Review: Portland Black Lipstick Company Lipsticks

There are a lot of arguments in favor of indie makeup, but I think the most compelling one is the capacity for accommodating variety. If you’re in search of the perfect red lipstick, you can probably find it in a drugstore. In search of the perfect green lipstick? Indie companies are your new best friend. Portland Black Lipstick Company (PBLC) is the current unrivaled queen of bizarre lipstick colors.

This is every PBLC lipstick that is currently listed on the website save “the Secret of Invisibility”, which is clear and thus probably not worth swatching.

PBLC lipsticks are available in samples, which come in neat little ziplock bags as pictured, or full-sized tubes, which are in a lip-balm style container.Now, I will mercilously throw swatches at you. Arms first:Here are some lip swatches and more detailed information about each color:

Blood Red is sort of a rusty, dark red that leans a bit brown. I normally think of a “blood red” as being a bit brighter than this. This is less of a “blood that is spurting out of my body right now” red and more of a “coagulated blood on a wound you got a few hours ago” red.
Imitation Cherry is probably my favorite of PBLC’s reds. It’s more of a true red, but it maintains some of the musty darkness of Blood Red.

Bug’s Blood is a mix between a red and a neon pink. It could perhaps be described as a Popsicle red. I love the fact that PBLC is embracing the fact that this product was made from carmine, a pigment that is usually obtained from certain species of scale insect.

Undead Red is what you get if you take Blood Red, turn down the saturation, and throw in a little bit of plum. It’s the perfect vampy-yet-wearable color.

This Corrosion is advertised as being rusty orange. To me, it looks a lot closer to a carrot soup.
Irony is a metallic maroon that is definitely reminiscent of red iron oxide, for which it was named.
Bad Penny looks like exactly like what it sounds like. It’s the color of a brand new copper penny!

Lux et Voluptas (meaning “light and pleasure” in Latin) is SO PRETTY ERMEHGERD. I JUST WANT TO PAINT MY ENTIRE FACE THIS COLOR.

Ahem, let me compose myself. This color is the definition of what a “rose gold” should be. It shifts between a soft white gold and a lovely light pink. This lipstick is bit sheerer than the other colors, but it can be built up to opacity if you like (it is opaque on my lips below). You could also definitely layer this over another lipstick, though, to get that awesome duochrome effect on a bolder color.

Artificial Amethyst is a dark, gray-ish purple with a metallic sheen.

Purple Cloud is a pastel blue-based lavender. It’s got a bit of a demi-matte finish.

Coffee, Black is exactly what it sounds like. It’s the color of a cup of joe! Alternatively, compost.
Metallurgy is a dark, forest green with a hint of gold. I’m sure you’ve seen cargo shorts in this color, although they may have been less shiny.

Chaiborg is a metallic light brown that confusingly straddles the line between warm-toned and cool-toned.

Black Lagoon is a metallic blue-ish dark green.

Black is, well, a black. Perfect for those who never fully got over their teenage rebellion. I found it took a little bit of building to get a nice opacity, but it definitely wasn’t a challenge.
Perfect Foil was my least favorite of the lipsticks that I tried because I real challenges getting it to be opaque. Even when it started looking pretty good, I’d move my mouth and the glitter would re-arrange and I’d find a pink patch or eight. This is too bad because the color is really pretty in a Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz-type way.
Pewter Cauldron is the color that my lips would be if they were in grayscale.

Snow Queen is another one that I was disappointed in. It’s a frosty, metallic white. It just couldn’t find a way to make it look good on my lips, unfortunately. I still think that this would be an excellent tool in your arsenal for creating awesome lip effects, though!

Gilded Lily is another super pretty one. It’s a blinding light gold that is both romantic and unexpected. It leans on the sheerer side, but I didn’t have any significant problems building it up.

Chlorosis (named for a botanic condition where plants produce insufficient chlorophyll, leaving them a pallid, pale color) is a pastel mint. The color is looking a little off on my lip swatch picture; check out the arm-swatch above to get a better sense of the color.
Indigo Bridge is a dark, metallic blue. If dark-wash denim was foiled, it would look like this.
Finally, Difficult Island is an aquamarine that immediately makes me think of a tropical resort.

A lot of these also look spectacularly awesome when used for ombre lips.

Okay, now that we know what colors we are dealing with, how do these suckers wear?! I conducted my “four hours and a meal test” on six of the PBLC lipsticks. Additionally, I’ve had these suckers for a while (as some of you can probably tell based on the fact that I’m in my old house in all of the following pictures), so I can speak to the longevity of all of the colors, even if I didn’t take specific before and after photos.
So y’all can probably see: there’s variability here. Specifically, Artificial Amethyst and Bad Penny had longevity troubles. Gilded Lily looks good in this particular test, but I’ve had issues with it when I eat a lunch that isn’t the epitome of daintiness. Basically, I’ve had difficulties with the lasting power for all of the metallic colors, but the non-metallics do quite well, even when they are super unconventional shades. If you’re looking for a really unconventional color that doesn’t need constant touch-ups, I would steer you away from PBLC’s metallics and towards colors like Difficult Island, Purple Cloud, or Pewter Cauldron. All of their conventional colors, I should note, hold up really, really well.

I would also recommend checking out lots of swatches before you make a purchase. (Although if you are here, I probably don’t need to tell you that.) PBLC really does not provide good information on their colors on the website. The have one section (here) that has employees wearing their lipstick in bad lighting. Unfortunately, you really can’t see what is going on and they only have a couple of their colors listed. On the shop page, they have colors that seem to have little relationship to colors of the actual products. (For example, next to Lux et Voluptas, they have a dark purple pictured. What?!) Even their product descriptions are vague. They say things like, “this color is perfect for the end of the world and other special occasions” with no mention of what it actually looks like.
I would strongly recommend that the company remedy this situation by asking a blogger to provide some well-lit lip swatches of their products. (Hell, if you’re reading this: y’all can have mine!) The products are good, they just need to market them better!

