Bite Beauty Lip Lab Custom Lipsticks

I'm very picky when it comes to lipstick shades. "Off the rack" lipsticks are rarely perfect in my eyes- too bright, too gray, too white, too red. The more I learn about my own coloring and what it means for the colors I choose to wear, the more shades I automatically despise in-store.

What I Wanted from the Experience

With my olive undertones, it can be hard to find lipsticks that look the same on me as they do on beautiful traditional warm or cool girls. Often a color that's perfectly brownish-red on someone else will appear muddy or purple on me. I can rarely trust the color in the tube to translate to a predictable shade once applied. I have still found a large number of lip shades I enjoy, but it means there are a few elusive imagined shades that I can only approximate by mixing 5 or 6 lipsticks at home, and I can never get the same result twice. 

For my first visit to the Bite Lip Lab, I decided to make 2 custom shades that I have been seeking without luck for the better part of a year. The first one is a muted coral, which is sort of an imaginary color in the makeup world. Most lipsticks that are described as coral are decidedly white-based, which makes them wholly unflattering on my grayish undertones. But what I wanted was a shade perfectly split between pink and orange, vibrant, but still with some depth. The second one I was after was a gingersnap orange, something more burnt than the traffic-cone offerings found on Sephora's shelves but with a more "obvious" orange tone than the 90s-style browns that are all the rage at the drugstore.

Custom vs. Bespoke Experience

Custom: $55 for 1 shade or $80 for 2 shades
  • Choose from "a la carte" custom shades exclusive to the store
  • No mixing/customization involved for color
  • Choose base formula (Glossy Sheer, Matte Creme, Amuse Bouche)
  • Choose scent/flavor from 9 options
  • Better for a casual shopper who doesn't quite know her own coloring well
  • Good if you want to spend less money- the equivalent of a single or 2 higher-end lipsticks like a Chanel or YSL
  • Ideal if you are alone and shopping for any new lipstick
  • Excellent for beginners who want a fun experience but have little knowledge

Bespoke: $150 for 2 shades (no option for single shade, you must make/buy 2)
  • Dictate any color you want and watch it be mixed before your eyes
  • Adjust shade after applying/trying and iterate as many times as you like
  • Choose base formula (Luminous, Matte, Sheer Cuvée) 
  • Choose scent/flavor from 9 options
  • Good for people who understand their undertones and color palette well
  • Better option if you have a specific idea of what you want and how it compares to off-the-shelf colors 
  • More fun to do with a friend who can assist and give feedback
  • Well-suited to experienced makeup lovers who can create a specific, special shade
  • "Free" kit including lip scrub, mini Lip Mask, and Lip Primer included

The first option is slightly lower tier, as it offers more specialized and unique shades than what Bite Beauty offers around the corner at Sephora, but it has no true personalized element beyond the flavor and finish. It's simply access to a large range of colors and in that sense, it's no different than visiting Sephora and sifting through the hundreds of shades there. I will say there are some gorgeous pigments and shades to choose from in the Custom offerings and I would go back there to shop "normally" if I wanted to buy a higher-priced lipstick without going full bespoke. You do get to choose your formula and scent, of course.

The second option is the full-blown custom bonanza. You can fine tune and nitpick at the color until it's exactly what you've envisioned, then have it rendered in whatever finish you like best. I feel like this is the most worthwhile option as it does offer a totally unique experience you can't get anywhere else. I also felt that it was similar to trying a new hairstylist at an expensive salon- if you don't click with the "Artist" who helps you customize your shades, I think there's real potential for an unsatisfying experience. I have to admit I was terrified that it would end up with my bossing around the Bite staff while they rolled their eyes at how persnickety I was. Basically I was afraid of being Ron Swanson at Lowe's: 

However, after my hour spent at the San Jose Lip Lab, located at the Valley Fair Mall, the Artist who helped me, Carlos made me feel that the employees there are very well-trained and have a way with colors. I felt immediately comfortable dictating my preferences, but I did not have to micromanage. He was more than capable and had good input, but was not too controlling. I look forward to visiting again and working with a different Artist, because I would like to see if Bite trains all their staff so well or if I got very lucky.

The Muted Coral

This is a surpringly weird concept, for being such a tame color. It's the one that causes to people look at me, scrunch their noses up, and say, "Hmm sweetie, I don't think you know what coral is..." but I swore to God one day I'd figure out a way to wear a perfectly balanced orange-pink shade with no white base. When I first arrived at the Lab I knew I wanted something similar to Verbena from the Bite Amuse Bouche line, but much more muted. I ended up browsing the Custom pigments along the wall and found a lipstick that I thought was nearly perfect. I brought it to the counter to show Carlos and showed him what I liked and disliked about the shade (not quite orange enough, needed less white.) He mixed up a batch and shockingly, I actually loved it without any changes. He suggested the Sheer Cuvée formula, which I really never would have opted for, as I tend to prefer matte and opaque shades, but I ended up enjoying the plushness and the fact that the color was buildable.

