Merit Debuted a '90s-Inspired Lipstick Collection at NYFW—So We Tried It

It applies like a lipstick, feels like a balm, and lasts like a stain.

Woman wearing Merit Signature Lip lipsticks

Merit / Byrdie

When Merit debuted on the market in early 2021, it was an instant hit among clean beauty fans and makeup minimalists alike. The carefully curated line launched with a selection of essentials designed to give customers the ultimate five-minute makeup routine. And while the initial launch included quite a few standout products, the Shade Stick Tinted Lip Oil ($24) quickly became both a best-seller and a beauty editor favorite.

One year later, Merit is back with their second product launch. Following the success of their lip oil, the brand is expanding further into the lip category with the introduction of the new Signature Lip Lightweight Lipstick ($26), which debuted on the lips of supermodel Bella Hadid at Proenza Schouler's Fall/Winter 2022 Show during New York Fashion Week

The brand originally planned on introducing Signature Lip last year, but decided it wasn't the best time to launch their first-ever lipstick, given the state of the world. "[Last year] wasn’t the right timing for it—as we transitioned to working from home and wearing masks in public, lipstick sales fell more than 40% in 2020. That trend was consistent through 2021," Aila Morin, Senior Vice President at Merit, explains. However, now that we're gradually approaching the end of mask mandates, the cosmetics company is hoping it's time for lipstick to make a triumphant return. Ahead, learn more about the inspiration behind the new Signature Lip, and read our honest reviews.

The Inspiration

For their second product launch, Merit was adamant about emphasizing optimism, which is why the brand wanted to introduce a collection of lipsticks that would help customers feel like themselves again. "Lipstick has always symbolized a feeling of put-togetherness that we’ve missed the past few years," Morin explains. "Much like fashion, reintroducing playful colors into our wardrobes is something we’ve all been looking forward to."

Woman wearing Merit lipstick glowing skin berry lips

Merit

With simplicity at the forefront of the brand, the Merit team prioritized bringing elevated ease to our daily beauty routines. The thought process was simple: seek makeup inspiration from the simpler times of the 1990s and 2000s.

"We’ve always grounded our shades in references from the '90s and early '00s," says Morin about the lipstick's warm, neutral-based shade range. "There’s something timeless about simple makeup that makes you feel like you." 

Merit Signature Lip Lightweight Lipstick
Merit Signature Lip Lightweight Lipstick $26.00
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The Collection

When it came to developing the collection, Morin reveals that the names and colors did not come together overnight. Instead, it took her and Merit founder Katherine Powers weeks of thoughtful brainstorming. "As we were developing the shades, we talked in-depth about how the wrong lipstick can make you feel like you’re playing dress-up, like a costume or a mask," Morin explains. "On the contrary, the right shade makes you feel like your most powerful, put-together self. That’s how we hope the Signature Lip makes you feel."

"Aesthetically, we’ve always aligned with the autumnal colors, simple shapes, and classic touch of the 90s," she adds about the inspiration for the Signature Lip collection, which includes eight shades ranging from warm neutral to orange-red. "We reinterpret it in a modern, edited way."

On the lighter side, there's Slip, a neutral shade inspired by sepia-toned filters, Millennial, a classic pink, and Baby, a dusty pink. For the red hues, there's Tiger, a brick red that took the brand 40 tries to perfect, Fashion, a soft berry, and Cabo, a warm orange-red. And because no '90s-inspired collection would be complete without the decade's signature brown shades, the brand is introducing two: L'Avenue, a berry brown that's meant to embody "the feeling of people watching with a glass of wine in hand," and 1990, a deep, true brown.

Merit Signature Lip shades

Merit

The Formula

From matte lippies and liquid lipstick to sheer tinted balms, we’ve watched countless lip trends come and go over the last five years. Merit, however, is focused on staying out of the revolving door of trends by creating favorites that customers will return to time and time again. "What has always resonated for us is how the right lipstick can be your signature," says Morin. "We focus on classic products with skincare benefits that will live with you." 

The brand took the same approaching when formulating Signature Lip, infusing the product with ingredients like soothing papaya fruit extract and moisturizing squalane and sunflower seed oil. The result is a comfortable, long-lasting product that feels like nothing on the lips. "It’s a hydrating, buildable lipstick that’s so lightweight, you’ll forget you’re wearing it," Morin adds.

Key Ingredients

Squalane is the hydrogenated form of squalene. It is a lipid that is naturally found in the skin and secreted by the sebaceous glands. It calms inflammation, supports the outer skin barrier, and works well with actives like retinol.

Not only did Merit want to ensure that the sheer, satin formula is enjoyable to wear, but they also wanted to make the application process as seamless as possible. "We wanted a mirrorless experience," Morin tells us. "So you can swipe it on, knowing it’ll fade down slowly into a stain throughout the day instead of needing precise application or having it cling to only certain parts of the lip."


The Reviews

Karli Bendlin, senior editor

Woman wearing Merit lipstick blonde hair

Karli Bendlin / Unsplash

To put it simply, I'm in love with this new lipstick collection. Not only am I obsessed with the nostalgia-inspired shade range, but the formula also meets my admittedly high lipstick standards. It's creamy, comfortable, and I can swipe it on with ease (I'm convinced I could apply it seamlessly without a mirror). I've tried a lot of deep brown lipsticks in search of that perfect '90s look, and I've finally found it in the aptly named 1990 shade. I can't recommend it enough.

Emerald Elitou, beauty news writer

Woman wearing orange Merit lipstick short hair

Emerald Elitou / Unsplash

When it comes to beauty, I'm always looking for an experience. In my opinion, the experience starts with the packaging. Then, I look at how it applies, how it wears, and how it makes me feel overall. These are only a few of the many things I enjoy searching for when I’m trying new products. 

When I received the Signature Lip Lightweight Lipstick, I was immediately drawn to the sleek and beautiful packaging. After examining the impressive brown and gold tube, I decided to try the Cabo shade, which I found to be a fun vacation color. It glided smoothly onto my lips, leaving behind a tint that allowed me to customize the color payoff to my liking. The hydrating formula was also worth noting.

Honestly, these lipsticks took me back to my childhood and reminded me of when I used to play in my mom's beauty collection. Those were the days! I truly enjoyed the nostalgia of applying classic lipstick shades that were extremely complimentary. These lipsticks were worth a mini shopping spree in my opinion.

Holly Rhue, senior editor

Woman wearing Merit lipstick brown hair

Holly Rhue / Unsplash

Shade Millennial is the perfect natural-looking, pinky nude for my fair skin. I love that it gives my lips a flush of color without making my makeup look too “done.” The formula is creamy and silky—it feels more like a tinted lip balm than a lipstick and I am fully in love.

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