The last thing I want to talk about is value. I weighed three of the samples to get a sense of how much product you get. I found that the samples were remarkably precise, varying less than a tenth of a gram. Each sample was a hair over 1 gram, or 0.035 oz, making the sample cost $28.57 per ounce. The full size costs $10 for 0.15oz, which makes it more than twice the cost, ounce per ounce: $66.67 per ounce. This is probably not the best strategy for the company, since it discourages people from buying the full-sized product.

I did find that I needed more product for these lipsticks than I would from a conventionally colored one. In my “How Many Swipes are in a Tube of Lipstick?” blog I found that I usually need about 0.08g per lipstick use. Here, I was using closer to 0.015g per use. That’s means that there are probably a solid 60 applications in each of these samples. That’s… that’s a lot, especially for really funky colors.


1. Very well written review and I LOVE all the pictures! I think a swatch on the hands and lips together are the only true ways of getting to understand what a lippy looks like. Your price breakdown and “how many swipes” analysis has convinced me to go ahead with a purchase after pining away for these for months.

2. I agree! Some things look really different on the arms than on the lips, but you can’t tell what is lipstick and what is the blogger’s lip color if there are only lip swatches…

3. Hey,! Thank you so much for the review! I own a few of the colors you had opacity troubles with (emphasis on that Black shade) and the application is definitely different from the tube. Because it’s quite easy to get too much pigmentation from the tubes and the corners of the lips are nearly impossible, the foiled and the “patchy” colors are best applied on the center “curves” of the lips from the tube and then brushed out to the corners with a lip brush. I found that nearly all of PBLC’s lipsticks were fantastic with pigmentation. Have you purchased a full sized sample of the White? I’m curious to know what kind of straight-from-tube effect could be achieved with it.

4. Hi! I accidentally stumbled upon your blog maybe a month ago when I was digging for product reviews. And I love it. You have such a unique voice. Other beauty bloggers: OMG, this is amazing! It’s pretty! Great product! Yay! Happiness and gratuitous posing everywhere! …. No. Keep on being awesome in your reviews.

So, I went back and read all of your posts (creepy, I know), and I know you did a Beauty Bullshit post on “color-adjusting” BB creams, but could you do one on or explain the science behind color-adjusting lip/cheek color? Like the Tarte Lipsurgence Skintuitive Lip Tint or the Smashbox O-Glow Intuitive Cheek Color that apparently change color based on your skin’s pH/chemistry/magic/ambiguousness. Thanks!

5. That’s on my list for a “How Does It Work” post!

6. Im so glad im not the only “creepy one” who just read her entire blog! haha! I really did go back about 5 months. I just found your blog a few days ago and have been reading it through and through! LOVE!

7. This is so awesome, I just ordered some samples from them a couple of days ago. I hope Lux et Voluptas looks as nice on me as it does on you!

8. I’m sure it will!

9. I love your blog, Robin! But I think there’s a bit of math wonkiness in the last paragraph. .08g should be .008g for each lipstick application, and then do you mean you get 60 applications from the entire batch of samples? Because it’s looking like it’s about 2-3 applications per sample.

10. No worries! I think in ounces but my scale measures in grams, so I know it can be tricky to move between those units of measurement!

11. These are so nice! I’ve always been nervous to try indie makeup companies, for fear of not liking what I’d end up with, but your swatches have convinced me enough that I just placed an order for samples of Lux et Voluptas, Artificial Amethyst, Metallurgy, Gilded Lily, and Indigo Bridge. ๐Ÿ˜€

12. There are lots of nice indie companies out there! Just do your research.

13. Hi, thanks for the review! I was just wondering – since the samples come in baggies, how long do they keep and is it difficult to get them out to apply (and use up all/most of it) without having to throw away too much of the product?
Thank you!

14. I got these in July and there has been no notable change in texture.

I haven’t used any up but I don’t foresee difficulties.

15. Im just wondering, do you think these could work as cream eyeshadows? The pigmentation seems amazing, and some of those funky coloured ones would be awesome for shadow colours! Thanks in advance!

16. So I just read this again and it made me super excited for my order!! I totally glossed over # of applications previously and I ordered two of each sample I wanted so… I’m a very, very happy camper.

17. This is one of the best detailed review I’ve ever much effort and so much useful detail..Kudos!

18. I googled makeup reviews for PBLC because they don’t have photos up for all of their colors, and I’m SO glad I clicked the link to your blog. This was incredibly informative and detailed — I’ll definitely use your blog for more of this type of thing in the future. Thanks so much for sharing!

19. I’m so happy that you swatched the whole collection, this is a super helpful post! And now I’ve also just ordered three of the gorgeous colours thanks to you, excited! =D

20. I love these, and I thought $10 for a full tube isn’t THAT bad considering the cool colors… But I see they’ve now upped it to $12. Yikes.

21. The purple is my favourite on you!

22. thanks for this! I read your great post a while ago (maybe a month) and wanted to revisit for the super helpful swatches today. but all the pictures are gone, as are a few other pictures on your blog.. did you remove them or is it some internet issue? (i tried accessing it from different devices)

hope you have fun with your blog! (and that the pictures turn up again ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

23. I may sound hilarious but I seriously canโ€™t see the pictures on your post.
~Pauline @ Benefit cosmetic Philippines