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Pucker up! 18 of the best lip stains for long-lasting color

Long-lasting lip color is just a few swipes away.
Courtesy Jannely Espinal; Kara Birnbaum / TODAY

Everyone wants a lip product that provides long-lasting color with a rich payoff. If you prefer something lighter than a typical lipstick but heavier than a tinted balm and that isn't sticky or messy like a lip gloss, a lip stain is what you're looking for.

Makeup artist Brenna D told Shop TODAY that it's not uncommon for people to use lip glosses and lipsticks together to create their desired look. You can also layer lip stains with other products like balms or glosses (which can be either clear or tinted depending on if you want to create a new shade). Before layering anything on top of lip stains, she recommends making sure the stain is dried on the lips first, because layering a product while the stain is still wet can cause some of its color to come off.

We asked Brenna and makeup artist Tobi Henney about the benefits of using a lip stain and to pass along any application tips for the best results. Plus, shop picks that have their seal of approval, along with a few shoppers can't seem to get enough of.

What is it | How to choose | Makeup artist picks | Top-rated shopper favorites | Lip stain FAQs | Meet our experts

What is a lip stain?

Lip stains vs. lip sticks

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 spilled wine, which soaks in immediately, or baby food (or something that has a similar texture to it); she explained that, when you wipe them 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.

Furthermore, makeup artist Tobi Henney told us in an email that lip stains give a more natural-looking appearance, while lipsticks offer more pigment and coverage.

How to choose a lip stain

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

Henney looks for natural finishes and packaging that is easy to use.

The best lip stains, according to makeup artists

MAC Cosmetics Versicoulor Varnish Stain

A favorite of Henney's, she called this lip stain "brilliant for the handbag" and applauded its shade range and applicator. According to the brand, it has a lightweight texture that stays bright and comfortable without cracking or peeling.

Victoria Beckham Beauty Bitten Lip Tint

Another pick from Henney, this lip tint from Victoria Beckham Beauty will "give your pout a natural flush of color," according to the brand. Its formula is infused with hyaluronic acid and squalane for hydration and mustard sprout extract for a plumping effect. Henney likes it not only for its chic packaging but also because the Cherie shade is "perfect for all skin tones," she said.

Maybelline SuperStay Matte Ink Liquid Lipstick

Brenna called this liquid lipstick "one of her favorite products" and said 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 Cosmetics Powermatte Lip Pigment

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

Benefit Cosmetics Benetint Cheek and Lip Stain

Brenna said this tint is very thin in texture, which reminds her of a wine glass stain. "It goes on feeling more on the liquid-y side, and it penetrates and dries into the lip rather quickly," she noted.

Best lip stains, according to shoppers

Unicorn Glow Marshmallow Blur Lip Tint

This lip tint is new to the brand but is already receiving rave reviews from shoppers. "I didn’t think I would end up using this product often but I actually use it for my every day makeup because of how much I like it," one person admitted. "It doesn’t dry out my lips at all, spreads really easily, and you can easily control the amount of color by applying less or more."

According to the brand, it has a satin-matte texture and swipes on like lip gloss and dries into a stain for long-lasting color. Squalane is a key ingredient for a hydrated and nourished pout. It comes in six different colors.

Etude House Dear Darling Tint

Aside from the adorable and nostalgic packaging, this lip tint boasts long-lasting moisture and "ice cream-like" color. "It lasts a good four hours or more, and gives your lips a bitten look, very pretty and natural," one shopper shared. It comes in five different colors.

e.l.f. Cosmetics Glossy Lip Stain

A budget-friendly pick, this lip stain goes on glossy for immediate shine and dries on as a long-lasting stain. It comes in up to eight shades with a range that includes bold reds and neutral browns.

ColourPop Glossy Lip Stain

Another wallet-friendly option under $10, this lip stain comes in a dozen shades for you to choose from. According to the brand, it's made with guava extract and lychee extract to keep lips feeling fresh. One reviewer on ColourPop's site said that the pictured shade (called Big Apple) has a shine that "lasts for a while."

Yves Saint Laurent Vinyl Cream Lip Stain

A glossy finish transforms into long-lasting color with this Yves Saint Laurent lip stain. "This lip stain is not only luxurious on the lips, but [it also] tastes fantastic," wrote one reviewer on the brand's site.

L'Oreal Paris Rouge Signature Lightweight Matte Lip Stain

This lightweight lip stain has almost 3,200 verified five-star ratings on Amazon. Available in over a dozen 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. "This is my favorite lipstick in the whole world. It feels so good to put on, so soft!!!" enthused one Dillard's reviewer.

Peripera Ink Velvet

Currently Amazon's no. 1 bestseller in the lip stain category, this shopper-favorite comes in over 20 different colors. It has more than 14,400 verified five-star ratings with reviewers praising 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 offers 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 multiuse 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

Poutsicle is Fenty Beauty's first foray into the lip stain arena. According to the brand, it "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.

Frequently asked questions

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 due to their softer appearance.

“Sometimes lipsticks can be quite pigmented or kind of harsh or you don’t quite love the texture. 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” of year to use lip stains in general, Brenna said the only thing to take into account is the color you’re using.

Tips for applying a lip stain

You'll want to start with dry, clean lips. Brenna recommends exfoliating and making sure they’re dry before applying any products.

Also important: 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.

While applying lip stains might seem pretty straightforward, Brenna offered four different methods to try depending on the look you want to achieve.

  • Method 1: Apply it with the included applicator brush all over the top and bottom lips. Brenna said this is the way to get the most color payoff.
  • Method 2: Apply it with your fingertip by tapping some of the product on your finger and then pressing it onto your lips. This will give you more control as to where the color lands. Henney also recommends using this method.
  • Method 3: Use a buffing brush (like a small blending brush for your eyes) that is proportional to the size of your lips. Brenna said this tactic will help you control how much product you’re picking up. It 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 then brush it out to the side, she added.
  • Method 4: Apply the lip stain only to your bottom lip and mush your lips together while they're still wet to transfer some of that color to your top lip. “If you’re applying to both [lips], 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.

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

“Play with the 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," she added.

Meet our experts

  • Brenna D is a New York-based makeup artist who has 11 years of experience in the field.
  • Tobi Henney is a bicoastal makeup artist originally from Sydney, Australia, where she served as the L'Oréal Paris Makeup Director for the region.