Lip Oil vs. Lip Gloss: Cosmetic Chemists Settle the Debate

woman applying lip gloss


Have you ever wondered, What's the difference between lip oil and lip gloss? We certainly have. So, we went straight to the experts to get an answer to this burning beauty question. According to beauty pros, there are plenty of similarities and differences between the two. For example, glosses provide more of a mega-watt shine and intense color payoff but often come with a sticky finish, while hydrating lip oils leave the lips coated in a hint of color plus shine. Essentially, each offers unique benefits, making them must-haves for different reasons. Ahead, learn more about the nuances of lip glosses versus lip oils.

Meet the Expert

What Is Lip Oil?

Lip oils are lighter than lip glosses but heavier than lip balms. Typically, they are formulated with at least one type of naturally derived or plant-based oil (most boast a combination of two to three differently weighted oils for a cushiony feel), such as coconut, almond, avocado, sunflower seed, or jojoba oils alongside vitamin E and hyaluronic acid. 

Since the lips do not contain oil glands, cosmetic chemist Ginger King says lip oils help to keep them hydrated. "For a lip oil to feel comfortable on the lips and have a protective effect, ingredients like polyglyceryl-2 isostearate and dimer dilinoleate copolymer are often used," she explains. "To make lip oils feel less greasy, manufacturers often use a combination of esters such as triisostearoyl polyglyceryl-3 dimer dilinoleate, polybutene, diisostearyl malate, octyldodecanol, and polyglyceryl-2 triisostearate."

Another common ingredient is hydrogenated polyisobutene (it also appears in plenty of glosses). Victoria Fu and Gloria Lu, cosmetic chemists and co-founders of Chemist Confessions, say hydrogenated polyisobutene is "one of the most commonly used ingredients in lip products because it provides shine while leaving the lips soft."

Although lip oils may offer more hydration and nourishment than other lip products, making them ideal for dry lips, they typically lack dense pigment and leave behind a sheer wash of color akin to a stain. That's why oils give your lips a natural, juicy look. 

What Is Lip Gloss?

"[Lip gloss] gives the lips a glossy, almost vinyl look," King says. "It also helps the lips look plumper because the shine factor is more intense than what oil provides." However, not all lip glosses are equal. Some are sheerer, while others are highly pigmented and feature flecks of glitter or holographic pigments. According to King, the common thread amongst lip glosses is polybutene, an ingredient that gives it that thick, ultra-glossy look. Besides polybutene, most lip glosses contain a mix of oils, pigments, and waxes. Lu adds that with lip glosses, there are likely more thickeners and higher amounts of pigments to improve their wearability. "But, again, it depends on the formula," she adds.

The Similarities


There's a lot of overlap when it comes to lip oil and lip gloss formulas. For starters, skin-softening hydrogenated polyisobutene and thickening polybutene can be found in both products. This also holds true with castor and mineral oils. Natural oils are also a key ingredient in many lip oils and glosses. 


The key hydrating ingredients in most lip oils and glosses are naturally-derived oils (like argan and coconut) and hyaluronic acid. However, Fu says lip oils are positioned to be better hydrators than glosses, but every formula is unique. "There's no guarantee that lip oils hydrate more than gloss and vice versa," she notes.

Shine Factor

Both lip gloss and lip oil leave the lips shiny to varying degrees. Generally, lip gloss is thought to provide more shine than lip oil because the formula sits on the lips; oil penetrates deeper into the lips to help heal and hydrate.

Plumping Capabilities

There are many lip oils and glosses that focus on plumping. Many contain ingredients like peppermint oil, cinnamon, and peptides to increase lip fullness temporarily. King adds that pepper and ginger are also commonly found in plumping lip glosses and oils.


Lip oil and gloss can be worn solo or layered on top of other products, like lip liner and lipstick. Layering a gloss or oil over other products enhances the appearance of everything underneath it. When layering lip gloss over lipstick, for example, you'll get more color payoff. When layering oil over lipstick, you'll create a shiny stain.

Ease of Use

Lip oils and glosses are incredibly easy to use. Most come with a wand applicator. However, they may also be in packaging that features a rollerball or squeeze tube. These various formats allow the formula to be swiped on the lips in seconds.

The Differences


Lip oils are lighter in weight than gloss. On the flip side, lip glosses are formulated with more synthetic ingredients, which contributes to their thicker, stickier consistency. King adds that some lip glosses, especially those with stronger film-forming polymers (the ingredient that makes gloss sticky), can cause the lips to feel dry over time.

The Benefits

Lip oils moisturize the lips as they tend to be infused with nourishing ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, plant-derived oils, and vitamin E. They also create a barrier between the delicate skin on the lips and environmental factors. Lip glosses typically don't provide this benefit.


Lip gloss leaves more color on the lips because it contains a higher pigment concentration. "They [offer] a more luscious, hydrated, high-gloss formula," Lu says. On the other hand, lip oils are far sheerer in color, giving your lips a perfect popsicle-stained effect.

Staying Power

A key differentiator between lip oil and gloss is how long each lasts on the lips. Since oils hydrate the lips, their benefits usually last longer than gloss which sits on top of the lips and often requires reapplication throughout the day.

The Final Takeaway

When choosing between lip gloss and lip oil, there's no wrong or right choice—it's all about personal preference. Pick the formula that provides the benefits you want, be it more hydration and nourishment (go with lip oil) or a super shiny finish and more pigment (lip gloss is probably the better choice ). 

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