Liquid lipsticks, despite their appearance, are usually not glossy. They apply as a liquid because they contain more oils and polymers (and less wax) than a traditional bullet lipstick, then they dry down to an opaque, almost chalky, matte finish. It's hard to pin down exactly when this formula became popular, but NYX's OG Soft Matte Lip Cremes have been around since 2010 and are still a customer favorite. "Social media has forever changed the way we view makeup. A bold, matte lip with full color impact is now your power accessory," says Joyce Kim, NYX's AVP of product development. MAC Director of Makeup Artistry Romero Jennings says, "Velvet matte lip color has become popular with the recent over-saturated lip trend. I noticed this trend backstage last year at international shows." Fine. I no longer had an excuse not to delve into them.
A few warnings about matte liquid lipstick before we get started: You can't just slap one on and go the way you can with a gooey lip gloss, unless you want your lips to suffer — and also look like you have a lip disease. These suckers are drying. First off, prep carefully. Tarte senior pro artist Maria Jones recommends using a lip scrub first. Jennings recommends using a lip conditioner pre-application, but then wiping it off. (Anything too waxy or oily will decrease the staying power of the lipstick.) Finally, when you're ready to apply, Jennings says, "Apply in layers, rather than excess. Less is more."
Many Instagram gurus recommend a lip liner to help with staying power and to get a crisp line, but I decided that would be cheating, because I wanted a true picture of how well the product holds up. However, I'm not a masochist, so I used a very light coat of NYX's colorless Lip Primer just to protect my lips. I also used Make Beauty's Sea Salt Exfoliator, Clinique's Take the Day Off and pointy Q-Tips for cleaning up, the Nudestix Clean-Up Pencil when I was out, and the Laneige Lip Sleep Mask every night. This is not a low maintenance product to commit to.
I tried several different shades from each of 10 different brands over a period of about six weeks to get a sense of how they all looked and felt. And yes, at the end, I crown a luxe and affordable winner.
Anastasia Beverly Hills Liquid Lipstick, $20, available here: Many consider this the best of the more high-end brands, and it's impressive. The formula is not too watery and not too creamy, with incredible opaque payoff with one swipe in pretty much every shade. Of all the lipsticks I tried, this one was almost scentless, which is a plus in this category. It dried instantly and didn't leave any residue on my straw about 10 minutes later. The applicator — which is one of the most important factors, second only to the formula — is a high-quality, traditional doe foot shape that swiped on easily. I used the pointy tip to line, then filled in my lip. After four hours, my lips still looked great with a bit of fading in the center. There was no flaking or bleeding, but they got a bit uncomfortably dry after three hours. Available in 22 shades.
MAC Retro Matte Liquid Lipcolor, $20, available here: The applicator is spectacular. I'm calling it a "hairy diamond bike seat" because it has an indentation in the middle; it was definitely the easiest to maneuver. This is a creamier formula that has a mild chemical scent with vanilla undertones. It was a bit streaky to apply, particularly in the more vibrant shades, but it stayed on a solid four hours. Although, it started to feel dry after about three hours. Available in 15 shades.
Tarteist Creamy Matte Lip Paint, $12, available here: The applicator here was rounded and blunter than the others, making precision application a bit more difficult. The creamy formula is almost mousse-like, and the pleasant minty scent is the best of the bunch. This one lasted a whopping five hours with some central lip fading, but I'd call it a 5 out of 10 on the dry and uncomfortable scale — pretty livable. Available in 13 shades.
L'Oreal Paris Infallible Pro Matte Gloss, $10.99, available here: This has an almost gel-like consistency, with a great pointy brush similar to MAC's. The scent is fruity but not offensively so. It didn't last as long as the pricier brands; after about two and a half hours it had worn into a stain. However, it was much more comfortable than the higher-end options, so I guess less longevity is the trade off for comfort. Available in 10 shades.
Ofra Long Lasting Liquid Lipstick, $17, available here: This family-owned cosmetic brand got Insta-famous after the gurus discovered it. It comes in a whopping 43 shades, and this is the place to go for unusual colors, including matte metallics. The formula is creamy, smells like cookie dough and comes with a traditional doe foot applicator. It flaked and pilled a bit towards the end of the four hours, but never felt too uncomfortable. (Bonus: I found my favorite shade of the whole lot here — Pasadena, a dusty mauve.)
NYX Soft Matte Lip Creme, $6.49, available here: The one that (maybe) started it all is creamy and opaque, with a vanilla scent. It has a standard doe foot applicator, the color lasted about three hours and wasn't too drying. Like the L'Oreal lipstick, this wasn't as long-lasting but was relatively comfortable. It came off gradually on coffee cup lids over the course of the day, but it dried quickly after application. Available in 34 shades.
Jeffree Star Velour Liquid Lipstick, $18, available here: Anyone who's anyone on Instagram raves about these, from Michelle Phan on down the food chain. In fact, the most popular colors are frequently sold out. It has a fluffy doe foot brush and was the most watery of all the formulas. The smell is awful — perhaps this description won't be helpful, but I used to be a nurse and this smells exactly like liquid penicillin, which is not a pleasant scent. It dried quickly and did not budge. After three and a half hours, I had to take it off because it felt really dry, though I'm pretty confident it would have gone the distance. Available in 21 shades.
Kat Von D
Kat Von D Everlasting Liquid Lipstick, $20, available here: The formula is neither too watery nor too creamy. It has decent payoff and was opaque with one layer, applied with a doe foot. It dried instantly with no residue on my straw or coffee cup. At four hours, it was still looking pretty good, but felt dry. The scent was mildly chemical with sweet undertones. Available in 28 shades.
Maybelline Vivid Matte Liquid, $7.99, available here: It has a blunt, flat applicator with a creamy, gel-like texture that's a bit shinier than the others. I could not place the scent, so I asked my 10-year-old son and he thought it smelled like a mixture of cinnamon and coffee, which is as good a description as any. The color only lasted about three hours and felt dry after two. I'd qualify it as better than a regular lipstick but not as long lasting as some of the liquids here. Available in 10 shades.
ColourPop Ultra Matte Lip, $6, available here: This is the Internet's new favorite affordable brand. It has a classic doe foot and a fairly watery formula. It took a few coats to become opaque, but it dried almost instantly. After two hours it got a bit flaky and was coming off in the middle of my lips, but it still looked good. After three hours it felt dry. Available in 43 shades.
CONCLUSION: In general, I got more or less a solid three to four hours of wear from every brand, with exceptions noted. I'm sure that would be longer with proper lip liner use. I found that the more watery the formula, the drier it felt over time. The truth is — and this is going to be controversial because people are passionate about their liquid lipsticks — they're all pretty similar, with a few outliers. What you like will depend on your priorities, whether that be comfort, longevity, or color payoff. (So don't bother getting Kylie's Lip Kit. It's not going to be better than any of these.)
Let's get down to it. Which was my favorite? Comfort with some longevity and great colors were my priorities, and Kat Von D hit all of these. I fell in love with the color Lovesick and have been working it into my rotation.(Anastasia and Tarte tied for second place, but most of the $20 lippies were good.) For the more affordable brands, NYX has been a favorite of many people for a long time for good reason — it's a winner. Maybelline's came in second.
Disagree with any of this? Tell me your favorite liquid lipstick in the comments, because there are so many brands I didn't test. And if you never tried one, it's worth experimenting. They're fun!