As much as we love trying out the new multi-step eyebrow routine or strategically blended cream contour look, effortless and minimal are in — and you won’t catch us complaining. So it’s no surprise that people have been turning to a lip product that epitomizes ease and efficiency: lip stains.
So what is a lip stain exactly? At the most basic level, they’re generally “pigments that really stay on your lips and have longer staying power,” explains celebrity makeup artist Neil Scibelli. “Other products like glosses and lipsticks can easily transfer and move around,” he adds, “whereas lip stains are really meant to be transfer-proof.”
The texture of a lip stain is also different from that of other lip products, explains celebrity makeup artist Kirin Bhatty. “The texture mimics one’s own lips after applied,” she explains. Whereas lipsticks may have a cream or satin finish, and glosses and lip oils have a shiny finish, that of a lip stain is more subtle. The pigment in a lip stain tints your lips without adding a new texture or layer of product. What you’re left with is “a hint of long-lasting color,” shares Bhatty. Fenty Beauty global makeup artist Priscilla Ono echoes this, adding that because “lip stains typically go on wet and dry down quickly with a more matte finish,” that can “feel very lightweight compared to a gloss or bona fide lipstick.”
As for coverage, lip stains “can be more sheer and buildable like the Fenty Beauty Poutsicle Hydrating Lip Stain, or full coverage from the start like Fenty Beauty Stunna Lip Paint Longwear Fluid Lip Color — which is like a liquid lipstick-lip stain hybrid,” explains Ono. “It all comes down to a matter of preference in regard to pigment opacity, finish, staying power and application type.”
While lip stains have traditionally had the reputation of being drying, “brands these days are including a range of benefits in their stains so they can also be hydrating and contain skin-savvy ingredients,” shares Scibelli. These moisturizing benefits can make lip stains similar to a lip gloss or lip oil, explains celebrity makeup artist Jose Corella, making them “a really great option for all-day comfort and as a tool to keep your lips hydrated throughout the day.”
What are the benefits of lip stains?
Lip stains are long-wearing and generally transfer-proof, so you don’t need to worry about reapplying constantly throughout the day. “When you apply a lip stain, you can feel confident that it will last you through meals, through drinks, through long convos, a day at the beach — you name it,” shares Ono. “It’s a great option for a busy person who may not want or doesn’t have the time to touch up,” she adds. And once it’s on, “you should be good to go for many hours,” adds Scibelli, who also uses lip stains as a primer for other lip products. That way, even if those other products like glosses fade or transfer, you still have that trusty base layer of color.
When compared to a lipstick or gloss, lip stains are more likely to blend in with your natural lip color, explains Corella, creating a sort of custom shade. This oftentimes subtle wash of color can also allow you to be more adventurous, shares celebrity makeup artist Molly R. Stern. Interested in a hot pink or bold coral shade, but don’t want to commit to a lipstick? Lip stains are a great way to test different shades out, since you can layer the product up to your desired pigmentation.
The all-around best lip stains
$24 at Sephora, Ulta and Fenty Beauty
While some lip stains can be “really drying and show feathering in the lips,” explains Fenty artist Ono, this option doesn’t suffer from any of that. It boasts an “oil-in-water formula with squalene so it glides on so smoothly and keeps lips hydrated all day,” she explains, and it also “has this amazing cooling feeling when it hits your lips — so it’s really refreshing.” The formula went viral on TikTok, and now the hashtag #fentylipstain has over 8 million views. It's also Corella’s favorite lip stain; he’s obsessed with the shade range and how easily customize the boldness and pigmentation of the product. “Apply less for subtle color or add an extra layer” for that dramatic pop, he shares. Bhatty also loves this option, sharing that “it leaves a soft hue on the lips while hydrating all day.”
$38 at Sephora
Corella recommends this long-lasting lip stain that’s also “packed with pigment and infused with glycerin and squalane to keep lips ultra-hydrated.” Scibelli agrees, noting that it’s a great long-lasting option “because it dries into a gorgeous long-wearing shine on the lips without moving around.”
Scibelli loves the fact that this affordable lip stain “combines the high shine of a gloss and the pigment of a lipstick to create a long-lasting stain.” It’s functional and just right for anyone on the hunt for that all-in-one lip product, he explains.
Though technically categorized as a liquid lipstick, this product — a favorite of Stern’s — can also be used to achieve a classic lip-stained look. We recommend applying the product with your fingers, and gradually blending it out to your desired pigmentation. Stern loves the color range — which includes over 40 shades — and the fact that it stays on your lips for hours.
The best hydrating lip stains
“I have been a longtime fan of these,” shares Scibelli. “They come in a range of wearable colors and instantly lock moisture in with fruit extracts and shea butter while also offering long-lasting pigment to the lips,” he explains. Plus, the applicator style “makes it super easy to apply and to travel with.”
$8 $5.60 at Colourpop
If you can’t sacrifice on moisture but need a long-lasting product, a glossy lip stain might be just what you’re looking for. This hydrating and water-based product is packed with antioxidant-rich ingredients like guava and lychee extract.
$8 at Amazon
A favorite from K-Beauty powerhouse Etude House, this adorable stain packs quite the punch. Not only does it stay in place all day long, it’s so transfer-proof that you can easily layer glosses, oils and balms over it for extra hydration throughout the day without disrupting the color payoff.
“If you hate the texture of some lip products, this will be for you,” shares Corella. “It’s a great alternative for gloss without that sticky-tacky feeling.”
The best drugstore lip stains
$7 at Amazon and Catrice Cosmetics
A favorite of Bhatty’s, this affordable lip stain has a high water content that makes for a fresh and nourishing option. “It really is a long-lasting, punchy color that’s comfortable on the lips,” she explains. The formulation is both moisturizing and quick-drying, so you don’t have to worry about any smudging — even under a mask.
Bhatty recommends this glossy lip stain option, which she describes as having a gorgeous color range and incredible staying power.
From $9.99 at Amazon or $10 at Flower Beauty
Scibelli describes this option as “a gorgeous, glossy stain that feels comfortable on the lips and stays in place all day.” The lightweight texture is gel-like, and is a dream to apply thanks for the plush doe foot applicator.
$9.49 From $5.25 at Amazon
“I love a chubby pencil applicator,” shares Stern. She’s also a fan of the range of “vibrant colors” available, and how wonderful the lip stain feels once it’s applied.
The best peel-off lip stains
$29 at Wonderskin or $32 at Amazon
This TikTok-famous lip stain “works with your body's natural chemistry to leave a long-lasting stain,” explains Scibelli. The product is available in a range of shades, and utilizes a unique three-part system of applying the stain, spraying it with a liquid, and then peeling it off to “to reveal their super-long-lasting stains,” he shares. What starts off as a cool bluish-purple lip color, explains Corella, reveals into a “beautiful popsicle-bitten lip.” Though there’s a bit of a learning curve with the application, it’s undoubtedly one of the most transfer-proof lip stains we’ve ever tried.