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Wondering how to find the best lipstick? There’s quite a bit to consider, but I’ll walk you through choosing your shade based on the vibe you’re going for, your coloring, the formula and finish you might prefer, and more. Whether you’re looking for your perfect everyday lipstick, something bold, or both, this list of things to think about will apply.
How to Find the Best Lipstick for You
If learning how to find the best lipstick for you seems overwhelming right now, don’t worry. Thinking through this list and comparing shades, considering options, and so on may feel awkward and full of uncertainty at first, but selecting lipsticks that work for you will eventually become almost intuitive. You’ll just know a shade will or won’t work for you.
Keep in mind, even if you make a mistake a pick up a shade that’s not quite right, you can always layer it with a lipliner, another lipstick, or a gloss to shift the color just enough that it might work well with your coloring. Layering like that also tends to extend the wear time of your lipstick.
Choosing a Shade
Getting the shade right is the first thing that usually pops into one’s mind when it’s time to shop for lipstick (the finish may be a very close second). You’ll need to make some decisions first.
The Right Lipstick for Your Coloring
No matter what kind of lipstick you want–neutral, bold, or just fun–you’ll need to take your coloring into account. Do you have cool (blue/pink) or warm (yellow) undertones? The safest bet is to match your lipstick’s undertones to your own, though you can go for the opposite undertones when you want a shade to really stand out (this works better with bolder shades, not sheers or neutrals).
Unless you want an especially attention-grabbing look that makes your lips the focal point of your face, choose a shade that coincides with the depth of your skin tone. For example, grab a lighter, brighter red to go with a fair complexion and a deeper shade to complement a darker complexion.
The Look You’re Going For
Do you want something bold or understated? Glossy or matte? What shade family are you aiming for? You don’t have to have it completely narrowed down right away, but “matte red” gives you a good starting (and searching, if shopping online) point, for example. Maybe you want vivid purple with a velvety finish or a rose-nude shade that looks perfect with a medium skin tone regardless of your eye makeup (or lack thereof).
Putting your goal into words will help you narrow it down, whether you’re searching for recommendations on a store’s website, Google, or even Pinterest or Instagram.
From there, you can start to find swatches and specific shade names, following the trail of the ones you think look great, similar shades, dupes, and so on.
Choosing a Finish
This one mostly comes down to personal preference. How do you like your lipstick to look? Sheer? Creamy? Shiny? Shimmery? Matte? Here’s a quick rundown of what you can expect from each finish:
You can still see a hint of your lip color through the color. These formulas are often hydrating. They don’t tend to last as long as other finishes, though. However, there’s less pressure to get the “perfect” shade since it won’t be so intense; these are good for experimenting with colors you might not normally feel comfortable in.
These tend to be more opaque and hang around longer than sheer lipsticks, but it’s easier to throw your whole look off if you have the wrong undertone. They tend to be smooth, may give your lips a plumper, more defined look, and could be one of the ideal options for mature lips because of their ability to disguise lines.
These are lipsticks that act like glosses with an extra oomph of color. They can be somewhat sheer or opaque. The important part to note is that they reflect light, which makes lips look plumper and smoother.
In some cases, you may be able to feel the “glitter” on your lips, so if you can swatch first and get a sense of the texture, I recommend doing that. These light-reflecting shades will become like a spotlight on your face, so they’re easier to use when your lip color will be the focal point of your face.
Love a velvety, no-shine look on your lipstick? This has been an ongoing trend for a few years now, and the formulas have come a long way. Mattes tend to last longer on the lips and leave behind a pretty stain even when they’ve worn off.
Some formulas can be drying, though, so be warned and moisturize your lips before you apply them (they’ve really improved over the past few years, though). A nude matte is gorgeous when the eyes are meant to steal the show, but there’s something to be said about a matte shade in a bold, vibrant color. I think everyone needs at least one in their collection.
Budget or Splurge?
Much like fashion, there are fun trends and daily go-to’s that can serve you for a long time. You’ll need to toss your lipstick out after about a year, so decide how often you think you’ll be wearing the shade you’re looking for and consider that when you decide how much you can/want to spend.
