Introduction to Lip Products

Lip products add color to your lips and can make a noticeable, quick difference to your look. There are several different kinds of lip products:

  • Lip balm – Designed primarily to moisturize your lips. Some lip balms are tinted; tinted balms have sheer color and typically fade quickly, but they are comfortable to wear. Pay attention to the ingredient list when buying lip balm. Ingredients like coconut oil or shea or cocoa butter are hydrating. Petroleum and beeswax don’t actually hydrate on their own; they just seal your lips so they won’t dry out further. Ingredients that add flavor/scent, such as peppermint, can be irritating to the skin. Ingredients to avoid include: camphor, menthol, phenol (these create a cool tingling sensation but will dry out your lips), and salicylic acid (an exfoliant that is also drying).
  • Lip stain – These are designed to have great staying power. However, the trade off for the longer wear time is that lip stains are often drying and uncomfortable.
  • Lipgloss – These mainly add shine to your lips, usually with a sheer-to-medium level of color. They tend to fade fairly quickly and can also be sticky – if you wear lipgloss on a windy day and have long hair, you may find your hair getting stuck to your lips! Lipgloss can be applied on top of lipstick in order to add shine (especially if the lipstick is matte) and/or to adjust the color a little.
  • Liquid lipstick – These come in liquid form and usually dry to a matte finish. They tend to be very opaque and long-lasting, but can be drying and crack over time.
  • Lipstick (in a traditional bullet) – Lipstick has different pigmentation levels (sheer, medium, or totally opaque color) and different formulas; click here to learn more about those. I would advise starting out with cream or satin formulas, as those tend to be more moisturizing and comfy to wear. Matte lipsticks, which have no shine/shimmer, tend to be drying/uncomfortable and to magnify flaky/dry lips, though they do typically have longer weartimes. However, you can wear a layer of lip balm underneath to mitigate the drying effect; I find that this often makes matte lipsticks quite wearable. I would advise avoiding frost finishes, as they tend to look dated/unflattering.

It’s easy to wind up focusing mainly on color when it comes to lipstick, but formula can be just as important! No matter how great a lipstick color may be, if the formula dries your lips out or fades unevenly (leaving a ring of color around the edge of your lips), you probably won’t want to wear it.

Drugstore lip product recommendations:

  • Revlon Colorburst Balm Stains (Jordana and Wet n Wild have similar products) – These are great for beginners, as they don’t feel like lipstick and are long-lasting while still being pretty comfortable, so they’re not high-maintenance.
  • Revlon lip butters – These are also good for beginners, as they don’t feel like regular lipstick either. They don’t have the lasting power of a regular lipstick or lipstain, though, so they do require more frequent re-application.

Lipstick:

  • Revlon Super Lustrous (although the dark shades, like Va Va Violet and Black Cherry, tend to be patchy)
  • Milani Color Statement
  • Maybelline Color Sensational, including the Creamy Matte lipsticks

Lipgloss:

  • NYX Butter Gloss
  • NYC Liquid Lipshine lipgloss

Lip balm:

  • Burt’s Bees beeswax lip balm
  • Lansinoh HPA Lanolin (a product for nursing mothers – but it’s good for very chapped lips)

If you’re nervous about wearing lipstick, I recommend starting out with a Revlon lip butter or a tinted balm (like one from Burt’s Bees). That can be a good way to ease yourself into lip color.

Color selection:

For a very natural-looking lip color, try Revlon lip butter in:

  • Peach Parfait (for light skin) – This one has glitter; for a glitter-free alternative, try Maybelline Color Whisper in Pinup Peach.
  • Pink Truffle (for light to medium skin)
  • Fig Jam (for dark skin)

Or if you want lipstick and are willing to spend a little more, try:

  • NARS Dolce Vita (lipstick, not the matte lip pencil) – for light to medium skin
  • MAC Viva Glam V – for light to medium skin
  • Clinique Black Honey – for light to dark skin, though if you have light, cool-toned skin, it may not look very natural on you.

Here are more recommendations for natural-looking lipstick (often referred to as “my lips but better”/MLBB), sorted by skintone.

For general advice on how to choose a lip color that will flatter your complexion, see my writeup on this topic here.

One note – some lip products, such as Revlon balm stain in Honey, contain Red #27. Any lip products with this ingredient will morph into a bright pink after a while, since Red #27 changes color when exposed to moisture. (It’s used for color-changing lip products like Dior Lip Glow.) Ever since I learned this, I’ve made a point to check ingredients and avoid lip products containing Red #27, as I really dislike that hot pink color. See this informative post for more.

Application:

For best results, before putting on lipstick be sure to exfoliate your lips. You can do this by gently brushing your (moisturized) lips with a toothbrush, or by mixing a little bit of sugar with honey or olive oil, applying to your lips, then rubbing with a finger. This smooths your lips out and gets rid of all the little dry flakes that lipstick can cling to.

Also apply some lip balm to moisturize your lips a little while before you apply lipstick. This will help keep your lips from getting too dry while you have lipstick on. You can dab off any excess balm right before putting on your lipstick.

To increase wear time, you can take any or all of the following steps:

  • Apply lip primer (try the Sally Hansen one or MAC Prep & Prime)
  • Apply lip liner all over your lips, not only the edges.
  • Apply a layer of lipstick. Blot on a tissue, then apply another layer.

In addition to increasing wear time, lip liner can:

  • Prevent feathering (leaking of lip color into the lines around your lips) – to specifically address this, you’d apply a clear lip liner (like Milani’s) just outside the perimeter of your lips.
  • Intensify lipstick color (for instance, by pairing a red lip liner with a red lipstick)
  • Alter lipstick color (for instance, if you have dark skin and want to wear a lipstick that’s a little too light to be flattering on its own, you can pair it with a brown lip liner to make it more wearable)
  • Make your lipstick look neater around the edges – This is mostly useful for dark lip colors which may look fuzzy/messy around the edges without a lip liner.

And, of course, if you like the color of a lip liner, you can wear it on its own, with no lipstick on top. Lip liner isn’t mandatory; you can certainly wear lipstick without it, but if you experience any of the issues listed above, you may find it helpful. Personally, I never wear lip liner except when I wear very bold or dark shades. In those cases, I find that if I use lipstick alone, it can be difficult to keep the edges of my lips looking neat, so lip liner really helps. For application of lip liner, the instructions provided in the tutorial linked below are quite helpful.

Some drugstore recommendations for lip liners:

  • Jordana Easyliner for Lips
  • Rimmel Exaggerate Lip Liner
  • Milani Color Statement Lip Liner
  • NYX Slim Lip Pencil

Tutorials:

  • Picture tutorial: How to apply lipstick (by Rebecca Shores) – This goes into a great deal of detail. Of course it’s absolutely not necessary to take all these steps each time you wear lipstick, but they may be helpful for bold or dark shades.
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