Lip stains are brilliant in theory—long-lasting, fade-proof color that stays on all day, even as you eat, drink, and live your life. But too often, in practice, they’re not actually that great, whether their downfall is a lack of pigment, an all-too-brief life span, or a moisture-zapping formula. Disappointing.
As part of our seemingly endless pursuit of a lip stain that truly makes good on all of its promises, six StyleCaster editors put six lip stains, ranging in price from $2 to $36, to the test. We found a handful of winners among the bunch, so you might say the future of lip stains just got a little brighter.
“I’m pretty much in awe of Hourglass Opaque Rouge Liquid Lipstick ($28). I bought it a few years back, on a whim, because I was attracted to Riviera, a super-bright, super-matte tangerine shade and was instantly obsessed with not only the color but how silky (read: non-chalky) it is. I know it’s long-lasting, but I never really paid attention to just how long it stays put, so I decided to put it through the ringer for this challenge.
I applied it at 9:45 a.m., right at my desk, and promptly made a cup of coffee and filled up a water bottle, both of which I sipped for about an hour. My color didn’t budge. From there, I went about my day—talking, still drinking water, moving around—and by 2 p.m. nothing had moved. The color lasted through lunch (sushi!), more water, a 4 p.m. apple, and two cocktails with a friend at 7 p.m. It was only when I got home at 9:30 and ate a sandwich that it started to fade into a ghost of itself. But overall, wow.
The formula itself is made with a blend of polymers, which seals in moisture to combat the dryness so many matte formulas exacerbate. To be honest, I did feel a little bit of flakiness during its last hour of wear, but I’m perfectly fine with that given it did its job for nearly a full 12 hours and didn’t make its way outside my lipline Collette Reardon-style, my number-one pet peeve when it comes to lipstick.” —Perrie Samotin, site director
“To be honest, I’ve never used a lip stain before, but I’m glad I saved myself for something special, because this product was brilliant. Not that I have a lot of experience, but I’ve heard enough lip-stain-using women bemoan their cracked and dry lips to understand this particular category of makeup often falls short.
An hour after applying Wet n Wild Megaslicks Balm Stain Moisturizing Lip Color in See If I Carrot! , I started drinking a peppermint tea and noticed SO much product transferred straight onto the mug. However, a quick selfie camera makeup check showed I still had full, even coverage—my lips were moisturized, to the point of looking almost glossy. Lunch was salmon and broccoli (#cleaneating) and my lip stain stayed, despite more color transferring onto my fork. I snacked on yogurt. The lip stain stayed. I drank a ton of water—but still, the hue stayed. It wasn’t until around 10 p.m. that night, when I arrived home after an event (and several glasses of red wine), that I noticed the color starting to fade to a dull, red, crack, and lose some of its glossy, orange tone. Just to reiterate; that’s one lip stain application, lasting well over 10 hours. Consider me a convert.” —Jasmine Garnsworthy, editor
“I’d used Giorgio Armani Lip Maestro in the past, but I never really thought of it as a lip stain—it has the smooth, velvety texture and opaque matte finish of a liquid lipstick, so one wouldn’t really expect it to stain. But it does, and how! I applied a coat of the vivid poppy red 402 – Chinese Lacquer onto my hideously chapped lips around 9:30 a.m. and proceeded to eat yogurt and drink both coffee and a green juice with no sign of smudging or fading. At that point I understood why it worked as a stain: It no longer looked like I had a layer of lip color on, but rather like my lips were actually that opaque red color, a phenomenon that I am unable to fully explain. I drank water all day long—still no signs of wear—and around 3 p.m. aggressively consumed a Chipotle burrito bowl (with guacamole) as if I had never eaten before in my life. My lips started to look a bit drier, which wasn’t surprising as they had already been chapped when I first put on the stain (and it actually made them look smooth!), and the color was definitely more prominent around the edges than in the center, but not dramatically.
It was still going strong, albeit considerably less pigmented but certainly stained, when I reached the gym around 7 p.m., where I accidentally entered my age as 6 years while customizing my treadmill experience. I returned home at 8:30 p.m., beleaguered and ready to die, but my lips still had a nice flushed color to them. It didn’t look anywhere near the way it had looked first thing in the morning, but I was really pleased with how it wore away and never looked sloppy or like I’d smeared lipstick all over my face and called it a day.” —Rachel Krause, associate beauty editor
“I’m not going to lie, when I swiped on e.l.f. Essential Lip Stain in Berry Blush, I was slightly dubious—most of their makeup runs for less than $5, and while I love a good bargain, I wasn’t quite sure if this was going to have staying power to last all day. The stain comes in an applicator that is not unlike a felt tip marker, and after applying it, I was convinced that I was actually using a marker, not makeup. As someone who routinely slathers her lips in gooey Chapstick and ultra-thick lipstick, the light, almost watery feel of the lip stain felt a bit drying, but I did love the deep berry color. This bang-for-your-buck lip stain didn’t disappoint, however, because the stain lasted all day, through multiple Diet Cokes, a press event, and a late-night movie. In fact, this lip stain worked so well that this morning, despite wiping it off before I hit the sack, there was still a hint of berry stain on my lips.” —Cady Lang, social media editor
“I’m not much of a lips girl—eyeliner is more my style—so I was a little hesitant about wearing a lip stain. All. Day. Long. But I was pleasantly surprised how this experiment turned out. I was first and foremost way impressed at how long Yves Saint Laurent Rouge Pur Couture Glossy Stain in Fuchsia Dore lasted: I put it on around 10 a.m. once I got to the office, and it stayed on until I strolled home around 9 p.m. The color was vibrant until the very end. It didn’t even budge when I drank my morning tea, downed a water bottle, or nommed on a wrap and chips at lunch.
I must admit I wasn’t super crazy about the texture—my lips felt a tad dry throughout the day, and I had to stop myself for reaching for my lip balm. Because my lips were already on the dry side, I noticed the stain bleeding into the cracks and crevices of my lips. (It’s not the cutest look, and I feel like a touch-up would have been beneficial here.) However, I have a feeling had my lips been smooth and not chapped in the first place, that wouldn’t have been an issue. Overall, I was very impressed at the staying power of the color. The only way this could be better is if it was a bit more hydrating. It’s winter, and a girl needs her nourishment!” —Caitlin Miller, editor
“The lip stain balm aspect of Wet n Wild Megaslicks Balm Stain Moisturizing Lip Color in Made You Pink immediately intrigued me. In the winter, I immediately gravitate toward anything that doesn’t make my lips feel dry or chapped, and unfortunately, stains tend to have that unwanted effect. It applied smoothly, and I was really into the bright pink color. I first applied it straight to my lips at about 8:30 in the morning. By noon and after a cup of coffee that balmy feeling was gone, but the stain was still there, although the color had crept to the corners of my lips a little. At lunch around 2 p.m., most of the color had faded from the inside of my lips, so it kind of looked like I was wearing hot pink lip liner and nothing else. So did it last all day? Nope. Would I try it again if I was allowed to reapply? Without a doubt.” —Victoria Moorhouse, associate beauty editor