this thing's incredible

Every Time I Wear This Lip Stain on TV, People Message Me About It

New York Magazine’s Washington correspondent wearing the lip stain that elicits tons of positive feedback. Photo: Olivia Nuzzi

When I was in high school, my friend Michelle, who taught me about makeup, gave me a tiny tube of M.A.C lip stain. It was the color of a summer cherry and it had a watery, gel-like consistency. It was rosy and natural and it never, ever budged. It was perfect. But it was a limited-edition product, and when I finally ran out, all I could do was search for something similar. Over the last ten years, I think I have, without really meaning to, sampled nearly every lip stain or liquid lipstick available for purchase in or shipment to the United States of America. For a while, I liked one from the drugstore that was like a big cosmetic Magic Marker. Then I preferred an oil-based version from Milk that rolled on in a tube. I have worshipped Dear Darling Tint by the geniuses at Etude House, which is gel-like and pleasantly sticky and impressively seems to require witchcraft or bleach to remove. I’ve loved some matte formulas from Fenty and Nars. But I never found anything as perfect as that M.A.C stain, and none of the replacements did exactly what I wanted them to do: glide onto my lips, dry without cracking, and fade without bleeding to look prettier and more natural throughout the day. But eventually, I found something better: YSL Tatouage Couture Liquid Matte Lip Stain.

What I appreciate most about this stuff is how easy and versatile it is: The applicator wand is square and angled in such a way that it holds the perfect amount of product, and it doesn’t require any special skill or steadiness of hand to swipe it on with total precision. If you apply it and let it dry for a few seconds, it looks like the most effortless lipstick in the world, but it doesn’t feel like clay or like you’re wearing much at all. If you apply it and blot a few times as it dries, it barely looks like lipstick. It’s also pigmented enough to use a lip brush to lightly paint it on for a more sheer, stainlike look. Usually I wear it alone with some lip balm on top to prevent it from drying out but tbh, it doesn’t really dry out anyway, and for TV, I wear it underneath Dior Addict Lip Maximizer Gloss in 013 Beige.

On the subject of the word “stain”: They call this a “lip stain,” but that’s not quite right. Stain suggests color that temporarily dyes the lips, a swipe of pigment that remains long after you’ve stopped being aware of the presence of the product itself on your face. Stains don’t transfer onto coffee cups or cigarette filters or your partner’s cheeks. Benefit’s classic lip stain — watery and rose-colored and emerging in dewdrops from a tiny Thumbelina brush — is a stain. Ditto the aforementioned indestructible stain by Etude House. YSL’s “stain” is more like a long-wear liquid lipstick, even if the most conservative application does result in something sort of like a stain.

The misnomer is my only issue with the product, however. It is otherwise perfect. It lasts for hours and hours. If you don’t eat or drink anything because you’re late on a deadline and your life is spinning out of control, it can last all day and night. If you are a normal person or try to mimic the behaviors of one most of the time, you probably only have to touch it up once between daytime and going out at night. I like shade #25 because it’s not too taupe and not too pink for my really pale Casper complexion. But I also have a pinker shade (#11), a taupe-ier shade (#7), a browner taupe (#28), and a red (#34). It makes glossy versions too, and though the consistency is very different and they don’t last quite as long, they’re also beautiful; I especially like the coral color (#7).

Before the pandemic meant masks obscured my lips most of the time, I was asked about my lip color on a daily basis. Friends, strangers, makeup artists — anyone I’ve recommended this to reports back that they love it as much as I do. My friend Rosie wore #7 on her wedding day. Fewer people see me maskless now, but it’s still the case that anytime I appear on TV, among the people writing to me to tell me that I’m an idiot left-wing hack (thanks! Xoxo!) or that I have vocal fry (whatever!), there’s always someone writing to ask me what kind of lipstick I’m wearing. For about four consecutive years, the answer has been the same.

Other Lip Stains I’ve Loved

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Every Time I Wear This Lip Stain on TV, People Ask About It