Back in 2016 I was wandering through London and a display in the window of a fancy cosmetics shop caught my eye; it was Lipstick Queen’s Frog Prince lipstick, and it was deeply, froggily green! I obviously had to try it, so in I went to swatch this baffling cosmetic. Much to my surprise and delight, once it hit my skin, it turned pink.

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If you love makeup, you’ve likely seen products like it. It might be a clear lip gloss or lip oil that turns pink when applied, or a purple lip gloss that isn’t purple when applied, but pink. The general gist is that it’s something that’s not pink in the packaging, but turns pink when its applied to the skin. These products are sometimes marketed as reacting to your personal body chemistry, mood, or pH to create a unique colour that’s perfectly suited to you and your lips.

It’s been years since I thought about that Grinchy-green lipstick, but colour-changing cosmetics have started trending again, and now that they were on my radar again, I had to figure out how to make them myself. I started with a simple Google search for “how do colour changing lip glosses work?”, and that told me Red 27 and Red 21 were key—that they were clear below a pH of 4, and pink once their pH raised. But… I had those ingredients and neither of them worked that way. They were both brightly coloured and imparted that colour to my products, and adding acid to those products didn’t do anything to make the dyes vanish. Hmm.

So, I kept at it. Over the last eight months I’ve made a lot of very colourful messes, inadvertently dyed my lips pink for days, and finally figured out how to harness this magic for myself. And now I’m sharing 😄 Let’s dive in!

The key ingredient (and how it works)

The key to this lovely bit of colour-shifting magic is a special form of the dye version (not the lake version) of Red 27 (CI 45410) or Red 21 (45380)—though Red 27 is much more common. Under most conditions these dyes are bright, potent pink (Red 27 is a cooler pink; Red 21 is warmer), but below a pH of approximately 4, both are far less potent pastels.

Learn more: How do colour-changing lipsticks and blushes work? The science. from Lab Muffin

When products made with this special form of Red 27 or Red 21 encounter something that makes their pH raise, the dye “activates” and turns pink. This doesn’t take much! The moisture on your skin and lips will certainly do the trick, but so will the ambient moisture on a piece of paper or clothing (even in very dry climates like mine).

Red 27 is on the left, red 21 is on the right. You can still see some un-activated powder in the centre of each dye blob to give an idea of the before & after.

This activation is pretty abrupt; it’s either hot pink, or it’s not. There isn’t a gradient of colour possibilities spread over a wide pH range, which means claims of products using this dye reacting with your personal pH to create a custom pink that’s perfectly suited to your skin tone are… a stretch. You, your best friend, and your roll of paper towel are all going to get the same pinky pop when you use products make with this dye. Where the custom element can come in is with the level of dye used; if you use a low enough concentration it’ll mix and mingle with the natural colour of your lips, giving a “your lips but better” (or at least pinker!) effect.

I’ve read in many places that it is colourless below pH 4, but that’s not quite correct—in high concentrations it absolutely has a colour. The colourless-ness comes from being far less potent at low pHs. This means you can use an amount that is low enough to be invisible when the dye hasn’t been activated, but shifts to a noticeable, impactful level of pink once it has been applied & activated.

Where to get it

The easiest place to purchase this special form of Red 27 is from TKB Trading out of California; they sell it pre-mixed with castor oil as their “Presto Change-o Magic Color“. This is what the vast majority of my experience is with, and is what I’ll be using going forward in this post.

You can also purchase the straight powder forms of Red 27 and Red 21 from My Skin Recipes out of Thailand. I prefer working with TKB’s Presto as the My Skin Recipes powder isn’t as finely ground, which makes it easy to get little hot spots of dye in your products.

In this photo you can see the little pink specks of dye that are from the less finely ground dye from My Skin Recipes.

Both options are quite inexpensive, especially at the usage levels required!

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How to use the magic ingredient

I’ve been working with this dye for about 8 months as of this writing, and I’ve discovered there’s a surprising amount of nuance to creating a product that looks good, wears well, and does the colour-shifting thing on your skin (instead of on the beaker). I’ve also got some words of warning to hopefully save you, your countertops, and your spatulas from hot pink ruin 😅

What you can use it with

In order to harness the colour-changing magic, your formulation can’t cause the dye to activate.

The easiest way to do this is to keep the formulation anhydrous—aka water free—as water in the formula will activate the dye, just like the water on your skin does.