Now the one major issue I had with the Valley Fair Lip Lab was that the lighting was shoddy. It had the typical swanky American mall shop ceilings/lighting- tall and faraway. The lighting was dim, more suited to a teenage clothing shop or a Lush store. Carlos did make a point of saying that the company was aware of the lighting issues and was looking to change things up. My friend suggested we step outside into the mall hallway to get some natural light on my face. Carlos waved us out and we took one of the counter mirrors with us. I found that it was fairly easy to get a good impression of the full color out in the hall, because there is a large walkway with a good amount of natural light right by the Lip Lab. 

Here is the final result of Carlos' spot-on first mix for my muted coral:

Applied more sheerly, in warm afternoon light
Appled more heavily, in cold morning light
Without really considering alternatives, I went for the Sheer Cuvée finish because it's what Carlos mixed by default. Now that I have worn it for a full day I think the staying power of the Sheer Cuvée is not near what Bite's Amuse Bouche line is. It's a buildable, semi-glossy cushiony formula that feels great, but my preferred style of lipstick is slightly lower-sheen and higher staying power. Seeing as the color is not out-there its flexible finish is suitable, but I would not choose this unless you are 100% sure you want a glossy, moisturizing formula, and if you are looking for a deeper or dramatic shade, then I would discourage you from using the Sheer Cuvée finish.

Out of all the scent/flavor options I sniff-tested, I was drawn to the Vanilla (a very soft vanilla, reminiscent of a MAC lipstick) and the Mint (a vibrant, punchy peppermint in the vial.) You can have any mix of scents you want, so I chose to have a combination of the two and the result was a subtle, pleasant vanilla mint. I did not enjoy the Mango, Violet, or Wildberry options as I find fruity and floral makeup scent/flavors to be off-putting.

I'm happy with the color because adding more brown/mutedness would have taken it away from its coral roots too much. It is a tad brighter than lipsticks I wear everyday, so I will be sure to adjust my makeup in the future accordingly. I think this will be a good spring/summer shade for me even though it might skew too bright for winter and fall. I was almost disappointed with how easy the process went, but I shouldn't have worried, because the next color proved slightly more challenging and exciting!

The Gingersnappy One

My second shade is a common color, yet it was more challenging to describe than the first. While terracotta and orange lipcolors have been very trendy for at least a year now, I have tried the majority of popular ones and none of them work for my skintone. Most turn purple or berry on me, and have a tendency to lose their orange tones or skew muddy. Ofra's Miami Fever, ostensibly a burnt terracotta, turns into a muted nude on me, and the perennial favorite orangered, MAC Chili, reads as a true red on my skintone.

Ofra Miami Fever
MAC Chili

Because I didn't have a physical reference like the custom shade I showed Carlos for my first coral, I was left to do as the kindergarteners do, and use my words to describe what I wanted. In short, it didn't go so well at first. I asked for a "brownish-orange" to see what he would come up with and I was mixed and shown a warm beige in the vein of the Klassic Kardashian nude. I realized that I needed to be more specific, and that googling some pictures to illustrate my intention would be helpful. I came up with the word "gingersnap" which clicked more for him, because it evoked a deeper, burnt shade. I also googled a few keywords to show the depth and tone I was envisioning.

His second iteration was much closer, but needed some more orangey warmth and additional depth, so he ended up adding and mixing a third combination that turned out to be perfect. When my friend and I ducked outside for the second time to take advantage of the natural light, she noted that the glossy finish combined with the deeper color was jarring. I'm really glad she pointed it out, as I was pretty dazzled by the color and didn't stop to remember that I have a strong preference for matte and satin shades. Once Carlos rendered the gingersnap orange in the right finish and I tested it on my lips a final time, I was sold. I wore it out of the store, then once I had gotten home and had a snack, I reapplied and wore it the rest of the day.

The finish I chose is simply called Matte, as the Amuse Bouche base is not available in the Bespoke options. It ended up being very similar to an Amuse Bouche lipstick though, as it had a firmer, opaque texture with a satin finish. If you are particularly drawn to full-matte liquid lipsticks you are unlikely to find any suitable formulas at the Bite Lip Lab. However, if you enjoy the texture of Bite's Amuse Bouche or NARS Audacious lipsticks, then there is great potential here. Again I chose Vanilla Mint because I prefer my lipsticks to be barely-flavored.

