Updated May 2022
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Buying guide for best lip stains

Finding a comfortable lip product that stays in place for hours can be a serious challenge. Glosses and creamy lipsticks wear off easily, especially when you’re eating and drinking. Liquid lipsticks offer serious wear time, but they’re usually heavy and drying on the lips. A lip stain, on the other hand, offers soft, easy-to-wear color that can last all day without touch-ups.

A lip stain is a lightweight lip product with a thinner texture than liquid lipstick. It dries down in a similar way, though, to become relatively budge-proof on your lips. The color that a stain provides is not as opaque as a liquid or cream lipstick but not as sheer as a gloss. A lip stain gives a stained appearance that’s similar to how your lips look after you’ve eaten a popsicle.

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It’s a good idea to have a makeup remover or a cleansing oil on hand to remove your lip stain at the end of the day. Because of the staining effect, soap and water alone may not be enough to take it off.

Key considerations


Lip stains are available in both liquid and gel formulas. Liquid lip stains have a thin, almost watery consistency. They dry down extremely quickly and typically offer the longest wear time. Liquid stains are usually more drying, though, so they may not be as comfortable to wear.

Gel lip stains have a thicker consistency. They usually require more time to dry and don’t wear quite as long on the lips as liquid stains. But gel stains typically are less drying, which makes them more comfortable to wear.

Dry time

Lip stains usually dry pretty quickly because they aren’t as thick as liquid lipsticks. There’s some variation among lip stains in terms of how long they take to dry, however. Liquid stains generally require 30 seconds or less to dry, while gel formulas usually dry in a minute or less.

The key to making sure that a lip stain dries quickly is not to apply too much product. If you apply too much or too many layers of the stain, it may be too thick to dry quickly.



Most lip stains have a matte finish, meaning they don’t have any shine or gloss. That’s part of why they’re able to wear for so long on the lips. It’s also why they’re more drying than lip glosses. Lip stains contain few emollient ingredients to provide moisture.

You can find some lip stains that have a satin finish. They have a slight sheen thanks to some hydrating ingredients, which make them more comfortable to wear. They won’t offer as long a wear time, though.


The majority of lip stains include a built-in applicator, so you don’t have to use a separate brush to apply them. Liquid lip stains may have a doe-foot or brush-tip applicator, depending on how watery the formula is. You can also find liquid lip stains with a felt-tip applicator.

Gel lip stains typically feature a doe-foot applicator to effectively spread the thicker formula across your lips. Some gel stains come in stick form. You twist up the bottom of the stick to dispense more product.

Wear time

Lip stains typically provide at least five hours of wear, but some formulas last longer than others. If you want a stain that will last all day, look for an option that promises at least 10 hours of wear to get you from morning to night without any touch-ups.


Many lip stains are available in a wide range of hues, from natural nudes to bold oranges and reds. But some stains are only available in a few shades, usually pinks and berries. Lip stains give a softer look than lipstick, and most colors will look more subdued on the lips than they do in the tube.


Lip liners: bareMinerals Gen Nude Under Over Lip Liner
If you want even more wear time from your lip stain, it helps to start with a good lip liner. We love this option from bareMinerals because it has a creamy texture and works well both under and over other lip products.

Lip primers: Anastasia Beverly Hills Lip Primer
Lip stains can be drying, so it helps to start with a lip balm that hydrates your lips before you apply the stain. This lip primer from Anastasia Beverly Hills is a favorite because it’s sheer and lightweight but still moisturizing enough to prevent dryness and flaking.

Lip stain prices

Lip stains vary in price based on the quality of the ingredients, which impacts how comfortable they are to wear and the wear time. Most lip stains range from $5 to $40.

The most affordable lip stains are usually from drugstore brands. They contain lower-quality ingredients, so they’re typically more drying and not as comfortable to wear. You can expect to pay between $5 and $14 for these lip stains.

Mid-range lip stains contain higher-quality ingredients, so they’re less drying and more comfortable on the lips. They usually offer longer wear times, too. You’ll typically spend between $14 and $24 for these lip stains.

The most expensive lip stains are from high-end and luxury makeup brands and contain high-quality ingredients. They’re usually the least drying, so they are extremely comfortable to wear. They also wear a long time on the lips and are available in a wide range of shades to suit all skin tones and preferences. Expect to pay between $24 and $40 for these lip stains.


  • Always prep your lips for a stain by exfoliating them first. Otherwise, the color will stick to any dry or flaky patches, and you will not end up with a smooth look.
  • Because lip stains can be drying, it helps to pair them with a quality lip balm. Apply the balm over the stain once it’s dried to help hydrate your lips without affecting the stain’s wear time.
  • Lip stains are usually fairly sheer, so you can layer them to get the color intensity you want. Use a light hand when applying a stain, though, or you run the risk of the stain smearing and making a mess.
  • If your goal with a lip stain is to mimic the look of having just eaten fruit or a popsicle, stick to red and berry tones when choosing a shade.
  • Warm peach and pink lip stains are especially flattering on medium to deep skin tones.
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If you want the long-lasting color of a lip stain but prefer a shiny finish, top your stain with a layer of gloss. Use a clear lip gloss or a gloss that’s a similar shade to the stain.


Q. How long does a lip stain usually last on the lips?
It depends on the formula. Nearly all lip stains last at least five hours without needing to be touched up. Some liquid stains can last even longer. You can find lip stains that offer 10 to 12 hours of wear if you need your lip color to last from morning to night.

Q. Can I apply a lip stain to chapped lips?
Lip stains can be drying, so if your lips are already dry and flaky, a stain can make the problem worse. A lip stain will also accentuate any dryness or flakiness, so it’s not the best lip product to wear on chapped lips.

Q. How should I prep my lips for a stain?
Your lips should be as smooth and hydrated as possible before you apply a lip stain. Exfoliate with a lip scrub to remove any flakes or roughness. Then apply a layer of lip balm and give your lips time to absorb it before applying the stain.

Q. Can a lip stain go bad?
Like all makeup products, lip stains do have a shelf life. Most stains last for six to 12 months, but manufacturers often indicate on the packaging how long it takes a product to expire once it’s opened. If a stain starts to smell strange or its consistency changes, it’s best to toss it even if it hasn’t reached its expiration date.

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