I haven't used primer up til now because I don't really have any major lip issues, except dark pigmentation which limits what I can wear. That, and I'm really tired of shiny shades wandering. I chose MAC Red and Sweetpea & Fay Ominous Liquid Lipstick as my test subjects. Ye olde MAC Red is an oily unstable bitch on me and Ominous is a glossy black lipstick- the ultimate primer challenge. It is the middle of a our humid summer and that doesn't help. So let's do this.
Two primers enter. One primer leaves.
A P P L I C A T I O N
ELF LIP LOCK: The formula is stiff and waxy and prone to dragging and balling if applied cold. The stick itself rattles around in a weirdly oversized plastic tube; construction feels cheap and shizzy. It's a wind-up format though, which means no sharpening waste. The primer stick itself is quite slender and breakage is a possibility, but on the plus side, it offers more detailed application to people with thinner lips. It is tasteless and there is a faint, unobtrusive denatured wax scent that most people probably can't smell.
Once I had spread it around with a fingertip it formed a satiny, mostly-translucent canvas that was comfortable and didn't feel heavy or plastery. I smooshed it thinly beyond the edge of my lips to retard bleeding into my fine lines and I felt it diminished or blurred the look of these (fairly negligible) wrinkles.
Abstract: Lip primers and clear liners are just a bunch of basic-bitch industrial waxes, really. There's nothing mysterious, secret or exotic about them. They work by cockblocking the more unstable lipids and dyes in lipstick that like to travel up the crevices in your skin with their big dumb presence, and by offering a more molecularly attractive option to the lipstick than your live epidermis can. So if my theory is correct, the ELF product (which stands in for most cheap drugstore/chemist items in this equation) will perform about the same as the much more expensive Urban Decay job.
UD ULTIMATE OZONE: Comes as a fat, sleek white pencil that might challenge thin lips and requires sharpening- doh. Looks classy, feels good in the hand and the formula is more silky and easier to apply thinly and smoothly than the ELF straight from the pencil.
I got the same moderate brightening effect as the other product, though perhaps not to quite the same extent due to the thinner deposition. It feels slightly tackier and grippier than the ELF, and really cancels shine; after half an hour of lip smacking, MAC Red was virtually matte on me. I am a bit more conscious of its presence too, due to the persisting stickiness.
ELF L LOCK: Three hours of cleaning the outside of the house in the hot sun with a brush and hose later. MAC Red had not budged one iota in any direction nor suffered any middle-of-the-lip loss. Which is a thousand-percent improvement on this lipstick's performance.
UD OZONE: Same conditions. Due to the persisting tackiness I found I'd smudged it around my mouth a little more, but no bleeding or meaningful wear occurred. Almost entirely matte by this stage.
I made hot and sour Thai soup for lunch and that, friends, is lipstick napalm. Usually, with a non-matte shade I would have little left on my mouth and plenty fleeing toward my nose, chin and ears and a definite clown ring of death. Neither product curtailed lipstick transfer upon contact with another surface, which was slightly disappointing.
ELF L LOCK: After a large bowl I ended up losing about half the application by way of a gentle, graduated fade, not the dreaded melted-off clown circle. It still hadn't bled into lines at all, and that impressed the shit out of me.
UD OZONE : Post-soup, while more lipstick remained in the centre of my lips than the ELF test, a lot had migrated toward the edge of my application where it had started to bleed very slightly. I was left with a more intact look but it felt very thick and sticky by this stage- like packing tape residue- which I didn't enjoy. From a remote, purely aesthetic point of view it deserved a higher rating than the ELF but it wasn't pleasant texturally and there was also a bitter/metallic taste detectable- not nice.
B L A C K L I P S T I C K C H A L L E N G E
Black lipstick is always, always going to fuck wid choo. If it's matte, it will patch and clump. If it's glossy, it will wander and depart. It is the epitome of high maintenance. So I don't expect miracles- I just want primer to keep it in the middle of my lips and stop it bleeding into upper-lip wrinkles for a couple of hours without reapplication.
Strangely, the UD Ozone didn't really cancel any of Ominous's high gloss level, or improve overall distribution. After an hour of typing and absently mooming my lips together, I'm getting the slightest suggestion of bleeding although it is staying put in the middle. And depositing on my teeth. At the end of two hours, it definitely remains more presentable than a no-primer application and I'd be happy walking down the street like this.
A faint, reduced grey stain remained after removal.
The ELF Lip Lock reduced the high shine to a medium satin finish (to a far greater degree than it did with MAC Red; I found it a more flattering look anyway) and actively improved smoothness of deposition. Ominous went on and settled well.
In fact it stayed in this near-perfect state for nearly 4 hours, drying down to off-matte with zero bleeding, no whacky mouth-corner wandering, and just the slightest loss from the very inward-facing centre of the lips. After wiping it off I got the same degree of faint grey staining. I was extremely impressed and it certainly performed better than the UD product in my opinion.
Both products alter the texture and gloss level of your lipstick somewhat unpredictably and reduce the influence of your natural lip colour, depending on how thickly you apply them. Neither of these effects are universally positive; some shades, especially reds, depend on their original lustre level and/or personal colour interaction to really be all they can be. Other colours will be improved and purified (i.e. corals and pastels) by this modest gesso effect. They may also challenge the pigmentation of your cheaper, shittier lipsticks.
While they didn't improve the wear-time of my mattes, both products tamed my dark, heavy-duty clag-monsters like MAC Fixed On Drama and Instigator, making them easier to distribute evenly with a brush without leaving streaks or pigment clumps and salvaged these frustrating shades for me. That was a pleasant surprise. Matte peeps will know what I'm talking about.
Lip primer definitely has its place. It really does make those achingly beautiful but ridiculously pain in the arse lipsticks wearable. I especially recommend it to people in the public eye via their jobs etc who need their lipstick to be consistently presentable. But primer is sort of a restaurant/special occasion deal for me.
V E R D I C T: ELF Lip Lock- $9 NZ. UD Ultimate Ozone- about $35. It's ELF for the win. It performed better overall, I actually preferred its texture, it's a wind-up pen and almost a quarter of the damn price. No contest.
-Disclosure: I buy all my own test products and receive no incentives or considerations from anyone.
They're visually fairly identical but the angle of the light changes their relative appearance.