This means the dye works beautifully in most lip glosses, lip balms, lip oils, and lip sticks. I have found that it reacts with polyamide-3, polyamide-8, Dibutyl Ethylhexanoyl Glutamide, and Dibutyl Lauroyl Glutamide—so if any of those ingredients are in your formulation you need to add some acid to the formula to get the dye to de-activate. I’ve explored this quite a lot with the polyamides + Presto + acid and haven’t yet created final result I’m happy with.

You can also include a low amount of some sort of surprising colour that’ll colour the product un the tube, but won’t colour the skin—I like micas for this job. 0.5% or so of a green or purple mica will create a product that looks quite striking in the tube, but applies pink. So cool!

Because the colour takes a while to bloom/activate, if you’re going the colourless-to-pink route I’d stick to lip products as your lips create a natural boundary for application. In something like a blush you’d be going in blind and hoping the blush looks nice when it kicks in minutes later.

If you want to make a blush with this I’d include some mica so you can apply based on where you see the mica and then wait for the pink to pop up.

The mess factor

I cannot over-state how incredibly, unbelievably, insidiously messy this stuff is. It will stain anything porous it comes into contact with: skin, gloves, spatulas, counters, walls, cabinets, drawers, paper, etc. And, because its potency amplifies 100x when it activates, it’s really, really easy to think you’ve done a good job of containing your mess, only to discover a day later the handle of a drawer you opened while working with gloved hands is now bright pink. Every time I’m done working with this ingredient I mist my relatively clean looking marble table top with 70% isopropyl alcohol to clean it and I am amazed at all the hot pink spots that bloom to life out of nowhere when the alcohol hits them.

So, here are my tips for reducing mess while working with this dye:

  • The best way to work with these dyes, if you can, is to weigh everything directly into a disposable piping bag, smoosh everything together through the bag, and then snip off the tip and fill your container. I’m not sure if it’s the particular piping bags I’m using, but I’ve been struggling with static throwing off my scale when I try to do this now (agh!), but it has worked in the past.
  • Don’t use anything porous that you’re not ok with dying punk; stick to glass and stainless steel. This will absolutely stain silicone spatulas.
  • As much as I don’t love single use plastic, it does really shine when working with these dyes (especially if they’re mixed into a sticky lip gloss base!). I’d recommend a disposable piping bag if required over a re-usable one or a syringe.
  • Wear clothes you don’t care about; preferably black. A black apron is also a good idea.
  • Protect your work surface. I recommend slitting the sides of an old freezer bag or two, and then layering paper towel or shop towels on top of that. This dye will soak through a single layer of paper towel and can stain your counter.
  • Wear gloves and assume there is dye on your hands, even if you can’t see it (yet).
  • Get everything you need out ahead of time so you don’t have to open cupboards and drawers as you’re working.
  • Keep a mister bottle of 70% isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) and paper towels nearby for cleaning up as you go.
  • Reduce the things the dye touches & introduce it as late in the formulation process as possible.
  • Use as little of the dye as possible to get the desired effect (more on this further on).

Ensure the magic happens on your skin

It really doesn’t take much moisture at all for the dye to begin activating, so take care as you work.

Ensure all your tools & gloves are dry, and avoid touching the inside of your beaker/piping bag with bare hands.

I touched the inside of the piping bags for these glosses with my bare hands and you can see they’ve got a wee pinky flush.

It’s also a good idea to do a quick activation check with new ingredients—just combine a drop of each the dye dilution and the new ingredient in a small dish and see what happens. I found the dye activated in the presence of marula oil, but then went back to being not pink after a day (!?). It also activates in formulations with polyamide-3, polyamide-8, Dibutyl Lauroyl Glutamide, and Dibutyl Ethylhexanoyl Glutamide, and in the presence of some micas. This can generally be fixed by incorporating a very small amount of acid.

Testing the dye for reactions on small watch glasses.

How much you’ll (actually) need

When TKB first released their Presto Change-o Magic Color they recommended using it at 2–5%, so that’s where I started (they’ve since lowered their recommendation). I quickly found this was far too much.

Because Red 27 dyes/stains the skin, the colour builds throughout the day as you re-apply the gloss/stain/balm/oil/etc. It also blooms—and gains intensity—over about 15–20 minutes.

All this means your first application can be a bright (but wearable) pink, but after a few re-applications throughout the day you’re left with lips that are stained a very, very bright pink (I learned this stain can easily last more than a day 😅). And, because the dye blooms over the course of 10–15 minutes, it can also mean you’re happy with the lip colour three minutes after you put it on, and find out it has gotten a lot stronger by catching a glimpse of yourself in a window half an hour later.

