Monday, April 22, 2013

Tangee Lipstick Review

When's the last time you treated yourself to a new tube of lipstick? Many economists and social scientists have noticed a trend dating back to the Great Depression that during tough economic times, cosmetic sales tend to increase. The explanations for this noteworthy phenomenon range from insightful to outright fanciful, but generally it is believed women strapped for cash will splurge on a new shade for their lips rather than more expensive items like a new dress.

At almost $15 a tube, I wouldn't say Tangee is the cheapest lipstick around, but given the brand has been around for almost a century, its formula virtually unchanged during that time, I thought a vintage-loving gal like me should pick up a tube, regardless of the state of the economy.

Tangee's fame lies in its unusual color-changing characteristic, hence the motto "The Lipstick That Changes Color to Become Uniquely Your Own". In short, this vibrant orange gloss-like lipstick turns an elegant shade of red with a hint of purple within seconds of applying it to your lips.

How does this happen?
Well, the website Cosmetics and Skin explains how the synthetic dye eosin discovered in the late nineteenth century was added to Tangee and other lipsticks of the early twentieth century to create a new type of "indelible" color, that is, color that cannot be rubbed of the lips easily.

The mechanism responsible for this attribute was fundamentally different from how other lipsticks colored the lips. Traditional lipsticks contained pigments are already present and active even before the product touches the skin. In the case of Tangee and other "indelible" lipsticks, the eosin dye reacts with your skin's proteins to create a vibrant reddish color with the slightest hint of purple.

Thus Tangee technically falls under the category of lip stain as opposed to true lipstick. (Incidentally eosin is still used for staining tissue samples in laboratories....)

A smear of Tangee lipstick on my hand produces this pleasant reddish shade

So how does it become "Uniquely Your Own"? I'm not sure it does. Some say it reacts to the temperature or pH of your skin, but I've yet to see a scientific explanation for either of those claims. I'm not sure given the nature of eosin how this reaction could produce a different color on different people, unless you take into account the different underlying skin tones.

The Review

Tangee Lipstick comes in a black tube with a thick gold band, containing 0.13 oz. (3.7 grams) of the product. The logo with its unmistakeable 1920s/1930s font is emblazoned in gold on one side of the tube. The tube itself is nestled in an attractive black box decorated with the telltale logo flanked on either side with orange blossoms and golden tendrils.

When you remove the lid, you instantly notice its sweet perfume smell, reminiscent of roses and fragrances of bygone days. This is one of my favorite aspects of Tangee lipstick, although I understand our preference for scents can be an intensely personal thing.

The light but vibrant, almost neon tangerine color of the unused product provided the inspiration for its name.

Tangee resembles a gloss or balm. A smooth translucent coat is created by the wax, oil, and lanolin, with the color itself resulting from a dye that stains the proteins on the surface of your skin.

It goes on clear and remains this way for a second or two. Suddenly its shade will transform.

On me it creates to a reddish-pinkish color. My camera refused to capture the shade accurately, but the picture above is a fairly good approximation.

Unlike those old color-changing rings and hypercolor shirts, Tangee is not a "mood" lipstick. It does not alter its hue based on how hot or cold I'm feeling, or whether I'm enjoying acidic or basic foods for a meal. From one day to the next its color has remained consistent.

Right now Tangee is my go-to lipstick because the color stays even when the gloss itself wears off, this being a wonderful feature of lip stains. Even rubbing my lips won't remove the color. For that I need a decent cold cream or a good exfoliation.

Source: A Brief History of Lipstick at Enjoy Your Style

You'll have to decide for yourself whether the price ($14.95) is reasonable. Browsing some old advertisements for Tangee, I discovered on page 51 of Volume 84 from the Druggist's Circular, (printed in 1940) that a tube of the original formula, called "natural Tangee lipstick", used to cost $0.89!

Tangee is among the earliest lipstick brand out there, dating back to the 1920s or 1930s. Although it disappeared from the market in the 60s, The Vermont Country Store acquired the rights to its name and unique formula, and currently they are the exclusive producers and distributors of the brand.

Want a tube of your own? Here's the link to buy Tangee lipstick at the Vermont Country Store. (And if you're wondering, I haven't been paid or compensated by the good folks at the Vermont Country Store for writing this review!)

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  • versatile color
  • long-lasting color
  • lovely fragrance


  • the price
  • fragrance may be too strong for some
  • color may not match everyone's complexion

I suppose the only way to find out whether the color and scent of Tangee are right for you is by giving it a try.

