Guide to Matte Lipstick

Actress Emma Stone often wears bright, saturated matte colors.
Actress Emma Stone often wears bright, saturated matte colors.
Juan Naharro Gimenez/Getty Images

As far as "sexy" goes, plump and glossy lips are a pretty sure bet. But sophisticated? Maybe not. For that, most women find they need to go with a duller finish. Often a red one. With a chic black dress.

Matte lipstick is big business right now, and not just because a matte lip is simultaneously chic and classy. Cosmetics companies are racing to introduce new formulas to capture a market in love with matte but disheartened by the big downside: a chalky, uncomfortable texture that highlights every imperfection on the surface of your lips.


It's the ratio of ingredients that determines matte vs. shine. Lipstick's main components are wax, oil and pigment. A matte lipstick, compared to a shiny one, has more wax and pigment and less oil, which makes for something opaque, deeply colored and long-wearing enough to last through a couple of meals. It also makes for a drier texture than you find in other finishes.

Even with improved formulations, most matte lipsticks remain underwhelming in the moisture category. But, as with so many other high-style, low-comfort looks, we've got ways to work around that.

There are two basic secrets to wearing matte lipstick beautifully, and the first begins before you start applying it: In matte, lip prep is not optional ...


Matte Lipstick Guide: Exfoliation

So much expert-recommended makeup prep can seem unnecessary -- and strictly speaking, sometimes it is. This is not one of those times.

When you're wearing a matte finish on your lips, prep work is not about achieving perfection. It's about achieving attractive. Cracks, flaking and even mild dryness are highlighted by matte lip color. So, unless you have perfectly smooth lips all the time, and we're pretty sure no one does, exfoliating is necessary.


As with any other part of your body, the goal in exfoliating your lips is to slough off that top layer of dead skin cells to reveal the smooth, hydrated stuff underneath. You can go out and buy a product labeled "lip scrub," or you can walk into your kitchen and mix up some sugar and oil. You only need a tiny bit.

With a wash cloth or cleansing sponge, wet and wipe your lips. Using your fingertip, lightly massage the scrub onto your lips, working in tiny circles. Wipe off the scrub, rinse well, and finish with a final swipe of the cloth or sponge to remove any remaining scrub or skin particles.

A toothbrush works well, too, if you don't want to bother with a scrub. Just wet your lips, lightly brush them in tiny circles, and rinse. This approach has the benefit of fitting seamlessly into your existing cleansing routine so you remember to exfoliate regularly instead of only before you apply lipstick. Lips always feel better all cleaned up.

Getting them smooth takes less than a minute. The second secret to looking great with matte lips is keeping them that way, and that takes a bit more effort ...


Matte Lipstick Guide: Keeping Your Lips Moist

Singer Kelly Rowland sports a classic combo: a bright red matte color with a little black dress.
Singer Kelly Rowland sports a classic combo: a bright red matte color with a little black dress.
Graham Denholm/Stringer/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

If you have naturally dry skin or live in a cold, dry climate, you know how tough it can be to keep your lips moist and smooth. Throw a matte lipstick into the equation and everyone, regardless of climate and genetics, is in this boat.

A matte finish means less oil in the recipe, and that means less moisture. To keep the product (and your lips) from going dry, you've got to add it yourself.


The trick is to increase hydration without adding shine, decreasing opacity or de-saturating the color. The process begins as soon as you're done exfoliating, as you pat your lips dry and apply a light layer of matte-finish lip balm, lip-conditioner or lip primer.

This serves as a layer of moisture underneath the lipstick, which goes on next, after you dab off any excess lip balm (or conditioner or primer) -- because a hydrated base goes a long way toward a hydrated final look. The lipstick should glide smoothly now over the lips, making it easier to achieve opaque, even color, too.

You're not done, though. Keeping matte lips moist is an ongoing process. You'll apply a few dabs of balm over the lipstick immediately, and then continue doing so throughout the day (or at least until you need to wipe off and re-apply, which isn't often with a matte). Remember not to rub your lips together after applying (either the lipstick or the dabs of balm); matte lipstick can drag or clump and just generally doesn't like that.

Moist, smooth and opaque, you're pretty much all set. All that's left now is a little touch-up ...


Matte Lipstick Guide: Final Touches

One of the best things about matte lipstick is its staying power. It sticks to your lips like it was born there. This quality can also make it more difficult to work with, though, which means it may take a little touch-up to get it just right.

A few tips for getting matte lip color exactly where you want it:


  • Try a lip brush -- Some people apply matte lipstick with a brush in the first place; but if you go the out-of-the-tube route, you can also use a lip brush to even out the color and opacity afterward if you find it's a little mottled. It's best to use the brush immediately after you apply the final dabs of balm, while the moisture is at a maximum and the lipstick hasn't had a chance to completely set.
  • Swab the border -- Matte lipstick shows every mistake, so check your outline carefully. If you find any stray color, touch up the border with a moist, swab-style closed-cell sponge.
  • Blot -- Excess matte lipstick can end up looking cakey, so you'll want to lightly blot. Consider using blotting paper instead of tissue, since the latter can stick and leave a linty residue.

Matte lipstick is not as forgiving as the glossier kind, so you'll want to put in some extra effort to get it right. Once you've got it there, though, you're golden, because a good matte lipstick will stay in place for hours -- a godsend, since it's tough to look sophisticated with smudgy lips. Even if they're matte finish.

For more information on matte makeup, beauty products and style trends, check out the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related Articles

More Great Links

  • Board, Niir. "Modern Technology of Cosmetics." National Institute Of Industrial Re, Oct 1, 2004. p125. Google Books: Preview. (Aug. 29, 2012)
  • Han, Christina. "Obsessive Tester: Matte Lipstick Showdown." New York Magazine. Aug. 24, 2012. (Aug. 27, 2012)
  • "How to Wear It: Matte Lipstick." LOVELYiSH. (Aug. 27, 2012)
  • "Matte Lipstick: How to wear matte lipstick." TAAZ. Nov. 1, 2011. (Aug. 27, 2012)
  • Nadine, Amy. "Lip Service." The Beauty Department. Oct. 2011. (Aug. 27, 2012)
  • Salisbury, Mary. "How to Moisturize Your Lips." HowStuffWorks. (Aug. 27, 2012)