D: Dior Lip Glow Oil. 1: 0.005% Presto. 2: 0.01% Presto. 3: 0.05% Presto. 4: 0.025% Presto.

So, I did lots of experiments, and here’s what I recommend: 0.02–0.05% Presto Change-o Magic Color by weight (from my experiments, this is approximately 0.01–0.025% of the pure dye).

How on earth do you measure that?

Since my batch sizes were pretty small (5–10g of lip stuff is quite a lot!), I quickly found even a single drop of Presto Change-o Magic Color was too much unless I wanted to make a vat of lip gloss. 0.02% of 10g (which is roughly 1 squeeze tube of lip gloss) is just 0.002g—there’s no way you’re going to be able to accurately weigh that out, even if you do have a scale accurate to three decimal points of a gram.

Since it was impossible to precisely add a small enough amount of Presto Change-o Magic Color to make a batch smaller than 100g (3.5oz), I employed a favourite formulating trick for working with potent ingredients: I made my own dilutions of the Presto Change-o Magic Color, and formulated with those instead. Making a dilution is not hard, but I learned there is a bit of a trick to making a proper dilution with Presto.

Before you make your dilution, you have to make sure your bottle Presto is properly mixed. If it isn’t, that’ll throw off the concentration of your dilution and everything you make with it.

Presto is already a dilution in a base of castor oil, and over time the dye will start to settle out of the castor oil, making for a bottle with far more dye at the bottom than the top. Castor oil is quite thick, so this settling happens fairly slowly, but once it does I found simply giving the bottle a good shake isn’t enough to make the mixture uniform again.

Here’s what to do to ensure your Presto is uniform: begin by very gently heating it; I did this with a water bath. I double-bagged the bottle of Presto and heated it at about 50°C (122°F) for an hour. Once it had warmed through and thinned out, I gave the bottle an extremely good shake. Shake it up like you’re rocking a pair of maracas. You can’t shake too much, but you can shake too little!

Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to make your dilution. Don your gloves, protect your work surface, and grab your scale. You’ll need something to dilute the Presto into; you can use more castor oil, but I recommend MCT (medium chain triglycerides). MCT has a nice long shelf life, and unlike castor oil, makes a mixture that is thin enough to easily shake before use.

You’ll also need a small bottle to package it in; I recommend something with a dropped top. I use these 2 dram/7.5mL/0.25 fl ounce bottles from SKS and they’re awesome. I also like to include a nail polish mixing ball, but you don’t really need to do this.

I tested a variety of levels and found a 5% dilution is perfect for our uses. We’ll make just 7g of it, which is enough to make 1–2lbs of product!

The dilution

0.35g | 5% very thoroughly mixed Presto Change-o Magic Color (USA / Canada)
6.65g | 95% medium chain triglycerides (USA / Canada / UK / Aus / NZ) or fractionated coconut oil (USA / Canada)

Mix, bottle, label, voila!

Use at 0.5–1% in your formulations.

If you use the powdered dyes from My Skin Recipes, use half the amount of dye (2.5% dye/97.5% fractionated coconut oil).

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Make your own Dior Lip Glow Oil

When I started working with this dye I knew I wanted to create my own version of Dior’s Lip Glow Oil. It’s a very popular product, and reviewers praise the pretty colour, how long lasting it is, and how wonderful it makes their lips feel… but we can do better than $40USD/6mL (0.2 fl oz)!

So, I purchased a tube to compare for $54CAD (😳) and set about creating a formulation with a similarly luscious, moisturizing feel. And of course, the colour-changing magic!

Here are the ingredients for the Dior product:

Hydrogenated Polyisobutene, Tridecyl Trimellitate, Polybutene, Pentaerythrityl Tetraisostearate, Phytosteryl/Octyldodecyl Lauroyl Glutamate, Ethylene/Propylene/Styrene Copolymer, Ethylhexyl Palmitate, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Butylene/Ethylene/Styrene Copolymer, Parfum (Fragrance), Polyglyceryl-2 Triisostearate, Luffa Cylindrica Seed Oil, Prunus Avium (Sweet Cherry) Seed Oil, Trimethylolpropane Triisostearate, Diisostearyl Malate, Tocopherol, Pentaerythrityl Tetra-Di-T-Butyl Hydroxyhydrocinnamate, Undaria Pinnatifida Extract, Benzyl Alcohol, Propyl Gallate, [+/-: Ci 45410 (Red 27, Red 27 Lake, Red 28, Red 28 Lake)].

