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Lip stains are the lightweight, smudge-proof lip product you need for summer

Long-lasting lip color is just a few swipes away.
Illustration of three women with lip color on
TODAY Illustration / Sephora / Getty Images / Westend61 / Getty Images / Tim Robberts

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Summer is almost here which means — if you haven't already — it's time to swap out heavy makeup for lightweight, breathable beauty products. When it comes to changing up your lip routine for the summer, stains are an ideal seasonal solution that provide bolder color than a typical tinted balm, aren't as heavy as a lipstick and aren't sticky or messy like a lip gloss (when applied properly).

Shop TODAY spoke to makeup artist Brenna D about the benefits of using a lip stain, application tips for the best results and a few expert picks to try.

What is a lip stain?

Very simply, Brenna described lip stains as “products that are absorbed into the skin instead of sitting on top so they penetrate.”

She compared a lip stain to a stain on a shirt, offering the example of spilling wine (which soaks in immediately) or baby food (or something that has a similar texture to it), so when you wipe it away, a stain is left behind.

“There’s lip stains that immediately go right into the lips and there’s ones that they wear off or if you were to wipe off the top layer, you’re left with a stain,” she elaborated.

While shopping, she recommends opting for a lip stain with hydrating ingredients like almond or coconut oil to help the product penetrate and provide all-day wear.

What are the benefits of using lip stains?

Brenna called out two main benefits of using lip stains: their long-lasting effect and the visual aesthetic. She also said lip stains tend to remind her of watercolors with a softer appearance.

“Sometimes lipsticks can be quite pigmented or kind of harsh or you don’t quite love the texture of lipsticks. A lip stain is a perfect way to add a little bit of color without feeling like you have something on your lips,” she added.

Another benefit is that even though the lightweight feel of a lip stain is ideal for summer, you can use it all year long. So while there’s not really a “best time” to use lip stains in general, Brenna says the only thing to take into account is the color you’re using depending on time of year and location.

Tips for applying a lip stain

Before you apply a lip stain, Brenna recommends starting with dry, clean lips. She recommends exfoliating and making sure they’re dry before applying any products. (And if you like to use a moisturizer after exfoliating, don’t forget to wipe it off!)

“That would be my biggest tip because that’s where a lot of people go wrong and it ends up coming off quicker,” she emphasized.

You might think that applying a lip stain is a pretty straightforward task and there’s only one way to do it, but Brenna offered a few other suggestions if you want to achieve different looks.

The first way to apply it is with the applicator brush it comes with all over the top and bottom lips. Brenna says this is a way to get the most color payoff.

You can also apply it with your fingertip by tapping some of the product on your finger and then pushing it onto your lips. This will give you more control as to where the color lands.

If you want to take it a step further, Brenna says you can use a buffing brush (like a small blending brush for your eyes) that matches the size of your lips. She says this tactic will help you control how much product you’re picking up and also gives a soft, blended look to the outer edges of the lips. You can also use the brush to apply most of the color to the center of your lips and brush it out to the side, she added.

The fourth and final application tip Brenna offered is to apply the lip stain only to your bottom lip and mush your lips together while it’s still wet to transfer some of that color to your top lip.

“If you’re applying to both, you’re going to get the most concentrated color but if you apply it to one lip, that cuts that down and gives you a nice amount of color,” she said.

It’s also not an uncommon practice for people to use lip glosses and lipsticks together to create their desired look. For example, if you have dry lips, Brenna says a lip balm can be used over the stain or a gloss (which can be either clear or tinted if you want to create a new shade). Before layering products, she recommends making sure the stain is dried on the lips. “If you do that too quickly with some products, it can take the [stain] color off with it,” she told us.

No matter which method you try, Brenna’s main piece of advice is simple: practice, practice, practice.

“With makeup in general, whether it’s a wing liner or a new color of blush that you’re playing with or a lip stain, practice before you’re about to go out. Play with your makeup that you have so you get more comfortable with it,” she said. “The last thing anyone wants is to be 90 percent ready to go out, you try something new and you feel like you look ridiculous. So with all these different applications, try it out when you have nowhere to go and see what feels the most comfortable and most personal to you.”

Best lip stains, according to a makeup artist

Maybelline SuperStay Matte Ink Liquid Lipstick

Brenna called this liquid lipstick "one of her favorite products" and says it stays on for a long time.

"If you want just the stained look, you can apply the product, let it dry down and take a paper towel to dab off some of the product and it’ll look like more of the stain. Or you can use the finger application or the brush application for less of a color payoff," she said.

Nars Powermatte Lip Pigment

Brenna also likes this lip pigment from Nars and says it's an option to consider if you want something a bit more luxe. With over a dozen different colors offered, there's something for every season and every occasion.

Wonderskin Wonder Blading Peel and Reveal Lip Stain

Brenna says she loves this lip treatment because, even though it's a two-step process, it "leaves that stain without texture." One Shop TODAY writer said it's worth a try and the color actually lasts all day.

Benefit Cosmetics Benetint Cheek and Lip Stain

Brenna says this tint is very thin in texture, which reminds her of her wine glass stain reference.

"It goes on feeling more on the liquid-y side and it penetrates and dries into the lip rather quickly," she said.

Best lip stains, according to shoppers

L'Oreal Paris Rouge Signature Lightweight Matte Lip Stain

This lightweight lip stain has over 15,000 five-star ratings on Ulta's website. Available in up to 20 different colors, shoppers love the highly-pigmented, long-lasting matte finish it delivers.

Yves Saint Laurent Tatouage Couture Liquid Matte Lip Stain

This lip stain touts results that dry instantly with a bold, tattoo-like color for up to eight hours of wear. One Macy's reviewer called it "the best lipstick you will ever use in your life," before mentioning that they bought every shade available.

"Not only does it smell gorgeous but it's beautiful, looks dewy and plump and it's literally the best thing I've ever used," they raved.

Peripera Ink Velvet

Currently an Amazon bestseller, this lip stain comes in over 20 different colors. It has more than 8,500 verified five-star ratings and has reviewers that praise it's lightweight feel and long-lasting color.

Clarins Water Lip Stain

A much thinner formula than the other lip stains on this list, this Clarins option has a 77 percent water-based formula. According to the brand, it's formulated with the benefits of a lip treatment to leave you with "soft, comfortable and incredibly kissable" lips.

Buxom Serial Kisser Plumping Lip Stain

If you want a little extra volume with your long-lasting color, this Buxom lip stain is the way to go. Hyaluronic acid is one of the key ingredients in this formula to help provide hydration and nourish the lips. The brand even offered a how-to guide for application to give you the best results.

jane iredale Just Kissed Lip and Cheek Stain

There's nothing better than a multi-use product so that you can really get your money's worth. Like the Benefit cosmetic pick from Brenna, this option from jane iredale can easily pull together any look.

Fenty Beauty Poutsicle Hydrating Lip Stain

A new release from Fenty Beauty, Poutsicle is the brand's first foray into the lip stain arena. It's available in four shades and, according to the brand, "delivers customizable, sheer-to-medium coverage and a lightweight wear with a glossy finish upon application that leaves behind a soft stain." It's made with squalane to leave you with moisturized and conditioned lips and claims to be feather- and bleed-resistant.

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