Warm afternoon light
Cool morning light

Bespoke Lipstick Process in Photos:

Some pigments the Artist used to create my Bespoke shades...

Custom pigments lined up, looking good enough to eat!

Discussing and swatching color mixes before he created the final batches

After finalizing the pigment combination, the Artist spun it to blend completely

The pre-spinning step ensures once the base is added, they only need to melt it one time, as multiple meltings can scorch and scald the oils and waxes in the base formulas

My lipsticks chilled and solidified on the futuristic anti-griddle for a few minutes

The Artist expertly inserted the lipstick into a fresh tube and removed from the mold

Complimentary lip care kit with primer, cherry scrub, and mini Lip Mask

Along with the lip care kit, you get to take home a little card with each color's details

A Cost Breakdown: What is it Worth?

I am pretty lavish in terms of treating myself to color cosmetics that I like, and even I balked initially at the pricing for the Bespoke experience. For $150 you get two lipsticks, a lip care kit, and a fun experience. For me, there is no real value in the lip care kit, even though I will use all three products included. But a lip scrub is easy to formulate at home, I already own lip primers, and yes, I liked trying their famous Lip Mask, but let's be honest, that is not comprising the majority of what you are paying for. And if are someone who can be convinced it's worth $50+ to get a little trio of mini lip care items, then I have a bridge in Brooklyn that I'd like to sell you too.

What you are paying for here is really two-fold. First, you get a unique experience that is a hybrid of an upscale salon and a guided trip with a personal shopper. It's a full hour of entertainment that is quite fun for a makeup hobbyist. Second, you get to have access to an unlimited spectrum of shades that aren't accessible at just any price range.

Part of the reason I'd discourage a makeup newbie from making a Bespoke lipstick appointment is that someone new to makeup doesn't yet have a very full picture of what is out there at drugstore, Sephora, and department store pricing. If I had unlimited cash, I could make 100 customs at Bite and it wouldn't matter that you could dupe 75% of them with drugstore lipsticks. That is not the real world. Most people operate within a budget, whether it's $10 per month or $100 per month.

If I had to put a price tag on the overall experience, it was probably $40 worth of "entertainment." The lip kit stuff is worth $0 to me, so I don’t factor that in. That means that each lipstick by itself, in isolation, comes out to $55 each, after taking out the entertainment factor, which we can compartmentalize as a separate "service."

I have spent hundreds of dollars trying to get close to the shades that I ended up making at the Bite Lab. Some of the money was spent online, some at Sephora, and some at drugstores. All of it was ultimately wasted in a sense, because I either returned or trashed the items I bought. Looking back, I can say that the $55 price tag on each of the Bespoke lipsticks I made is "worth it" because if I did not make them, I would probably continue to shell out over the next year, endlessly searching for something that fit my vision. Part of why I didn't visit the Bite Lab sooner is that I hadn't yet decided which specific colors were so special and hard to find for me that I would require a custom version. I had a list of about 10 potential colors to make, and I whittled it down to 2 after finding lower-cost alternatives or near-perfect dupes for the other shades I had in mind.

If you really want a specific color/finish combo and it's not available at the drugstore in the $10 range, but you can find it at a department store for $45, it might not be worth it to try to make a customized dupe of the shade. If you can't find your perfect shade in a single tube anywhere at any price then it starts to make more sense to save up for a Bite Bespoke experience. I went in with two shades I really wanted to make. I won't be doing it again until I have two more shades that I have a pressing desire to own but that I can't find off-the-rack. If you are someone who finds dozens of flattering lipsticks every time you visit Sephora, then you might not "need" the additional flexibility that a customized lipstick offers. If a cheaper option works for you, then stick with it. 

There can be additional social and experiential value however, since it's a fun activity to do with a friend or family member. It's less expensive than a spa day, about on par with an expensive haircut, and I can see the experience suiting a variety of occasions- birthday gift, Mother's Day activity, bridal party bonding, etc. The point here is it's more glamorous and enjoyable than mucking around in the testers at Sephora with your buddy. There's a time and place for both. But visiting Sephora is free and you pay for what you get at the Bite Lab.

For my purposes, in this instance, it was worth it. I made two lipsticks I have been trying to find for a year and I got to have a great afternoon out with a friend. I probably won't find it necessary or enjoyable to repeat the experience for at least another 6 months or so. Considering I received this visit as a Christmas gift, I am biased, but I think that a trip to the Bite Lab makes a great gift for a relative or romantic partner. It has the versatility of a gift card, but is more personalized and exciting.