If it’ll be daily, you may want to splurge. If you just want to treat yourself to a luxury lipstick in a bold or unusual shade no matter how often you’ll be wearing it over the course of the year, that works, too. Putting on lipstick can be a mood booster and a nice, creamy shade that conditions your lips, smells nice, and has packaging you admire could be just the experience you want.
If department stores or luxury lipsticks aren’t something you’re interested in, there are some options in the drugstores and at stores like Ulta and Sephora that feel just as nice on your lips and last a long time, too.
Universally Flattering or “Your” Shade
Decide how much time and effort you want to put into getting your next lipstick shade. Some are pretty universally flattering and well-known (like Clinique’s Black Honey shade of Almost Lipstick), so you can’t go wrong with those.
In other cases, there’s the thrill of tracking down a lipstick shade so perfect for you, it looks like it was custom made. That will take more time, possibly money (depending on swatching options available, return policies, and how long it takes to get it right), and trial and error, of course.
Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Lipstick
Even after you’ve found your perfect shade, finish, and formula, you can get more out of your lipstick. Unless your perfect shade is especially opaque, you’ll be able to shift the color to make it warmer, cooler, redder, darker, etc.
How to Use Lip Liner with Your Lipsticks
Of course, lining your lips is a good idea, especially if you have a thinner formula that likes to bleed or if lipsticks just tend to feather and bleed on your lips.
If you have a lipstick that’s on the sheer end of the spectrum, filling your lips in with the liner color after you’ve done your normal lining and before you’ve applied your lipstick can add depth to the shade, shift the undertones, and make your perfect lip color more versatile.
Just as you can top your liner with lipstick and get a slightly different shade, you can mix lipsticks for new effects. Always add the sheer or shimmery one on top if you’re layering them right on your lips.
You could also take a palette and mix lipsticks together there, then apply the new shade to your lips with a lipstick brush.
Another option is to apply the deeper shade all over, then apply a lighter, more shimmery shade to the center of your bottom lip for a plumping effect without the stinging. You can also use a gloss for the top layer.
The Best Lipsticks You Can Buy Right Now
If you don’t know where to start, take a look at some of these. They’re some of the best lipsticks you can buy right now. Their ratings are high (and I can vouch for quite a few of them because I’ve used them for years).
Clinique Almost Lipstick (Black Honey)
The standout shade in the Clinique Almost Lipstick line is Black Honey. It’s been around for about 50 years and it still sells out regularly. Why? It works on almost all skin tones.
- It’s the perfect combination between lipstick and gloss
- Moisturizing (not as much as a balm, though)
- You don’t need to wonder too much whether it’ll work for your skin tone or makeup look of the day because it probably will
- It’s kind of expensive at around $20.00
- It looks different on everyone, so if you see it on a model or friend and think they’re wearing the perfect shade, it might not look the same on you
- It sells out a lot, so it can be hard to get
- There are only shades in the Almost Lipstick line: Black Honey and Pink Honey
Yves Saint Laurent Rouge Volupté Shine Lipstick Balm
If you want a luxurious experience, this one might be the one for you. It smells wonderful, applies like butter, and nourishes your lips while depositing stronger color than you might expect from a shiny “balm.”
- The packaging is heavy and beautiful, and it feels like a luxury
- Good color range with neutrals, bolds, and everything in between
- Feels like silk and is not sticky at all
- Oil-infused for extra nourishment and comfort
- Lips look plumper because of the reflected light
- People who don’t like fragrance in their lip products should steer clear
- It’s expensive
- The weight may bother some people
Rare Beauty Lip Soufflé Matte Cream Lipstick
The Rare Beauty Lip Soufflé is relatively new to the lipstick scene, but it’s definitely made a splash. It applies smoothly, has a velvety finish, and comes in a range of flattering shades.
- Flattering shades across a wide range of skin tones (especially that red–what a surprise!)
- Feels soft, lightweight, and not drying
- Precise application because of the wand, but offers that soft-focus blurred effect along the lip line
- Doesn’t require lip liner to look good or stay in place
- Doesn’t last as long as other mattes
- Limited shade range
- Some of the darker shades can look patchy
- Only available on the Rare Beauty website and at Sephora
MAC lipsticks have the widest range of colors and finishes I’ve ever seen, and it seems like they’re always adding more options to choose from.
