this thing's incredible

This Lip Stain Turns Me Into a More Polished Version of Myself

Clarins Water Lip Stain in pink — The Strategist reviews
Photo: Courtesy of the retailer

It started with the duty-free sign. I was passing through a European airport when a display in the Clarins section caught my eye: several jewel-toned vials of “Water Stain” and the amazing tagline, “Kisses in excess.” I stopped to take a picture of “kisses in excess” — because it sounded not just weird, but like a painful case of chapping — and just then the woman working the counter came by, and she was really kind, and I felt like I had to at least feign interest in the product and listen to her spiel. She told me that the stains were over 70 percent water-based, that they were nondrying, that there was some sort of environmental-protector in the mix, and that they really would last for 300 kisses (or, until you washed it off).

I’ve always loved lip stains. Or, I love the idea of lip stains. I’m too lazy and scatterbrained to reapply lipstick, and the idea of a semipermanent shade has always seemed like the obvious solution. The problem is, the colors have often not worked for me — starting with the early days of Benetint, which I tried over and over —and then your mouth is literally stained until it wears off. (I have particular memories of one ill-fated drugstore lip marker that made me look like the guy in Death in Venice after he goes to the barber.)

Clarins Water Lip Stain
$28, Nordstrom

The Clarins Water Lip Stain, for starters, comes in a range of four colors. I have a hard time with reds, but the Violet Water turned out to be perfect for my slightly sallow complexion: just blue enough, and extremely natural when applied in a single layer. It’s become part of my daily routine: Nuxe dry oil, tinted moisturizer, brown mascara, stain. It actually does what no-makeup makeup is supposed to do: I’m me, but slightly more polished and healthier. And at night, heavier application gives that blotted-lipstick, berry-eating effect. You can top it with a balm or a gloss or Clarins’ own Lip Comfort Oil, but I actually like the matte effect, and it really does last almost all day. Best of all, when it does fade, there’s no ring around your mouth: it fades all at once. Being Clarins, it’s not drugstore-cheap, but at $28 — and a lot of uses — it won’t break the bank. I’m not even calculating the number of kisses per bottle to see if it really is 300, although I’m sure Clarins has, in a freaky French marathon-kissing lab.

More Strat-approved lip tints

Charlotte Tilbury Beach Stick in Formentera
$45, Nordstrom

Beauty writer Rio Viera-Newton called this a perfect makeup product. It’s a lip tint, yes, but it also goes on eyelids and cheeks, making it a remarkable three-for-one item. “It has this lovely, sun-kissed raspberry shade that gives the most natural, flushed appearance. And the way it looks on lips, cheeks, and eyelids altogether is so stunning — it makes your skin look glowy and well-rested,” she said.

Clinique Almost Lipstick
$18, Sephora

As for another this-is-the-best lip stain review, our fashion editor at large Amy Larocca says that Clinique’s stain in Black Honey has been her mainstay for years. She said: “I remember someone telling me when it launched that it was meant to be the ‘black turtleneck’ of lipsticks, but the meaning of that garment has evolved and the formula of the (almost) lipstick has not. It stains the lip a shade or two darker than nothing, it’s not waxy, and when it fades you’re never left in that weird, half-on phase that can lead to the impression that you’re a little bit drunk.”

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At Long Last, I Found the Best Lip Stain