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Which lip stains are best?

Lip stains, those sheer longwear alternatives to lipstick, have been around for a while. But they recently came into their own for an unexpected reason: face masks. As any lipstick-wearing person can attest, putting on lipstick and then a mask can ruin your mask. Lip stains, on the other hand, provide the color of a lipstick with none of the smudge. Their easy low-maintenance application helps you put some color on your lips with a minimum of fuss.

If you’re looking for a longwear lip stain that makes your lips look great, Ulta Weightless Water Lip Stain is the top choice. 

What to know before you buy a lip stain

Whether you want to wear lip stain on its own or pair it with lipstick

Lip stain, as the name suggests, creates a long-term “stain” on your lips, a wash of color that doesn’t come off like lipstick does as you drink or eat. For this reason, you can pair it with lipstick to create a base that makes lipstick appear to last longer. If you want to use lip stain this way, be sure to buy a well-matched lipstick, so that as your lipstick fades the stain looks natural under it. If you want to wear lip stain on its own, there’s no need to color-match it.

Your skin tone

As with any other lip color, the choice of color should be matched to your skin tone. Cooler skin tones look great in pinks and other cool colors, while warmer tones look great in warm reds and corals.

The condition of your lips

Because lip stains are basically an enhancement of your natural lips and are sheer, you’ll want to apply them only on well-exfoliated lips with no dead skin flakes or chapped spots. Take some time to gently scrub away any dry skin and apply lip balm the night before you apply a lip stain. A lip mask can also be a great idea. 

Your preferred method of application

Lip stains come with a variety of applicators,  such as a roll-on — a marker-like applicator you can use to draw it onto your lips —  or a traditional sponge tip. Roll-ons can be fun and easy to control, while sponge tips and markers make precision application easier. 

What to look for in a quality lip stain

Moisturizing ingredients

Just because lip stains aren’t overtly moisturizing (as lip glosses tend to be), that doesn’t mean they don’t contain hydrating ingredients. Look on the label for items such as squalene, coconut oil or apricot kernel oil. 

Matte or shiny

While lip stains are never fully shiny (or else they would be lip gloss), there is some variation among them. Some go on shiny and fade to a tint over several hours. Others go on matte and stay that way. If you prefer a shiny look, you can can pair your lip stain with a clear gloss. The stain provides long-lasting color, while the gloss gives you that pouty shine. 


Some lip stains are formulated for use on other parts of your face, like cheeks and brow bones. If you want to travel light and carry fewer products, choose a lip stain that multitasks. Be aware, though, that just as it lasts for a long time on your lips, it will do the same on other parts of your face — so be careful about applying it smoothly and evenly. 

How much you can expect to spend on lip stains

Lip stains range from $15-$20. Since lip stains are a relatively recent trend, there aren’t a lot of drugstore options at the moment. Expect that to change as word of their ease of use spreads and their popularity grows. 

Lip stain FAQ

Do I need to use a different technique for applying lip stain vs. lipstick or gloss?

A. One key difference between lip stain and other lip products you may have worn in the past is that lip stain dries much more quickly. That means you have to work fast and be precise. The good news is that since it’s sheer, it’s easy to go over any spots you missed to even out your lines. Once it dries, it’s one even wash of color that lasts all day.

What’s the difference between lip stain and lip tint?

A. Both operate from a similar idea: color that lasts all day. Lip stains are more pigmented, and thus more noticeable. Lip tints are sheerer and closer to mimicking lips’ natural colors. While lip stains come in natural shades, they are also available in vivid reds, plums and browns.

What’s the best lip stain to buy?

Top lip stain

Ulta Weightless Water Lip Stain

Ulta Weightless Water Lip Stain

What you need to know: This full-coverage, smooth lip stain from a premium department-store brand offers moisture and deep color.

What you’ll love: This show-stopping color is gorgeous, just the right balance between the brown and red that make up maroon. 

What you should consider: You may need to reapply more frequently than you’d expect for a lipstick this pigmented.

Where to buy: Sold by Ulta Beauty

Top lip stain for the money

ColourPop Sonic Blooms Glossy Lip Stain

ColourPop Sonic Blooms Glossy Lip Stain

What you need to know: If you’re not sure whether lip stains are for you, this low-cost option is a great way to try one out. 

What you’ll love: This cruelty-free color goes on shiny and stays glossier than the average lip stain, for all-day color with some sheen.

What you should consider: Many of the shades in this line are bright colors, some with pink undertones, so swatch them on your skin at the store before deciding if you like the look. 

Where to buy: Sold by Ulta Beauty

Worth checking out

Yves Saint Laurent Tatouage Couture Liquid Matte Lip Stain

Yves Saint Laurent Tatouage Couture Liquid Matte Lip Stain

What you need to know: This upscale brand delivers intense color that lasts.

What you’ll love: Made in an array of stunning shades, this goes on smooth with a unique applicator that makes controlling the lip stain a breeze.

What you should consider: It has a strong aroma most consider pleasant, but if you’re sensitive to smells, test it before deciding.

Where to buy: Sold by Sephora


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Maria Andreu writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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