who wants to go protest with chapped lips?
Origin: Bushwick, Brooklyn
Founder: Christina Hiatt, 33
Prior experience: I was, still am, and always will be a hair colorist.
Moment of inspiration: My friend and partner, Barbara Alcazar, and I had a passion for lip color. We wanted to create bold, high-pigment colors that would pack a punch without being too sheer. We also didn't want the ingredients to be harmful to ingest.
Point of difference: The lipstick names reflect our neighborhood in Bushwick: Our bestselling color is Knickerbocker Knightmares, a solid neutral red shade that looks good on all skin tones and is partly named after a main thoroughfare in Brooklyn. I spend quite a lot of time matching hair color to skin and eye color so that really came in handy when picking out shades for the line. We also use castor seed oil as the main ingredient in our formulas—it’s a plant based oil known for its skin conditioning properties—along with titanium dioxide for sun protection and mica for reflection.
Lipstick philosophy: We want consumers to make a positive connection between their lip color and the way they feel when they wear it. There's a sort of magic that happens when the right shade is applied. So we include a small amulet as a gift with purchase to remind the wearer of the power we hold inside.