Two ingredients leapt out at me straight away: The first ingredient is one of the Versagel ME products; you can find the full INCI (Hydrogenated Polyisobutene, Ethylene/Propylene/Styrene Copolymer, Butylene/Ethylene/Styrene Copolymer, Pentaerythrityl Tetra-di-t-butyl Hydroxyhydrocinnamate) scattered through the ingredient list. Penreco (the maker of the Versagel line) manufacturers four different viscosities of Versagel that all have the same INCI, so we don’t know which one Dior uses, but Versagel ME 750 is sold to home crafters by several suppliers and is a fabulous lip gloss base. The third ingredient—polybutene—is a favourite of mine for creating luxurious-feeling, long-lasting lip products.

Most of the rest of the ingredients are things I don’t have, or things that are likely used at very low levels, so I set out to create something similar based around ingredients I did have.

I knew a blend of Versagel ME 750 and polybutene would be key to creating the long lasting, rich, glossy feel of the original. While both are thick, clear liquids, only Versagel suspends—which means it can suspend the dye and air bubbles. So, I’d need enough Versagel to suspend the dye, but not so much that the product trapped air bubbles as the Dior lip oil doesn’t trap air bubbles.

The formula on the left is an earlier one with more Versagel, and the bubbles don’t work their way out over time. The other two tubes are the final formulation; some bubbles will appear when you use the lip oil, but they’ll work their way out in an hour or so.

After that I knew I’d need some thinner, more “slippy” emollients to keep the products from being too sticky. I experimented with a blend of octyldodecanol and medium chain triglycerides, but eventually simplified that down to just Medium Chain Triglycerides/Caprylic/Capric Triglycerides as I didn’t think the octyldodecanol contributed enough to the formulation to warrant its inclusion when Medium Chain Triglycerides/Caprylic/Capric Triglycerides is so much more widely available (though I do love octyldodecanol and highly recommend purchasing some if you can!).

Dior brags about the cherry oil in their formulation (“Genuine lip care infused with cherry oil”, oooooh), but given 1) its colour (yellowy) and 2) where it falls on the ingredient list (after the fragrance), they can’t be using more than 1%. I did experiment with including some “braggable” oils—earlier versions had room for 2% fancy oil of your choice—but I found even 2% of some oils would contribute a bit of colour to the finished base. You’re certainly welcome to decrease the Medium Chain Triglycerides/Caprylic/Capric Triglycerides to make room for a carrier oil you’re excited about, but I felt it wasn’t really worth it given how low the amount had to be to avoid giving the base a warm tint.

The gloss on the left contains 2% marula oil; the gloss on the right contains 2% golden jojoba oil.

I started with roughly 60% Versagel ME 750 / 30% polybutene / 10% Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, and while I loved the skin feel of that, it trapped bubbles very enthusiastically. I nudged it downwards, increasing the polybutene to keep the richness up, and settled on 40% Versagel ME 750 for a lip oil that feels a lot like Dior’s, but with just three major ingredients in the base.

Dior’s product is on the left; mine—in dupe tubes—is centre & right.

My final base formulation feels very similar to Dior’s, and also doesn’t suspend bubbles. The level of colour is very similar, and I just adore it 😄

DIY Dior Lip Glow Oil

16g | 40% Versagel ME 750 gloss base (USA / Canada / UK / Australia)
14.8g | 37% polybutene (USA / Canada)
8.6g | 21.5% medium chain triglycerides (USA / Canada / UK / Aus / NZ) or fractionated coconut oil (USA / Canada)
0.4g | 1% flavour oil or lip safe essential oil
0.2g | 0.5% 5% Presto Change-o Magic Color (USA / Canada) dilution

Protect your workspace, put on gloves, and make sure you’re wearing clothes that you’re ok with getting stained. Ensure all your tools are dry.

Weigh all the ingredients into a glass beaker or measuring cup, and stir to combine with a stainless steel tool.

Alternatively, weigh all the ingredients into a disposable plastic piping bag and smoosh everything together through the bag. I didn’t do this as I was having issues with static electricity throwing off my scale whenever I used a piping bag, but if it works for you it’s definitely the way to go!

Pour or pipe the lip oil into your containers.

Use as you’d use a tinted lip balm. Enjoy!

Shelf Life & Storage

Because this lip oil does not contain any water, it does not require a broad-spectrum preservative (broad spectrum preservatives ward off microbial growth, and microbes require water to live—no water, no microbes!). Kept reasonably cool and dry, it should last at least two years before any of the oils go rancid. If you notice it starts to smell like old nuts or crayons, that’s a sign that the oils have begun to oxidize; chuck it out and make a fresh batch if that happens.

