Lip Color: Gloss, Stain, Lipstick, Balm, and More

Reviewed by Victoria Barbosa, MD on October 05, 2012
From the WebMD Archives

If you've been loyal to the same lipstick brand and color for the past decade or more, you may not realize that there are many new and different products to color and brighten your lips. You can wear any of the many lip color products separately or layered together to update your look.

"There are no rules of right or wrong to lip color," says Clarissa Luna, a New York-based celebrity makeup artist. "Whatever you feel comfortable with is what you should use."

Before you think about lip color, though, consider lip health. Remember to protect this sensitive skin from the sun, because the lips can develop skin cancer, says Ellen Marmur, MD, associate professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York. Look for lip color products that contain at least SPF 15 or use a lip-friendly sunscreen product.

"Make it part of your morning routine, before your lipstick," Marmur says.

When shopping for lip color products, don't test samples on your lips that others have used. "You don't want to get herpes or staph infections," Marmur says. "I would put it on your hand, not your lips, unless they open something fresh for you."

Read on to learn about the different categories of lip color products available today:

Lip Gloss

When you hear the words "lip gloss," you may envision 13-year-olds applying bubble gum-colored gloss on the bus ride to school, but there are a wide variety of colors to appeal to everyone, not just adolescents.

"They cater to different needs and age groups," says Jeanne San Diego, a freelance makeup artist based in Southern California. "There are so many different kinds: full color, sheer, glitter, SPF protection. Some are more sheer and some give you a more natural look, like a hint of color."

  • Good for... people with dry skin, because lip gloss tends to be moisturizing.
  • Avoid if... you're seeking long-lasting color, since gloss comes off quicker than lipstick. It can also be messy, because it stays moist the entire time you wear it.

Lip Balm

Lip balms have moved beyond the basic and into the cosmetics industry. Tinted balms offer a hint of color with sheer to medium coverage and a satin finish, plus moisture.

"They often have SPF, which is great, plus vitamin E and shea butter, which soften the lips," Luna says. "It's a see-through color, not a full-color commitment, so you don't have to worry about looking in the mirror and making it perfect."

  • Good for... people whose lips are dry or tend to chap.
  • Avoid if... you seek bold, deep, dark coverage.

Lip Stains

If you want all-day color with no upkeep, consider lip stains. These liquid-based products are painted onto the lips. Once they dry, they last 8 to 12 hours. The matte stain is so enduring, in fact, you'll need to remove it with makeup remover at the end of your day.

"You have to be careful and get a perfect application," says David Maderich, a New York-based celebrity makeup artist. "Once it's dried, it's not coming off."

Lip stains can be very drying, so it's best to apply a moisturizing balm first. Stains can also draw attention to chapped lips or wrinkles around the mouth.

  • Good for... people who want all-day color and those who don't like the feel of lipstick.
  • Avoid if... your lips are dry or tend to chap.


Historically, lipstick was very matte with full color. (Picture Marilyn Monroe's signature red lips.) There are many more options now.

"Today, there's gloss, glaze, luster and satin finish, as well as matte, and any cosmetics line would carry 30 to 40 colors in all finishes," Luna says.

Remember to reapply lipstick frequently, because it wears off after you eat or drink.

  • Good for... adding full color to the lips in a variety of colors and finishes.
  • Avoid if... you want long-lasting color.

Long-wear Lipstick

A newer type of lipstick is thick, opaque, long-lasting lipstick for women who want to apply color in the morning and have it last all day.

Like long-lasting lip stains, long-wear lipsticks are sold in liquid form. You paint them onto your lips, where they stay in place for 8 to 12 hours after drying. You take them off with makeup remover. But that's where the similarities end.

"A tint or a stain is more like a sheer color and doesn't have any coverage," Maderich says. "Super-wear lipstick has a lot of coverage."

Long-wear lipsticks can feel dry, so they're usually sold with a moisturizing clear lip gloss, to be worn as a top coat.

"It feels better and gives lips a little shine," Maderich says.

  • Good for... people who want all-day color.
  • Avoid if... your lips are dry or tend to chap.

Lip Liner

Many people who wear lip liner apply pencil to the outline of their lips to help their lipstick stay in place. The matte liner acts as a barrier, preventing creamier lipstick from migrating onto the skin surrounding the mouth.

Some people color in their lips entirely with liner before applying lipstick, because lipstick comes off after eating and drinking but lip liner doesn't – they don't want to be seen with bare lips surrounded by bold lip liner.

"Coloring in the lips gives you a longer-lasting look," San Diego says. "Top it with a little clear lip gloss to give it a long-lasting lipstick look, because it tends to be on the drier side."

For a seamless look, match your lip liner color to your lipstick.

  • Good for... outlining the lips before applying lipstick to define the lips and create a barrier to contain lipstick.
  • Avoid if... you aren't planning to wear a significant amount of lip color, such as sheer lip balm.

Show Sources


Clarissa Luna, New York-based celebrity makeup artist; finalist, Make-Up Competition, 2012 North American Hairstyling Awards; Make-Up Artist of the Year, 2011 North American Hairstyling Awards.

David Maderich, New York-based celebrity makeup artist; finalist, Make-Up Competition, 2012 North American Hairstyling Awards.

Ellen Marmur, MD, associate professor of dermatology, Mount Sinai Medical Center, N.Y.; author, Simple Skin Beauty: Every Woman's Guide to a Lifetime of Healthy, Gorgeous Skin.

Jeanne San Diego, freelance makeup artist based in Southern California; Make-Up Artist of the Year, 2012 North American Hairstyling Awards.

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