The Ultimate Guide To Shopping For Lip Gloss

Everything you've ever wanted to know about lip gloss but never even thought to ask.
Publish date:
Social count:
Everything you've ever wanted to know about lip gloss but never even thought to ask.

Lip gloss is a 1930s cinematic invention that visually smoothes out the lines of the lips and creates a shiny, plump look. Whereas lipstick exists mostly to display color, lip gloss is more of a tool to control light. By attracting shine to the mouth, the lips look fuller, adding a youthful appearance to the face.

With the exception of lip lacquers, the color of a lip gloss is less important than its shine effect. The sheerness of this product category makes it popular with very young women as well as beginners to makeup. Due to the visual plumping effect of lip gloss, it is also a very good product for increasing the fullness of smaller lips.

With larger lips, the plumping effect can be dramatic--a good thing for balanced lip shapes, but sometimes distracting with unbalanced lip shapes. On larger mouths, lip gloss is sometimes easier to wear when applied only to the center of the lips rather than from corner to corner.

Lip glosses tend to be available in the lighter color harmonies like beige, coral, pink, and rosewood, although lately, brands have been launching more and more deep colors like plum. 

I tend not to wear lip gloss very often because I like the maturity and color expertise of lipstick. However, because lip gloss often includes at least an emollient and an occlusive agent, as well as a humectant in some plumping formulas, it makes an unbeatable moisturizer for the lips. In the winter, a slick of lip gloss protects my lips much more effectively than any lip balm.

From left to right: MAC Clear Lipglass, Clinique Superbalm Moisturizing Gloss in 02 Raspberry, Chanel Lévres Scintillantes in 165 Volupté, and YSL Rouge Pur Couture Vernis à Lèvres in 24.

From left to right: MAC Clear Lipglass, Clinique Superbalm Moisturizing Gloss in 02 Raspberry, Chanel Lévres Scintillantes in 165 Volupté, and YSL Rouge Pur Couture Vernis à Lèvres in 24.

Plumping Lip Gloss

There is a fairly important subset of this category referred to as plumping lip gloss. This category refers to formulas that:

1) Maximize the optical plumping effect of the gloss by filling in as many creases in the lips as possible

2) Include an irritating ingredient that will swell the lips

3) Include a humectant like hyaluronic acid to heavily moisturize the lips

4) Or some combination of the above

Mass-market lip plumpers tend to use more irritating ingredients such as capsaicin. Selective-market lip plumpers rely more on the more expensive options like humectants. Capsaicin-based lip plumpers can be very unpleasant to many people and should always be spot-tested before use.

However, I find that there is nothing better than a nice humectant-based lip plumper to liven up my lips. Especially in the afternoon in an office environment, when I tend to be dehydrated and my lips shrivel, wrinkle, and grow pale. A lip plumper will feel very soothing and really make me look much more pulled together, at least until I can take a water break.

I really like FusionBeauty’s LipFusion Lip Plump Color Shine. I find that it has the most impressive plumping function of the glosses I’ve tried. It is a little sticky but has an extraordinary efficacy.

But my favorite plumping gloss is the classic Dior’s Lip Maximizer, a global favorite. It is very comfortable, gentle, and beautifully colored with the sweetest milky soft pink. I like that it is less shine than many glosses, which makes it more discreet for day wear. It’s not sticky at all, so I apply my evening lipstick right on top.

Lip Gloss Textures


Totally clear lip gloss can be used alone but are generally used in conjunction with lipstick to change the makeup effect. Generally, transparent lip gloss is sold in squeeze tubes to avoid contaminating the product with an applicator that has touched lipstick. 

Also, these products tend to be thicker and stickier to increase staying power as part of a layered lip look.


Designed to be worn alone, translucent lip gloss is usually very sheer. Sometimes, the color is almost undetectable when applied. These lip glosses look quite fresh and are often part of summer collections.

In this photo, I am wearing Clinique Superbalm Moisturizing Gloss in 02 Raspberry.

In this photo, I am wearing Clinique Superbalm Moisturizing Gloss in 02 Raspberry.


Lip glosses with a milky finish are quite popular right now, especially in European markets. They tend to have more color payoff than translucent shades. The relative discretion of milky finishes makes them easier to wear on naturally plump lips.