Substitutions

As always, be aware that making substitutions will change the final product. While these swaps won’t break the formulation, you will get a different final product than I did.

  • As I’ve provided this formulation in percentages as well as grams you can easily calculate it to any size using a simple spreadsheet as I’ve explained in this post. As written in grams, this formulation will make 40g.
  • To learn more about the ingredients used in this formulation, including why they’re included and what you can substitute them with, please visit the Humblebee & Me Encyclopedia. It doesn’t have everything in it yet, but there’s lots of good information there! If I have not given a specific substitution suggestion in this list please look up the ingredient in the encyclopedia before asking.
  • You can substitute another lightweight oil like sweet almond, grapeseed, or sunflower seed for the fractionated coconut oil/Medium Chain Triglycerides, but using an oil that has any colour to it will colour the base of the lip oil. You will also want to incorporate including 0.2% Tocopherol (Vitamin E) to delay rancidity.
  • If you’d like to incorporate a lip safe essential oil instead of a flavour oil, please read this. Remember to keep the colour of the essential oil in mind if you want a colourless base.
  • You can use more of the 5% Presto dilution if you’d like, reducing the fractionated coconut oil/Medium Chain Triglycerides to make room for it. I don’t recommend going higher than 1%, but you certainly can if you want to.
  • You could whip up your own gloss base blend with Versagel and whatever else you like, including using TKB’s Flexagel base. If you want to keep the clear-to-pink effect, choose clear ingredients.

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Common Questions

How much does this lip oil cost to make?

As of this writing you can order the smallest sizes of everything but the flavour oil (which is optional) for $40 USD from TKB Trading (the same price as one 6mL tube of Dior’s Lip Glow Oil). That is enough to make 23 10g tubes of lip oil. The limiting ingredient is the Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride aka fractionated coconut oil; if you upgrade to the 8fl oz size for another $4USD you’ll have enough ingredients for roughly 38 tubes of lip oil. If you’d like to make a scented/flavoured lip oil, add $5–10 for a small bottle of flavour oil or lip safe essential oil.

Of course you’ll need tubes as well, and those are the most expensive part of this DIY, so what you choose to package your lip oil has a huge impact on the final per-unit cost. The cheapest option is generally a squeeze tube, which can be around $0.60USD/per piece (and even less if you’re ordering in bulk). I used these fun Dior look-alike lip gloss tubes (USA / Canada), which are about $1.19USD per piece and hold 10g of this formulation each. They certainly look the part, but they aren’t very high quality. The doe foot is nowhere near as plush as the Dior one is, it’s harder than it should be to pull the wand out of the tube, and they don’t click close in the same satisfying way.

The cost for a single Dior-style tube of lip oil (with flavour oil) is roughly $2.09USD. You’d need to spend at least $62USD (+ tax and any shipping) to get the ingredients and the tubes. You could easily fill all 18 tubes with the ingredients you purchased. If you decided to use squeeze tubes you could drop the cost per tube down to around $1USD (varying with the tubes you purchased + how much they hold).

How long will this lip oil last?

This lip oil should last at least two years.

Can I add some fancy oils?

Yes, but if you want to keep the colourless-ness of the base, you can’t use very much (how much you can use will vary with how colourful the oil you want to use is). I found 2% golden jojoba oil coloured the base noticeably. Make room for the oil by reducing the Medium Chain Triglycerides/Caprylic/Capric Triglycerides; I also recommend including 0.2% Tocopherol (Vitamin E) to delay rancidity.

Why is my lip oil turning pink as I use it?

It doesn’t take much moisture to kick off the pink party. If you’ve used a wand lip gloss tube, the doe foot applicator will slowly introduce enough moisture to the product that it’ll start turning pink. This is a challenge with Dior’s lip oil, too—check out this review & accompanying photo from Sephora:

Squeeze tubes are a bit better at keeping the product un-activated, but I do find you’ll start to notice a bit of a pink flush around the applicator and threads of the cap pretty quickly.

Gifting Disclosure

The fractionated coconut oil was gifted by YellowBee.
The Versagel, polybutene, pineapple flavour oil, and Presto Change-o were gifted by TKB Trading. Links to TKB Trading are affiliate links.
The small metal mixing balls were gifted by Voyageur Soap & Candle.
Links to Amazon are affiliate links.