Lip Stains and Lip Tints Both Deserve a Spot on Your Vanity—Here's How to Tell Them Apart

The singer Jisoo in a bold lip tint


Lips come in all shapes, colors, and sizes, and lip products are equally varied. From lipsticks to glosses—with plenty of formulas in between—there really is something out there for everyone.

But what lip products suit you best when you aren't necessarily sure what you're looking for? We've taken two sought-after lip products that nearly everyone has tried at some point—lip tints and lip stains—and decided to break down the differences. Whether you want subtle color or a full-blown power lip, we've got you. Ahead, with the help of professional makeup artist Michelle Shakeshaft, we break down the differences between lip tints and stains, how to use them, and advice on picking the right one for your needs.

Meet the Expert

Michelle Shakeshaft is a national pro makeup artist for Bobbi Brown Cosmetics based in Washington, DC.

Lip Stains vs. Lip Tints

The key differences between lip stains and lip tints are:

  • Lip tints are often emollient, hydrating products that deposit minimal color on the lips.
  • Lip stains are typically matte in finish and appear bolder and more colorful.
  • Lip tints can be wiped off without color residue.
  • Lip stains will leave color residue behind and often need to be removed with cleansers/removers.
  • Lip stains tend to have more extended wear than lip tints.

A lip stain will be ideal if you're looking for something matte that will last and deposit color. Lip tints are a suitable option for a hydrated, more natural look.

What Is a Lip Stain?

When differentiating between lip stains and tints, the names are quite helpful. A lip stain is exactly what it sounds like: "A lip stain is a sheer wash of a natural matte color that stains the lip," Shakeshaft explains. While lipsticks and glosses can often be wiped away with little to no residue, a lip stain will leave some color behind, essentially staining the lip, and typically must be removed with a cleanser or makeup remover. Lip stains also come in glossy finishes and hold up well against eating and drinking, thanks to their staying power.

How to Apply a Lip Stain

Since most lip stains come in matte formulas, it's best practice to ensure lips are free of any dry skin or flakes before application; matte textures and finishes can sometimes exaggerate dry skin. Using a lip scrub to remove debris from the lips is helpful, along with wearing hydrating lip masks at night. Fresh Beauty's Sugar Lip Polish Exfoliator ($19) can help slough off any skin on the lips for smoothness. For a hydrating treatment, try Halo42's Pout it Out Lip Rejuvenation ($42).

Shakeshaft has a specific method for applying lip stains. "I like pressing lip stains onto and into the lip," she says. "You can also create a stained look by using highly pigmented lipstick, like Bobbi Brown’s Luxe Lip Color ($28), and pressing it onto the lip in sheer layers, using your finger [as opposed to] swiping straight from the tube. The saturated pigment will create a stain on the lip."

Want something a tad lighter? "If you like the 'I just ate a popsicle' look, press the stain into the lip's center, leaving the outer edges bare," Shakeshaft recommends. This is a subtle option for those who want the look of a stain yet a minimal color payoff. Armani Beauty's Lip Maestro Liquid Matte Lipstick ($39) is ideal for this technique: It glides on smooth with the lasting power of a stain, is buildable (you go until you're satisfied with the tone), and a little goes a long way.

What Is a Lip Tint?

"A lip tint is a sheer wash of moisturizing color for the lip," says Shakeshaft. Think of a softer, hydrating lip product that will deposit lighter color onto the lips and, at times, has a glossy or balm-like finish.

How to Apply a Lip Tint

Shakeshaft has a few simple tips for applying lip tints. "Lip tints can be swiped across the lip if you want a bit more shine, or again, pressed in for a softer, hydrated look," she says. Want to use your lip tint and stain together? "You can layer a lip tint over a lip stain if you are looking for a longer-wearing, natural look but feel like the lip needs a bit more moisture or if you prefer a little shine on the lips," she adds. This technique is an excellent alternative to wearing lip gloss if that's not your preferred finish.

If you want a lip tint with the added benefit of treatment, Make Beauty's Serum Balm Intense Pigmented Lip Emollient ($26) hydrates and treats lips with several colors. For a glossier finish, try the Essence Lip Tint from Unicorn Glow ($11).

The Final Takeaway

The best practice for choosing lip products (or any makeup products) is doing swatch tests on your hands to see the differences in finish, color, and wear. While shopping for lip tints or stains, test a few on the top of your hand to see how much they vary in consistency and hue, and to figure out which formula feels more comfortable on your skin. If you know that you're more of a natural lip fan, you can skip the stains and look at tints. If a bold finish is what you're after, compare colors and brands of different stains to figure out which one you feel will look the best and hold up through long work days and then some.

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