Lip stain vs. lipstick

Lip Makeup

Lip stains originated in ancient Egypt when people used crushed beetles, henna and even some toxic substances to color their lips in purple or red hues.

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Which is better: Lip stain or lipstick?

Both lipstick and lip stain can add the finishing touches to a look. Be it classic red or a trendy fuchsia, bright lips lift our mood and make us feel more confident. But what to choose – lip stain or lipstick? With so many options in makeup aisles and on countless pages of online stores, the choice can be overwhelming.

Lipsticks have been around for a long time, so this product is more established and familiar. Most are made from oil, wax and pigment. Lipsticks have varying degrees of staying power.

Lip stains usually come in a liquid form, although some brands make easy-to-use lip crayons. They are mostly water or gel-based, with some products using natural plant oils. Stains can stay on the lips for hours, with some requiring special care to remove them.

There are two main differences between the products. These differences determine how long they last and how they make your lips look and feel.

Lip stain

Lip stains originated in ancient Egypt when people used crushed beetles, henna and even some toxic substances to color their lips in purple or red hues. 

Benetint Cheek and Lip stain

The first modern lip stain was created by Benefit in the ’70s and was actually made for exotic dancers. Benetint Cheek and Lip stain is a reincarnation of that original formula. This iconic rose-tinted stain is sheer, buildable and kiss-proof. Try it for a classic, natural look. 

Some long-lasting lip stain formulas can dry out the lips, especially when used all the time. However, a good lip balm can fix this issue – either dabbed on before the application or used throughout the day to touch up when the lips start to feel a little dry.

Glossier Balm Dotcom

This Glossier Balm Dotcom is a perfect example. If it can keep your lips feeling amazing on a 10-hour transatlantic flight (remember those?), it can surely help with that parched feeling when using lip stain products.

Lip stains range in price from $5-$85, with the most popular ones costing between $15-$30.

While most lipsticks will smudge on the inside of a cloth or disposable face mask and then potentially smear all over the face, stains stay put. They can help to achieve that put-together look or add a much-needed touch of color, no matter the layers on your face.  

Lip stain pros

  • They stay on all day
  • They are kiss-proof
  • Some formulas are waterproof
  • They won’t leave a stain on your face mask
  • They’re great for a subtle touch of color or a more natural look
  • You can layer them on for a more prominent color
  • Many lip stains can also be used as a cheek tint

Lip stain cons

  • The application can be tricky – especially with very permanent formulas
  • There is a somewhat limited number of colors and hues to choose from
  • Some formulas can dry the lips with continuous use
  • These may not have enough of an oomph factor for some

Best lip stains

Top high-end lip stain

Yves Saint Laurent Tatouage Couture Liquid Matte Lip Stain

Yves Saint Laurent Tatouage Couture Liquid Matte Lip Stain

This long-lasting stain is available in many matte colors. Nigella Sativa Seed oil nurtures lips, and the formula is so thin and fast-drying, it is easy to apply on the go for stunning results.

Sold by Sephora and Macy’s 

Top drugstore lip stain  

Revlon Kiss Cushion Lip Tint Lipstick

Revlon Kiss Cushion Lip Tint Lipstick

This little beauty is a steal. The sponge-like applicator is soft on lips and easy to use. Thousands of five-star reviews promise weightless color, all-day wear and hues that attract compliments.

Sold by Amazon 

Top ingredient-conscious lip stain

Wonderskin Peel and Reveal Wonder Blading Lip Stain

Wonderskin Peel and Reveal Wonder Blading Lip Stain 

Natural based and cruelty-free, the product is also alcohol-free so it won’t dry your lips, paraben-free and vegan. After a quick two-step process, it reveals gorgeous lips that will not smudge for 10 hours. The product works better on well-exfoliated lips, so consider pairing it with the Bite Beauty Agave+ Vegan lip scrub.

Sold by Amazon 


Lipsticks are often easier to use than stains. They don’t always offer long-lasting wear, but not every day calls for an eight-hour cherry lip. At the same time, options like this Urban Decay Vice Hydrating Lipstick manage to feel amazing because of ingredients like aloe vera and avocado oil, while also lasting all day.

Christian Louboutin Velvet Matte Lip Colour

Lipsticks range in price from $3-$100, like this gorgeous Christian Louboutin Velvet Matte Lip Colour. It comes in a tube resembling a jeweled vile, sure to contain a magic potion but also a highly pigmented matte color.

Lipstick pros

Lipsticks have a few pros over lip stains. They make lips feel soft and luscious, and the traditional application methods can be easier for users. The majority of lipsticks still come in bullet tubes and liquid form with a doe-foot applicator.

The fact that lipsticks have been around for much longer means there is more research and there have been more investments into the process. The product is presented in all the colors you can imagine, plus the ingredients variations can satisfy even the pickiest make-up lover.   

Some of the reasons people love lipstick are:

  • There are a plethora of colors to choose from
  • They provide hydration
  • Some formulas offer UV protection
  • They’re easy to use as a stand-alone product (but you can exfoliate first if you want)
  • They’re great for a quick touch of color
  • Most formulas leave the lips soft and luscious

Lipstick cons

Lipsticks do have some potential downsides, such as that they:

  • Can smudge, stain teeth and bleed into the corners of the mouth
  • May stain glasses, dinner napkins, and face masks
  • Are not always kiss-proof
  • May have a formula that does not last long
  • May require a lip liner for a smooth look

Best lipsticks 

Top high-end lipstick 

Charlotte Tilbury Pillow Talk Original Matte Revolution Lipstick

Charlotte Tilbury Pillow Talk Original Matte Revolution Lipstick 

This matte lipstick has 3D glow pigments that make lips appear wider and fuller, and orchid extract to create a cashmere finish. It lasts long and is offered in gorgeous colors.

Sold by Sephora and Amazon

Top drugstore lipstick

Maybelline Color Sensational The Mattes Lipstick

Maybelline Color Sensational The Mattes Lipstick 

Creamy formula and pure color pigments make this inexpensive lipstick a true crowd favorite. It lasts a long time and offers a staggering number of hues from nudes to pitch black.

Sold by Ulta and Amazon

Top ingredient-conscious lipstick

ILIA Color Block Impact Lipstick

ILIA Color Block Impact Lipstick 

When you want it all – beautiful colors, long-lasting formula and clean ingredients – this lipstick does not disappoint. Apricot seed and castor seed moisturize and soften lips, while mango seed butter boosts elasticity.

Sold by Sephora and Amazon

Should you buy lip stain or lipstick?

Give your lips what they need. For long-lasting coverage and a color that doesn’t transfer or budge, use lip stain — especially on days when you must wear a face mask. For a night out or a date, swipe on a luxurious lipstick in your favorite hue to make your lips feel amazing. It will be worth a little touch-up if needed.


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

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