Iridescent and Pearlescent

Lip glosses with an iridescent or a pearlescent finish can be either really modern or really dated. Generally, the finer the shine particles, the more successful the finished look. Pearlescent finishes can veer quickly off into 1980s frosted territory.

Shimmer and Glitter

Shimmery and glittery lip gloss are one of the most traditional finishes. These finishes are particularly popular with very young women. At their best, these shades are fun and collectible; at their worst, they are infantile and immature.


Lacquer refers to opaque lip glosses with heavy shine. The popularity of this finish has grown dramatically since the release of Shiseido Lacquer Rouge in 2012. The quality of a lacquer is judged mainly by the homogeny and intensity of the color as well as the degree of shine. A good lip lacquer should entirely obscure the lines in the lips while depositing a completely opaque color in minimal sweeps across the lips.

Elements of Quality

Stickiness, Slipperiness and Greasiness

Lip glosses all tend to fall on a spectrum between sticky, slippery, and greasy. A very sticky lip gloss, like MAC Lipglass, will have a high percentage of waxes. A very slippery lip gloss, like Givenchy Gelée d’Interdit, will have a high percentage of silicones. A very greasy lip gloss will have a high percentage of oils. A high quality lip gloss will have an equal balance of these three elements for the most pleasant wear.

Stiffness and Wear Time

Generally speaking, the stiffer the lip gloss, the longer it will last on the lips. Because stiff lip gloss is somewhat unpleasant to wear, a formula’s ability to reduce stiffness without affecting wear time is a mark of quality.

Color Intensity

Color intensity is relative to the texture of the lip gloss. A lip gloss with a milky finish, even if it has a deep shade, will still have low color intensity. A lacquer, on the other hand, should have the full color intensity of a satin lipstick. In all finishes, the color should be homogenous and avoid sinking into lip lines or feathering onto outside skin.


Packaging is very important in the lip gloss category. Squeeze tubes are appropriate for stiff formulas or easily contaminated transparent or translucent shades. Other lip glosses are sold with the applicator inside the tube, which helps control the quantity of product applied at a time. The packaging should be adapted to the texture of the lip gloss.

Also, lip glosses are particularly prone to leaking in handbags. A good packaging should avoid this at all costs.

Flavoring and Fragrance

Like lipsticks, lip glosses almost always have flavorings and fragrance. Because these products are so popular with very young women, the flavorings and sugar additives can sometimes be very strong and candy-like. Selective products are less likely to overload the senses with artificial flavorings than mass-market products.

How to Shop for a Lip Gloss

Just as with shopping for a lipstick, remember that you can take the time to research the product online and thoroughly test it before buying. You should never feel pressured by shop assistants nor embarrassed to be taking time to test and revisit formulas.

Most new lip gloss releases should have some sample applicators available so that you can test the lip gloss with the product’s actual applicator. Saturate the applicator inside the lip gloss, then pull it out to get an idea of how much product is squeezed onto the applicator. Apply to your lips as you normally would. Pay attention to the smoothness and ease of application, as well as the quantity of product transferred to the lips.

Now rub your lips together to check for the relative slickness, stickiness, or greasiness of the product. Ideally, your lips should not stick together, nor should they feel swathed in silicone. Make sure the product’s fragrance and taste are appealing to your sensibilities. Check the homogeneity of the color, if applicable. Notice how much of the lip’s texture is concealed by the gloss.

If possible, it’s good to wear the product out of the store for a four-hour test. Check for wear time as well as the condition of your underlying lips. A good lip gloss should not only stand up to four hours of wear, it should also leave your lips in significantly better condition than before application. Watch for migration of the product into lip lines and onto the surrounding skin.

Once again, you can always test the best shade in the product range by asking for the shade worn by the model in the model visual. This shade will often be the highest-performing product in the range.

As a note, I have had several allergic reactions to lip gloss. If you are prone to eczema or other skin allergies, a spot test might be a good idea to avoid a disaster on your face. I test all lip gloss products first on the back of my hand, which has pretty sensitive skin. If I have no reaction after a few minutes, I try the product on my lips.

My Recommendation

During the springtime of 2013, we have seen a lot of new lip gloss launches. My favorite by far is the renovated Dior Addict Gloss from March. This formula is unreal--the texture is so perfectly balanced that I think it might be the best on the market. It is available in a large range of shades divided into several finishes. 

I’m watching future Dior makeup collections carefully to find a shade that really speaks to me.

What are your favorite lip glosses?