The Best Lipstick Formulas for Chronically Dry Lips

I have dry lips. Like, really dry. No matter the weather, no matter the season, there’s always a possibility that I’ll wake up with my lower lip chapped or cracked or even bleeding. This has been the state of things for as long as I can remember, and I have yet to find a solution more effective than sleeping with thick lip balm, replenishing it as soon as I wake up, and wearing it under almost every lip color. (My favorite lip balm these days is Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Formula.) This routine usually ensures that I don’t walk around with open wounds on my mouth, but with the recent chill and winds on the East Coast, the situation has become critical. I’ve had to be choosier about the lipsticks I wear, and since winter brings dry lips to many of us, I thought a post about my favorite lipstick formulas would be timely.

Literature scholars love pretending to be scientists or mathematicians, so bear with me while I explain the rubric I worked out after several false starts. I’ve ranked my lipstick formulas from 1 to 5 on each of three criteria: soothing, concealing, and long-wearing. When my lips are especially dry, I look for two qualities in a lipstick: a soothing formula and enough pigment and opacity to conceal flaws (flaking skin, healing cuts, vertical lines). I use the word “soothing” instead of “moisturizing” or “hydrating” because, in my experience, few if any lipsticks actually impart moisture to the lips. The most I can hope for is comfort. (Glosses are another matter, but they’re also matter for another post.) I don’t expect any of my lipsticks to wear especially long, but I’ve found that “long-wearing” is not always code for “hellishly drying,” which makes me wonder how closely those two qualities correspond across lipstick formulas. Hence the third criterion. I considered applying my rubric to all of my lipsticks, but decided for sanity’s sake (yours and mine) to focus on the nine formulas I find most comfortable. I’ve alphabetized them by brand because I can’t think of a better way to do it.

A big caveat here: lip comfort is subjective, as are chemical sensitivities and allergies. You can’t always predict how your skin will react to one chemical or another. I’m recommending the formulas that make my lips feel less like death of a winter morning, but as ever in the beauty world, ymmv.

Bite Matte Lipstick

Shade tried: Custom shade from Bite Lipstick Lab in NYC! I named it “Aviation,” in honor of its purple color and violet scent (Aviations are made with crème de violette) and Bite’s usual boozy nomenclature.

Soothing: 5
Concealing: 4
Long-Wearing: 2

Note: I think Bite must be phasing out its conventional matte lipsticks in favor of the new matte lip crayons, because I can’t find the lipsticks anywhere online. Just as well: Bite’s “matte” lipstick formula is not really matte. This is a standard satin lipstick, just a bit more opaque than the Luminous Creme formula. I wish it were longer-wearing: I love the color but hate leaving purple lip prints everywhere. Still, it’s very comfortable for dry lips, and it makes me want to try more Bite products in the future.

MAC Amplified Creme Lipstick

Shades tried: Up the Amp, Vegas Volt (returned)

Soothing: 4
Concealing: 5
Long-Lasting: 2

Note: I find MAC’s Amplified Creme formula to be very comfortable, but when I sent a tube of Up the Amp to my mother, she wore it for a single day and developed a rash that took weeks to fade. She still gives me grief about it! I’ve never heard of MAC lipsticks doing this to anyone else, but if you have especially sensitive skin, it may be something to keep in mind.

Maybelline Color Sensational Vivid Lipstick

Shades tried (from left): On Fire Red, Vibrant Mandarin, Vivid Rose, Brazen Berry, Fuchsia Flash

Soothing: 5
Concealing: 4-5
Long-Wearing: 4

Note: Of these five, On Fire Red and Vivid Rose are very opaque; the others have a slight translucency that might not cover all imperfections, but the squishy, shiny finish does help to fill in lip lines.

NARS Sheer Lipstick

Shades tried: Dolce Vita (l), Flamenco (r)

Soothing: 4
Concealing: 2 (Dolce Vita), 4 (Flamenco)
Long-Wearing: 1

Revlon Lip Butter

Shades tried (from left): Raspberry Pie, Candy Apple, Red Velvet, Pink Truffle

Soothing: 1-4
Concealing: 3-4
Long-Wearing: 2

Note: There’s a frustrating amount of variation between Lip Butter shades. Pink Truffle earned the 1 for soothing, but the others work fine on dry lips, with Candy Apple and Red Velvet both deserving 4s. Concealment factor differs from shade to shade, but all of the above are more opaque than you’d expect a sheer lipstick to be.

Revlon Matte Balm

Shades tried: Sultry (l), Mischievous (r)

Soothing: 3
Concealing: 1 (Mischievous), 5 (Sultry)
Long-Wearing: 3

Note: Sultry is one of my favorite lipsticks for concealing dryness and other flaws, because rosy mauve color + non-cakey soft matte finish = flaws, what flaws? I assume the same is true of the other deep shades in the Matte Balm line, like berry-red Standout. Mischievous, on the other hand, is suitable only for the smoothest of lips. I can wear it without issues maybe twice a year. Avoid.

