Product Review: Clarins Instant Smooth Crystal Lip Balm in Crystal Red

I found myself thinking about red lipstick while I was watching the latest episode of the BBC series “Sherlock” to be broadcast in the United States: “A Scandal in Belgravia.” (Bear with me. I’ll get to Clarins in a second.)

Early in the episode, we’re treated to a scene of Irene Adler, “The Woman,” having her blood-red lipstick applied by her assistant. When she appears to greet her guest Sherlock Holmes wearing nothing but that lipstick, Sherlock is (understandably) speechless.

A little later in the story, however, Sherlock cruelly mocks Watson’s co-worker Molly Hooper for the revealing outfit and bright red lipstick she has worn to a Christmas party. He guesses that she’s dressing this way for a new boyfriend. (Actually, she has a crush on Sherlock. Poor thing. And she really does look much better in her usual understated makeup.)

Red lipstick. On one woman, it’s seductive, powerful, classic. On another woman, it’s obvious, garish, wrong. I love the idea of red lipstick, but what am I to do, when I’m closer to Molly Hooper but I want to feel a little more like Irene Adler?

Enter Clarins Instant Smooth Crystal Lip Balm in Crystal Red (third from left). I’d seen this new product featured in a magazine or two, but I wasn’t really interested until I saw a friend pull a tube of Crystal Violet (the one on the right) from her purse. When I saw all four shades in person, I couldn’t resist the red.

According to Clarins, this new product “delivers the colour of a lipstick, the transparency of a gloss and the comfort of a lip balm for smoother, fuller lips.” It really is an interesting hybrid. The bullet’s inner core is lipstick and its outer layer is a tinted balm that looks (and smells) just like red Jell-O. (Another reason I couldn’t resist.)

Based on the magazine photos I’d seen, I was anticipating a barely-pigmented balm, like the Linda Cantello Lip Licks that were briefly popular around 2001, but Clarins has packed much more pigment into these tubes than the name “Balm” suggests. The lipstick core is richly colored and its pigment is diluted just enough by the tranclucent, emollient outer ring. When both elements are mixed, the result is more like a sheer stain, or a creamy tint, or some other in-between entity.

I did find that there’s a trick to applying my Crystal Lip Balm. If I stroke it directly from the tube onto my mouth, I end up with stripes of color from the lipstick center. This minor problem can be remedied by blending it on the lip with a fingertip, or by applying with a lip brush instead. (The brush allows more “building” of the color, as well.) The resulting blend feels comfortable and lasts well through a cup of coffee. And, if you just wanted to wear small dose of gloss, you could work from the outside of the bullet.

Overall, Clarins has given us something sophisticated wrapped up in something fun, which is a good approach to summer beauty, and Crystal Red has turned out to be an easy-to-wear red for me—bolder than my usual lip shades, but not overpowering to the rest of my face. I don’t think I’ll attain Irene’s taste for danger and mischief just by wearing this lip product, but at least I know that I won’t remind anyone of Molly.

Instant Smooth Crystal Lip Balm is a limited edition product ($25) sold at Clarins counters.

Images: close-up product photos by Tinsel Creation; “Sherlock” stills via the BBC.

Disclaimer: I purchased this lipstick at the Clarins counter in Lord & Taylor.

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