- If you have empty plastic MAC packaging, you can get lipsticks for free through their Back 2 MAC program
- An incredible amount of variety to choose from (shades and formulas)
- There are a few cult classics that work for a lot of skin tones across the board, like Ruby Woo and Russian Red, so there are go-to’s within the brand that gives you a place to start when you’re completely overwhelmed with options.
- Minis are available for a few dollars less than the full-size, so there’s less of a commitment required
- The formulas are hit or miss. You could love a few of their formulas and really not like others.
- Somewhat expensive, but not as much as the YSL option
NYX Lingerie XXL Long-Lasting Matte Liquid Lipstick
The NYX Lingerie XXL Long-Lasting Matte Liquid Lipstick line is designed to give each skin tone a perfect nude shade. You can see the chart on Ulta for help choosing your best option based on your undertones and skin tone.
- 24 shades to choose from
- Lasts for hours and hours without transferring
- Applicator hugs the lips for precise application
- Not a wide variety of colors, even though there are 24 shades in the line (most are some form of pink or peach)
- Some reviewers complain of uneven color–too much in some spots, not enough in others
- You’ll probably need a balm underneath because these can be drying
Urban Decay Vice Hydrating Lipstick
All of these shades have quite a bit of pigment, even though they’re not all creams or mattes (there’s a glossy version, too). Regardless of the finish, these Vice lipsticks have ingredients that are good for your lips, so they shouldn’t dry your lips out.
- 35 shades to choose from, including brights, bolds, and neutrals
- Contains aloe vera and avocado oil to nourish and hydrate lips
- You can choose from cream, matte, and shine finishes
- Kind of expensive at just under $20.00
- Would expect some more exciting and out-of-the-ordinary shades (like blue, purple, or green) because it’s Urban Decay, but this is still a wide range
Too Faced Melted Matte Liquid Lipstick
The Too Faced Melted Matte Liquid Lipsticks are lightweight, opaque shades in a limited range of colors. Though there aren’t that many shades to choose from, there’s something for almost any skin tone (browns, nudes, pinks, mauves, berries, and reds). They contain ingredients that are meant to give your lips a smoother, fuller appearance.
- Application is silky-smooth
- Lasts and lasts
- Dries quickly
- Thin formula that still manages to pack a major punch of color
- Can feel and look dry
- Not a very wide range of colors (10 shades)
- One of the more expensive on the list, just over $20.00
Juvia’s Place The Nude Velvety Matte Lipstick
- There are only 12 shades, but they manage to cover most skin tones
- Contains hyaluronic acid, which is good for moisturizing and plumping lips
- No parabens or sulfates
- One of the less expensive options on the list
- Juvia’s Place is sold in Ulta, Walmart, Target, and other stores, so it should be easy to find
- Some reviewers on the Ulta website said the swatches on the screen don’t match what they received, so swatching in person or searching for specific swatches online may be beneficial before you purchase
- Can be drying
Revlon Super Lustrous Lipstick
Revlon Super Lustrous Lipstick has stood the test of time. It’s comfortable to wear and lasts a reasonable amount of time, plus there are plenty of shades to choose from, mix and match, and collect.
- There are over 75 shades to choose from (check the Revlon website for the full list), in cream, pearl, and matte finishes
- There’s something for everyone, regardless of color family preference
- Matte shades can be problematic, bleeding outside the lip line or drying out the lips
Flower Beauty Petal Pout Lip Color
The Flower Beauty Petal Pout Lip Color is easy to get your hands on since it’s sold at Walmart, Ulta, Amazon, and some drugstores.
- 20 shades with a good bit of variety for a drugstore brand
- Rumor has it, Spiced Petal is a dupe for the popular Charlotte Tilbury lipstick, Pillow Talk, which costs about $35.00
- Easy to find
- May break off the base easily
- Some people say it feels sticky
Advantages to Wearing Lipstick
What’s not to love when it comes to these tiny tubes have the power to make you feel fierce, put-together, powerful, and/or pretty? Let’s put a few of the advantages of lipstick into words:
- You can change your mood with a new shade
- You can change your mindset with the right shade (just put on the perfect red lipstick and see what happens)
- Lipstick can finish off a look; without it, some makeup looks will look like something’s missing no matter how much time and effort you put into your eyes and cheeks
- When you want to switch up your look and overall vibe, lipstick is a much smaller commitment than dying or cutting your hair (if you regret it, just wipe it off!)