Revlon Super Lustrous Crème Lipstick

Shades tried (from left): Fire and Ice, Cherries in the Snow, Primrose, Mauvy Night, Berry Haute

Soothing: 5
Concealing: 3-5
Long-Wearing: 3-5

Note: All of these lipsticks feel great on my lips, but Cherries in the Snow and Fire and Ice are by far the most pigmented (thus concealing) and long-lasting. Here I am wearing Cherries in the Snow yesterday, with particularly desiccated lips:

Revlon Super Lustrous Shine Lipstick

Shade tried: Plum Velour

Soothing: 4
Concealing: 2
Long-Wearing: 2

Topshop Matte Lip Bullet

Shade tried: Get Me Bodied

Soothing: 3
Concealing: 5
Long-Wearing: 4

And a few conclusions:

  • High-end lipsticks don’t seem more or less likely to suit my lips than drugstore lipsticks. (YSL’s Rouge Pur Couture and Glossy Stain formulas didn’t make the list; neither did NARS’ Velvet Matte Lip Pencils, despite my undying love for Mysterious Red.) I do think you often get what you pay for in terms of evenness, finish, and pigmentation. But in terms of comfort? Not always.
  • “Matte” doesn’t necessarily mean “drying”; “shiny” or “creamy” doesn’t necessarily mean “hydrating.” This took me a long time to figure out. In my experience, all true flat mattes (e.g. NARS lip pencils) will be somewhat drying, but there are lots of modern mattes (e.g. Topshop Lip Bullets) that don’t have that effect.
  • None of the formulas I’ve mentioned have shimmer. Granted, I don’t buy many shimmery lipsticks, but I do find that shimmer or glitter or frost tends to decrease the soothing power of a lipstick.

I hope this has helped those of you who suffer from dry lips in cold weather or year-round. If you have any suggestions for lip-friendly lipstick formulas, or for miracle lip balms, please let me know! I promise that my next post will not be about lipstick. Well, not entirely.

6 thoughts on “The Best Lipstick Formulas for Chronically Dry Lips

  1. I always love reading about lipsticks and lipgloss so I wouldn't mind your next post being about lipstick! :)I was scrolling up and down admiring all the lipstick bullets worn quite beautifully in a uniformed fashion (And this is one of those sentences of mine that sounds weirder out than in my head).As you said, I don't particularly find higher-end lipsticks are \”much\” better than drugstore ones in terms of the 3 aspects talked about here. Actually, some of the Chanel lipsticks dry my lips badly despite of the initial glossy finish and comfort. So deceptive they are!I think you'd like Dior Addict Extreme range. I prefer the original Addict range since I like sheer coverage but the Extreme covers really well with vibrant color and stays comfortable and thin on lips.I'm also a big fan of Revlon lipsticks in general. I think Cherries In The Snow is so pretty on you.


  2. I also don't mind a train of lipstick posts. 🙂 And ditto Lena re: neatly worn rows of well-loved lipsticks! I got such a great sense of satisfaction from seeing your lineup of the Maybelline Vivids and Revlon Lip Butters.My lips are on the dry side but not particularly problematic. But I have a horrible lifelong habit of picking the dry crusty layer off my lips to the point that lips look bloodied and bruised, so sometimes I do look for the \”concealing\” factor along with comfort. That for me are just colour-saturated lip glosses or satin-finish lipsticks in medium to dark shades. Sometimes I prefer the textures to be thick or goopy so that I won't touch my lips at any cost. During those days, I'd just wear the colours while out and upon coming home immediately slather my lips with Smith's Rosebud Salve, Bobbi Brown lip balm or even just Vaseline. And if I allow even a 10 minute window of butt naked lips, that means dry lip hell for the next two months.


  3. I'm glad that scrolling through lipstick photos is as enjoyable to you as it is to me! 🙂 I've actually never tried Dior makeup, but I was curious about the Fluid Sticks earlier this year, and I'll look into the Dior Addict Extremes as well. Thanks!


  4. Ugh, I pick that layer of skin off, too. As long as I've had problems with dry skin (since early childhood), I've had problems with aggravating it. I wish I knew how to kick the habit! And yes, I turn to glosses when my lips are especially bad. I'm not a gloss person in general, but sometimes lipsticks just don't cut it.


  5. I have the constant problematic dry lips well, except when it's humid over here!I generally use a lip balm anyway when I'm having problems and I tend to use very sheer or glossy formulas over it. Revlon Lipbutters, Clarins Instant Light Lip Perfector, Chanel Rouge Coco Shine etc. None of them are particularly long lasting but it's not something I mind when my lips are in that state. Like you said, it's all about comfort. :)I love seeing the Vivids so well used, I need to use mine more often!


  6. My lips can get chapped even in humid weather! I can't explain it. Maybe I have a vitamin deficiency or something. And some of my Vivids are better-loved than others: I almost never wear On Fire Red, for instance, because I prefer my red lipsticks matte. But my tube of Brazen Berry is about three-quarters gone!


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