1NARS Velvet Matte Lip Pencil in Cruella, $25
Best for: “But-I-hate-how-lipstick-feels” types
Quite a few beauty industry insiders I know worship at the altar of NARS, so I was psyched to try one of their cult-favorite matte pencils. It didn’t disappoint. A snap to apply, amazing color payoff and a beautiful matte finish. What most impressed me, though, was how this felt on my lips—which is to say like nothing. If you’re someone who gets bugged out about the feel of lipstick, give this a shot. Once it’s on, you won’t even know it’s there. One word of caution: It can transfer a bit, so follow George Bluth Sr.’s mantra from Arrested Development: No touching! Otherwise you might inadvertently brush your fingers against your lips, push your bangs out of your eyes, and end up with a streak of Cruella on your forehead. (Not that I did that.)
2Josie Maran Magic Marker Lip & Cheek Stain in Flamenco, $19
Best for: Anyone who needs Energizer Bunny-level lasting color
A friend from Brazil originally told me about this shade, and if I may culturally stereotype for a moment, Brazilians know sexy. Once I colored in my lips with this Sharpie-esque marker, I was instantly hooked. The shade is a gorgeously vibrant Flamenco-dancer red and it LASTS. (All caps entirely warranted.) Stains are touted to survive through hell and high water, and I can report that this withstood a fairly greasy pepperoni pizza and two glasses of wine and was STILL going strong the next morning. One tiny caveat: If your lips are on the dry side, you may want to top this with a gloss. Just as pretty, and the staying power isn’t diminished one bit.
3Bite Beauty Cashmere Lip Cream in Rioja, $28
Best for: Anyone who wants to go matte but is paranoid about dryness
Calling your product Cashmere Lip Cream is setting the bar pretty high, and I’m pleased to report this lived up to its name. It has a distinctly cashmere-like feel on your lips (i.e. super-soft and luxurious) and a vaguely fruity scent that reminded me of the Strawberry Shortcake toys I had as a kid. Somehow it manages to be matte yet moisturizing at the same time, so if you’re worried a traditional matte lipstick will leave your lips feeling dry, check this out. You do need to take your time and apply carefully (I had the best results when I traced the edges of my lips and then filled in the middle), and make sure to blot afterward. I didn’t blot the first time and ended up with some color on my teeth, but on my second test-run (post-blotting), everything stayed right where it should.
4Lipstick Queen Velvet Rope in Brat Pack, $50
Best for: Lipstick purists (and Technicolor dreamers)
Know that line in Breakfast at Tiffany’s when Holly Golightly gets her breakup letter and says, “A girl can’t read that sort of thing without her lipstick on”? This is the kind of lipstick she was talking about. A deep, vampy, cool red that just screams confidence. It has a lovely matte finish that doesn’t feel the least bit drying and a tiny hint of peppermint (nothing too overpowering). And the tube… seriously, we need to take a second and just talk about the fancy gold tube. It’s over-the-top in the best possible way—like something an old-school screen siren would whip out of her bag at an awards ceremony. Like any lipstick, it’s not going to last indefinitely; you’ll need to re-apply after eating. But with a case this pretty, who minds?
5Laura Mercier Rouge Nouveau Weightless Lip Color in Sexy, $24
Best for: Weekend wear (and anyone who needs to baby-step into matte red)
The sheerest of the bunch, this slim little lipstick is in a class by itself. It feels superlight (the formula is wax-free) and gives lips a wash of pretty candy-apple red. Unlike a lot of sheer lipstick formulas that go on shiny, this definitely falls more in the matte arena—think the finish of a lip stain. It’s the perfect choice if you want to get in on the whole matte-red-lips trend but aren’t ready for a Miley-esque level of color saturation yet. Bonus: It kept lips nicely hydrated and didn’t smudge all over everything (one cappuccino + zero lipstick rings on mug = winner).