Have you already tried Tangee lipstick? Leave a comment with your impressions! I'd love to hear about others' experiences with this brand.

Edit (May 17): I found another helpful review at Lucky Lucille, which also compares Tangee with the Tabu brand, which I'll just have to order for myself now!

Also, Nedra Rhone of the Chicago Tribune wrote a piece entitled "Some experts suspicious of cosmetics claims" published in that newspaper's Lifestyles section on July 25, 2007 in which she casts a skeptical eye on the claims of some cosmetics and fragrance companies that their products create a unique hue or scent for each person. As far as lipstick and blush colors are concerned, the experts she interviewed seemed to think the variation in color between people has to do with the underlying skin tone and not with the products interacting with each person's body chemistry in a different way. A fascinating read!


  1. What a fantastic review. This lipstick sounds amazing, and of course I am an absolute sucker for makeup products that have original or vintage inspired designs on the packaging and product itself. It makes me feel like I'm back in time when using them. The sent sounds beautiful as well. I think it would be a really lovely lipstick to try. Thanks for the information!

    1. Yes, old-fashioned packaging gives me that same feeling of having been transported back in time to another era. There aren't a lot of brands that stick with the older designs, but a few come out with neat anniversary editions every now and again.

  2. What a great review!! I have very thin-skinned lips that easily dry out and crack and chap and flake. :( The "moisturizing" lipsticks are often messy and wear off and the long lasting ones dry my lips up like the Sahara desert. I definitely think I'll be trying this one! Will you be reviewing the Tangee blush anytime soon? :)

    1. Then you should at least give Tangee a try. I used to have that problem, but after I weaned myself off of lip gloss it largely disappeared. Go figure!

      Hmmm, maybe I should do a blush review. My cheeks are naturally rosy, and I only apply blush if I'm wearing a foundation that covers their pinkish glow, so I've been working with the same blush for over 6 years now! Maybe It's time to splurge on a new shade.

    2. That's interesting, I've heard others that say the same thing! But I've always had extremely dry lips, even as a child; before I started using chap sticks and lip glosses. :(

      Oh, and I think I've got you beat with the blush. I would very much like you to be our Tangee blush guinea pig ;)

  3. Thank you for the helpful details and comments. I have been wondering about purchasing it, and now will give it a try. Any thoughts yet about the blush?

    1. You know, I haven't yet tried the blush, since my cheeks are rather rosy by nature. The reviews on the Vermont Country Store's website seem to be quite positive (you can read them here). My guess is it achieves a rosy look using the same mechanism (staining through the eosin dye) like in the lipstick, but I would have to look at the ingredients list to find out for sure.

  4. Love the review.

    In terms of inflation of the US dollar, $.89 in 1940 is equal to $14.38 in 2012. Tangee's cost equivalence has been exactly the same over a 72 year period. The US dollar has just been devalued that much.

  5. Cool review.

    By the way, $.89 in 1940 is equivalent to $14.38 in 2012. In 72 years, the relative cost of Tangee has not changes. The UD dollar has been devalued that much.

    1. What an astounding statistic! I'm genuinely surprised both that the price has stayed the same and at the amount of inflation. Thanks for the fascinating comment.

  6. There's a brand called Besamé that makes vintage inspired makeup. Their lipsticks do not change hue and are pricier, but they do smell nice!

    1. That's great to know! I'll definitely be trying out one or more of their shades next time the lipstick bug bites me. Here's the website for readers who are interested.

  7. I ran across your article and I do have two tubes of Tangee lipstick. You see my mom (1911-1987) always wore Tangee, and I have a vintage tube from the 1960s that was her last (because of discontinuation). For many years (until finding it at the Vermont Country Store) it was all I had, and it only contained a smidge. So I didn't wear it, only occasionally opened it to get a whiff of the fragrance which reminded me so much of my mom after she passed away. I have many tubes of differing brands of lipstick, but the Tangee transports me to my childhood instantly upon that familiar scent, and I do wear (not exclusively though) it on occasion.

    1. Madge, how delightful to hear about the lipstick you inherited from your late mother! There is something particularly primal about scents that conjure up strong memories of our loved ones who have since passed. My great grandmother, for example, always used a cold cream that had a very distinctive scent, and whenever I encounter it nowadays, it floods me with thoughts of her.

      I would be curious to hear whether you have compared the newer tube from the Vermont Country Store with the older one that belonged to your mother. Are the consistency/color/fragrance similar? How about the packaging?

      (And, by the way, I just love the photography work you have posted on your blog!)


The Hausfrau eagerly awaits your thoughts.