Other Notes:

I scheduled my appointment a week in advance for 11 am Sunday morning, the opening slot. There were no other customers when we arrived, although one or two people came in toward the tail end of the appointment. I would recommend making an appointment no matter what...I generally don't like to feel rushed or like I have to be squeezed in for something like this, which I would compare to a haircut in that it requires patience and attention. I asked our Artist if they saw a lot of foot traffic, and he said that they had 10 scheduled appointments that day (a Sunday) and expected plenty of walk-ins. Apparently their busiest day of the workweek is Monday, petering off and then picking up again on Friday and the weekend. My appointment lasted about 50 minutes, and it was a good amount of time because I felt myself getting a bit lipsticked out and parched by the end. I expect if you had bad luck with mixing your requested color that an appointment could last up to an hour and a half.

The bulk of the appointment was spent discussing and testing various colors on my lips. Carlos was very speedy in mixing up colors to my specifications, but between going outside to check multiple lighting and trying to figure out the exact balance of color that was needed, there was plenty of activity crammed into the hour. The plastic sheet pictured at the top of this post showcases the color swatch experiments that Carlos carried out before we settled on my final colors. After he had mixed what I deemed perfect, the process of choosing the scent took a few minutes, and then he melted and mixed the pigments, spinning them in a centrifuge before mixing with the wax, pouring the lipsticks into molds, then chilling until he could package them. 

When we asked Carlos if most Bite Lip Lab customers knew what they wanted when they arrived, he said the majority do not. Most people were fairly inexperienced or new to color theory and did not realize that the color in the tube of lipstick can look drastically different once applied. He gave the example that many women point to a lighter beige shade as being "nude" without realizing that it would look chalky on their skintone. He says his approach is just to show them first what they think they want, allow them to see and realize what colors look like in real life, and then guide them toward what he thinks is a better option.

Apparently the most commonly-requested colors are nudes and reds. Not surprised in regards to nude lips, but I have to say I was shocked that people would pay for a custom red. I guess I always felt there was such a vast array of off-the-rack reds available at all prices that I wouldn't think to make a custom red. But of course, the comfort of making something that's just yours and particular to your specifications doesn't mean you have to make something wholly unique. As long as you will wear it frequently, a Bite Bespoke probably makes sense for the peace of mind of creating something perfect.

On somewhat of a whim, I purchased a full-size Bite Agave Lip Mask for my friend and myself (one each) partially because it slipped my mind that the Bespoke option includes a mini lip care kit. I actually loved both the lip scrub and the Lip Mask, which I always considered to be overrated since it mainly relies on lanolin to moisturize, an ingredient I can buy in bulk for very cheap. But I have to say the gorgeous cocoa-vanilla scent (there's no chocolate, vanilla oleoresin has a distinct choco-vanilla vibe) and lush, fast-absorbing texture of the Lip Mask won me over. I think of the Bite Lip Lab experience as being similar to going to a fancy salon for a nice haircut. Sure, you don't need to buy that fancy texturizer that the hairstylist used on you, but you end up grabbing one anyway.

My Tips For Creating a Bite Bespoke Lipstick:

  • Bring photos with you: Words only go so far- when you're explaining to a stranger what color you want, it's much easier to reference photos. A variety of photos will help you narrow down the specifics, even if you don't have one single perfect reference.
  • Moisturize your lips the night and morning before: A nice perk was that our Artist offered up lip scrub and Bite's signature lip mask between swatching sessions, but I'm still glad I prepped my lips well the night before.
  • Take a friend: I can't imagine going to do this alone, and I'm not even a people person. A companion who is level-headed and who understands color cosmetics is a great asset. I was a bit frazzled an caught up in the excitement of the experience, and my friend helped me temper my reaction and offer feedback that I needed. Leave yes-men at home, this is a job for a blunt and constructive partner.
  • Wear makeup that makes sense: Both colors I was hoping to create were warm and saturated shades, so I wanted my makeup to match what I would ordinarily pair with those types of colors. I opted for a medium-strong warm earthy blush and minimal eye makeup with a structured brow. If you are making a lipstick for a special occasion like your wedding, wear a practice run of the makeup you have planned for your eyes and cheeks to get a complete picture. If you are planning two drastically different colors, then wear a more neutral look with minimal color to avoid clashing undertones.
  • If you plan to make multiple shades, do the lighter ones first: Despite the fact that I got to scrub and moisturize between colors, I was keenly aware of the potential for my first color's stain to interfere with the experiments with the second. If you are designing, say, a vampy purple and a beige nude, you need to make sure you do the lighter one before you start with the darker one.
  • Hydrate well beforehand: I'm a grown woman who forgets to drink water. If you share that particular weakness, just be sure to do so in the days before you go. It sounds stupid, but wiping your mouth, talking a lot, and reapplying lipstick repeatedly will have you wanting a drink of water. But I wouldn't recommend drinking anything during the process as it complicates things. So hydrate however you feel you need to make it for a full hour with no water breaks.
  • Don't plan to create a ton of shades: While the price may be a limiting factor for some, maybe you have the budget to create or pick out 4 lipsticks. I will tell you now it's too fun and overwhelming a process to reasonably find 4 great lipsticks in one sitting. I originally planned to do 4 total and when I got there, I realized I would max out at 2. Your brain can't process that much awesomeness in one go, so just plan a return visit.
  • Don't be shy: If you are the type of person who finds it hard to speak up, get over it before you get a bespoke lipstick made, or take a more confident pal with you. You need to feel comfortable asking for changes and substitutions, otherwise you will end up with a color that the Artist likes, not necessarily something you want. For the price, it's not worth going and not getting exactly what you want. You also most likely will need to exit the store to check multiple lighting situations and if you are too soft-spoken to initiate that (my Artist did not discourage it, but he did not suggest it) then you may end up with something that looks really different once find yourself under the cold light of day.
  • Bring close color dupes with you: We are naturally drawn to familiarity, which means it's very easy to accidentally create a color dupe for something you already own. I wish I had brought a couple shades with me just to make sure I got enough of a differential between colors I already own and what I was making.