- Some formulas are hydrating and actually improve the condition of your lips
- It’s fun to mix and match shades to get just the look you’re going for (and depending on which lipstick formulas end up being your favorite, it may not be all that expensive of a hobby)
Disadvantages to Wearing Lipstick
Lipstick’s great and it can transform your look, make you look put-together when you just rolled out of bed, and give you a confidence boost, but there are some disadvantages to wearing it.
- Some formulas are drying
- Some formulas are determined to creep outside the lip line, and you may not realize it for a while
- Some formulas smudge off on everything
- The habit of reapplying can be annoying
- They can be expensive, especially if you like to be creative with your makeup and want to have a collection of shades to choose from
- You’ll need to change your go-to shades with the seasons if you tend to switch up your hair, wardrobe, or like to tan in the warmer months
- You’ll need to replenish your collection every year because of the one-year (roughly) shelf life of opened and used lipsticks
The Main Differences Between Liquid Lipsticks and Lipstick Tubes
Liquid lipsticks and normal lipsticks in a tube: Which is better? They each have a place in most makeup arsenals because they have different strong suits. Take a look at the difference so you can decide which type of lipstick is best for you:
- Liquid lipsticks come with the applicator as part of the packaging, whereas lipstick tubes may require you to use a brush for precise application (applying bold, opaque shades straight from the tube is generally discouraged).
- Liquid lipsticks are often in long-wearing formulas that last all day, whereas lipstick tubes may not provide the same longevity.
- Liquid lipsticks usually won’t require a separate liner, whereas lipstick tubes may perform best with a liner.
- Liquid lipsticks could be drying (especially the long-wearing formulas), whereas lipstick tubes often contain moisturizing features to keep your lips hydrated and comfortable.
Question: What are the best lipstick brands?
Answer: You can’t go wrong with MAC, Urban Decay, Revlon, Maybelline, or Clinique. See the full list above for more brands and specific formulas to try.
Question: How do you know what shade of lipstick looks best on you?
Answer: You’ll need to determine your undertones and find a shade that has matching ones (or the opposite if you’re looking for something bold, striking, and unexpected).
Then you’ll want to find a color that matches the depth of your skin tone (so lighter pinks for the fairest skin, medium for medium skin tones, and darker for deeper skin tones). Swatch a few in the same range to see which one seems to flatter your skin tone the most. When you finally choose a shade and put it on your lips, you’ll know it’s the one because it’ll make your complexion come alive.
Question: Which is the best lipstick for dry lips?
Answer: Look for something creamy and moisturizing (so probably not matte). If it’s in the budget, the Yves Saint Laurent Rouge Volupté Shine Lipstick Balms are wonderful for dry lips. If that’s not what you’re looking for, the Revlon Super Lustrous line is good.
Question: Which is the best lipstick color?
Answer: That will depend on your coloring and preferences, but one universally flattering shade you can expect to look good on you is Clinique’s Almost Lipstick in Black Honey. As for a go-to vibrant red, MAC’s Ruby Woo and Russian Red look good on most skin tones, too.
Question: What is the best lipstick when wearing a mask?
Answer: Stick with sheer formulas, mattes, stains, or other long-lasting formulas that won’t budge throughout the day. Try NARS Powermatte Lip Pigment, Maybelline SuperStay Matte Ink Liquid Lipstick, or Benefit Lip & Cheek Stain.
Conclusion: How to Choose the Best Lipstick
Don’t put a lot of pressure on yourself to get your selection perfect right away when you’re learning how to choose the best lipstick. Keep your coloring, ideal look, and general preferences in mind and you’ll be fine. Test lipsticks on your arm in the store when you can, just to see how they perform, whether they’re sheer or bold, and to find out if there are any surprises (like chunky glitter).
My personal favorites are Clinique Almost Lipstick in Black Honey (a no-brainer shade that can be worn with pretty much anything, on any skin tone) and the Rare Beauty Lip Soufflé Matte Cream Lipsticks (because of their non-drying, velvety matte finish that seems to plump up my lips).
For someone who’s feeling overwhelmed but wants a lot of shades and finishes to consider in one place, MAC lipsticks are the way to go, especially in-store where you can see them all (and there are so many options!) in one place.