The Lipstick Lover's Dictionary

Lipstick 101 is now in session.

Wandering the lipstick aisles at Target can make your head spin. Glosses, balms, mattes, frosts--it seems like cosmetic brands are coming up with new lip color types every day.

As someone who has, in her 26 years, amassed a collection of over 75 lip colors (mostly matte reds, but more on that later), I'm here to help!

Students, please be seated. Lipstick 101 is now in session.

If you're not into lipstick yet, this is your gateway product. Tinted balms give a slight wash of color and a lot of moisture, but not a ton of wear time. I wear a tinted balm when I want a low-key look that still has a little color. They’re really buildable, which is a plus if you’re into amping up the color throughout the day.

One to Try: The Maybelline Color Whisper line has a great range of shades. The effect is slight, similar to a Bonne Bell Lip Smacker, but more grown up.

Lip Gloss

(Warning: this is my least favorite type of lip product.)

Glosses come in many incarnations--shiny, sparkly, tinted, thick, slippery, in a squeeze tube, on a wand...the possibilities are pretty endless. Lip gloss usually gives a hint of color and an even coat of shine. It has the least staying power of any lip product, and thus must be reapplied frequently. There are fancy ones and there are cheap ones, but in my experience you don't need to spend too much money to get a decent lip gloss.

One to try: NARS makes a good non-goopy lip gloss. But my favorite color, Babe, is discontinued.

Lip Stain

Lip stains are pretty self-explanatory. They're often slightly watery in texture. The color soaks in, kind of like a the food coloring in a popsicle does. You can hack a lip stain by applying a matte lipstick in a bright shade like red, fuchsia, or wine and blotting most of it off with a Kleenex.

One to Try: I like the depth of color in Sephora Rouge Infusion Lip Stain in Ruby Extract.

Lip Pigment

Pigments are great because they can be mixed together for customization. Plus, you can buy them in crazy colors like black and navy blue. A lot of the color combining that goes on during Fashion Week happens with pigments.

One to Try: Everyone talks about OCC Lip Tars, but I prefer MAC LipMix.

Cream Formulas

If you’re just starting to wear lipstick, a cream formula is the easiest place to start. They apply easily from the tube or with a brush and feel comfortable (often hydrating) on the lips. The pigment is rich with a little sheen and the wear varies from brand to brand, collection to collection.

One to Try: Too Faced La Crème in Stiletto Red really pops.

Velvet Formulas

Velvet formulas are relatively new in the lipstick world. These lip colors are super lightweight and have a rich, dense texture that is just like, you guessed it, velvet. The pigment glides on so smooth you can hardly feel it. The wear is like a matte, but much more moisturizing.

One to Try: I like Armani’s innovative Lip Maestro, which fades to a stain after a few hours of wear.


This is one of the easiest ways to apply lipstick on the go--and they're great for travel! A good one will give up to several hours of wear.

One to Try: I think NARS makes the best pencil option, but you have to buy the NARS sharpener to go with it.

Liquid Lipstick

Want your lipstick to stay on your face for 8 plus hours? Pick up a long-lasting liquid lipstick. They're not the comfortable lipsticks you'll wear, but they stay put. A little balm on top makes for an easier wear.

One to Try: Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick is great, but Wet n Wild is great for the price.

Matte Lipstick

This is the lip color medium I love most. It goes on fairly dry; certain brands need more care in application than others. You could prime with a lightweight balm underneath, but I never do. A matte is meant to last for at least several hours with no touchup. (Unless you’re eating a cheeseburger...) If you’re a little wary, apply it with a lip brush. Another bit of advice: exfoliate and moisturize your lips regularly if you're going to wear matte lipstick every day.

One to Try: Make Up For Ever Rouge Artist Intense in 8 is a retro matte that, although drier than other mattes, has incredible staying power.

What's your lip color M.O.? Better yet, do you remember the first lipstick you ever bought?