My Suggestions for Bite to Improve the Experience:

  • Install cooler, more direct lighting: I think to test lipstick properly, you need full, direct sunlight or bulbs that approximate daylight. Customers need a convenient way to judge colors without leaving the store. Because the VF store is located inside a mall, they should be relying on a robust synthetic lighting setup. Even if they invested in countertop lighted makeup mirrors with built-in cool daylight bulbs, I think it would yield a smoother experience. Plus I can't be the only short girl who has a hard time hopping off and on a tall bar stool repeatedly- these legs aren't built for that type of motion.
  • Provide a specific avenue for customers to leave feedback on their Artist: For better or worse, the employees here have a huge influence on the customer experience. My experience was wonderful and I wanted to be able to communicate to the store management that my Artist made the experience great. I imagine if I had had a poor experience, I would want to let them know so that they could adjust whatever training issues there might be.
  • Have complementary selections from the regular Bite lineup available in-store: Even though most locations have a Sephora or other makeup store around the corner from the Bite Lab, I probably would have spent incrementally more money there if I could have browsed lip liners while I waited for my bespoke lipsticks to cool. While it's no inconvenience to me as a customer, to save money, they could be making a bit more with even a small display of liners. Not to mention anybody accompanying a friend, who finds the custom experience too pricey, may find an item to pick up at an off-the-rack price. I ended up buying two full-size Lip Masks on top of my Bespoke experience, and I'm not the only one who would throw in a "what the heck" add-on while coasting the high of getting a custom made-for-me lipstick. I don't think it would make sense to showcase the full lipstick range there though, as that would most likely end up cannibalizing some of the custom color-seeking customers.
  • Allow for naming and labeling of lipsticks: This is another issue that they are working on apparently. I think that the ability to put a custom printed label on the bottom of the lipstick would add a nice touch. If I end up making more Bespoke lipsticks, I would like a way to differentiate between 4 or 6 of them in my bag.


    1. I live 10 minutes from there and think it is so cool! But I definitely am in the category of someone who doesn't have a specific color I want so I don't want to go and spend so much money when I don't even know what color I would make. I love lipsticks and find myself buying gobs of them all the time, but maybe someday I'll make it to the lab to create my own! Thanks for sharing!!

      1. What I did was keep a running note on my phone and just jotted down ideas when they came to me. I gradually built up a big list of desired lipsticks, then eliminated the ones that I already had and ones that would be easily gotten at Sephora etc. I was left with a small list after a few months that felt "right," like they were special enough to warrant a visit :) Definitely a fun thing to do someday when you have a burning desire for a specific shade. You're welcome!

    2. Bite is such a fantastic brand. I basically love everything about them. I think I'll save up and do this for my birthday!

      1. Same here, I'm a bigtime fangirl. I really love how they rolled their stuff out and the way they've handled releases/formulas/overall branding. I'm a wee bit disappointed in the latest razzle-dazzle beauty guru partnerships...I feel like it's below their branding level. Cheapens them a bit IMO.

    3. Did they close this store? I don't see it on the mall's directory :(

      1. Hmm, it still shows up on the Bite site, but I can't find it on Yelp. Try calling their phone number for the Santa Clara/San Jose address!!