Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.
Arguably, 2016 has been the year of the lip. Controversial lip injections in famous teenagers! Those same teenagers making zillions of dollars from selling lip kits!
Seriously, though, there have never been more options for things to put on your lips, from lip gloss hybrids to Pat McGrath’s forthcoming glitter and gold options and everything in between. Now you can add a $5 gooey pink lip mask to the list.
A few weeks ago, the Snapchat stories and Instagram feeds of social media savvy women like Kim Kardashian and Hannah Bronfman showed them sporting a lip mask that at first glance makes the wearer look like they went way overboard overlining their lips with the shiniest lip gloss on earth. But no. They’re actually a treatment offered by the newly launched KNC Beauty.
The “KNC” in KNC Beauty stands for Kristen Noel Crawley, who’s the LA-based founder of indie fine jewelry line KDIA (best sellers include bejeweled emoji charms and screw-shaped earrings) and a co-founder of Chicago boutique/art gallery RSVP with her husband Don C, who frequently works with Kanye West. So she runs in the right circles, which explains how she got Kanye and Kim to show up at the brand’s LA launch a few weeks ago. “I don’t have a PR agency,” Crawley says. “I’m lucky to know certain people that have big followings, and they’ve been really supportive.” But with so much going on already, why launch lip masks?
Lip masks are not new. They’ve been popular in Asia for years, and have trickled here, thanks to the ubiquity of Korean beauty brands and the masks’ inherent Instagrammability. They function the same way that full facial sheet masks do, except targeting the lips only. They’re made out of thick hydrogel and saturated with a serum. They generally look ridiculous and feel like a piece of wet seaweed on your mouth — so yes, they’re fun.
Crawley first discovered them a few years ago when she picked some up in Tokyo while there for a Dior runway show. But she says the ones she tried tasted disgusting and she thought they contained too many chemicals. “I started looking for a more natural version and it didn’t exist.” So, like so many natural beauty entrepreneurs before her, she decided to make her own.
She found a chemist and developed hers with a serum of water, glycerin, collagen, bitter cherry extract, hyaluronic acid, rose flower oil, and vitamin E. You can currently buy them online only, where they come in packs of five for $24.99 or 10 for $39.99. They come packaged in a pink lip camo-printed ziplock pouch (yes, it’s all a little reminiscent of Glossier, but in KNC’s defense, so is everything these days). I tried them and compared them to two other similar k-beauty lip masks, one by Tony Moly ($2.50) and one by the Face Shop ($5.50).
The KNC Beauty version beat both of these hands down for perceived moisturization, smell, taste, and the mask actually staying on. (I think the hole cut in the middle to allow a bit of lip movement helped.) I am not afraid of “chemicals,” but if you’re going to put a rubbery mask on your lips, this one was lovely. The Tony Moly one actually made my lips feel drier.
But now, some tough love. Let’s talk about the ingredient claims. According to the website: “You feel that tingle at the end? Yeah, that’s the collagen kicking in — going to work to give you that full, enviable look. Not only does it hydrate and plump, the deep conditioning mask will 100% change your lipstick game — acting as a smooth primer for all your favorite shades.”
Glycerin is a humectant which attracts moisture, and hyaluronic acid is a well known temporary skin plumper. The oils and vitamin E will soften lips. But collagen, which is part of the skin’s matrix naturally, doesn’t absorb into the skin topically because the molecules are too large, according to Randy Schueller, a cosmetic chemist and the co-host of The Beauty Brains podcast. “It won’t make your skin tingle either,” he says. I once read a great description of topical collagen in skin care products: Think of it like throwing a handful of bricks against a brick wall. They’re not going to stick.
“The physical film occludes your lips and may cause some temporary plumping. The cherry extract or the rose oil could provide a tingling effect,” Schueller explains. “Other than that you'd get a little moisturization from the hyaluronic acid.”
The mask did tingle after about ten minutes, but so did the other two masks I tried. As a k-beauty blogger friend of mine said when I asked if she’d had this experience, “Lip skin is weird.” Putting a sheet of gel over your lips could be enough to cause the tingle.
So these masks are a lovely aesthetic experience and did make my lips feel softer and more moisturized, so they could be good for lip recovery if you’ve been hitting the matte liquid lipstick a bit too hard. Just don’t expect miracles or long-term effects.
Crawley intends to expand her offerings, probably into masks for other parts of the face and also lip balm. Watch Instagram for more details.