Lipstick Finishes 101 - QC Makeup Academy

Pro makeup artist or not, lipsticks probably make up one of the major cornerstones of your makeup collection. From pastel pinks to bold orange hues, there are a billion different colors to choose from—but the difficult decisions don’t just stop there.

Picture the deepest, richest brick-red color. Now would you expect the lipstick itself to be sheer or shimmery? Probably not. You can reasonably expect that lipstick to have a matte or satin finish based on the look you are trying to achieve.

Not sure what we’re on about? Here’s our guide to every lipstick finish under the sun!


Sheer coverage lipsticks give your lips a natural wash of color. Perfect for the office or a simple day-look that’s quick and easy but still makes you look put-together. The texture is super slippery and so you shouldn’t expect hours of wear with just one coat. One of the biggest hassles with bold color is that you really have to watch your application as they often come in satin or matte finishes. Sheer finishes are super forgiving and are as easy to put on as a lip balm! Because they rub off easily without you noticing, make sure you chuck the tube into your bag on your way out the door!

Product recommendation: Yves Saint Laurent Rouge Volupté in Tempt Me Pink.


These lipsticks are comfortable to wear and are often formulated to be moisturizing—it’s no wonder that this the most widely available lipstick type! Cream lipsticks glide onto lips like a dream and are fairly long-wearing. They are a great alternative to matte lipsticks if you want bold color without all the hassle and drying properties. BUT… some cream shades, especially those that delve into deep plum territory, may be too emollient. What does this mean? Well, the colors will slip around on the lips and you won’t achieve opaque coverage. Don’t be fooled into thinking that all cream lipsticks are like this, though! A couple sub-par contenders in the arena doesn’t mean that this lipstick finish isn’t a winner!

Pro tip: Cream lipsticks have a tendency to bleed or feather, so try to use a lip liner in a matching shade. If you don’t have a liner in a complimentary shade, try pencil that is clear (no color) that’ll still lock in your color without changing the shade of the lipstick. Urban Decay’s lip liner in Ozone is our recommended choice as it has jojoba oil to relieve your lips from dryness!

Product recommendation: Wet ‘n’ Wild MegaLast Lip Color in Spiked With Rum


One of the hardest finishes to pull off, but certainly one that’s on trend is the frosted lipstick. This type of lipstick is loaded with shimmer and can give your look a retro vibe. The best way to wear frosted lipsticks is to layer them on top of cream, satin, or matte lipsticks to give old favorites a face-lift! Frost finishes can give your lips an icy look because of the pearly shimmer—so make sure that you aren’t too heavy handed if you’re just trying to get a subtle sheen.

These lipsticks can feel heavy and drying on the lips because of the amount of shimmer in the formula, so make sure to condition your lips beforehand! They are probably one of the higher-maintenance lipstick types on this list since they have a tendency to settle into lip lines and the shimmer will stay even after the color fades… proceed with caution!

Product recommendation: Lipstick Queen lipstick in Ice Queen

metallic red lipstick

Metallic / Glitter

Conquered the matte look and now looking for even bolder options? Metallic lipsticks may do the trick! Unlike their frosty cousins, metallic lipsticks are as highly pigmented as matte lipsticks but generally come in a creamier formula with slightly less shimmer as a frost formula. The colors are jewel-toned with generally silver, gold, or bronze shimmer that reflect a LOT of light. You know those richly colored foil-wrapped chocolates you buy during the holiday season? Imagine that effect but on your lips (yes, we know that’s a weird comparison, but it’s not wrong!). A couple swipes of these bad boys and your lips look like liquid metal was melted onto them—show-stopping results without the safety warnings!

Product recommendation: Jeffree Star Velour Liquid Lipstick in Poinsettia


When it comes to long wear-time, intense color payoff, and high coverage, the satin lipstick finish comes second only to the matte formula. Satin lipsticks feel great on the lips and won’t slip around as much as much as cream or sheer formulas. They deliver the bold color of a matte lipstick with a bit of sheen while giving your lips the hydration they need. The texture? It makes your lips feel like satin—go figure! These lipsticks won’t drag when you’re applying them and are probably your most reached-for finishes. If you’re a huge MAC fan, some of your favorite lipsticks are probably of this texture.

Product recommendation: MAC lipstick in Cyber


Matte lipsticks are arguably the boldest finish to rock and are not for the faint of heart. These lipsticks give robust color and have certainly become one of the trendiest finishes of the year. Be warned, though. The matte formula is hard to perfect—you’ll find some disappointing matte shades at all price points. Cheaper lipsticks tend to drag on application, emphasize lip lines, dry patches, and go on unevenly. Because of the low moisture content, they can get very drying over long-term wear. It’s somewhat tricky to work with, so make sure that you exfoliate and moisturize with a good balm beforehand!

Pro tip: Got a creamy lipstick in the color that you wish was matte? Not a problem! Just apply the lipstick as normal, blot with a tissue, reapply the shade, blot again, and then apply translucent setting powder either directly over your lips or onto a tissue that’s pressed up against your lips. Voila! The perfect matte lip!

Product recommendation: Chanel Rouge Allure Ink Matte Lip Liquid Colour in 156- Lost


A lipstick finish unique to MAC, this formula promises a glossy finish with buildable color. These lipsticks offer slightly higher pigmentation and coverage than sheer lipsticks but less so than a cream color. Don’t expect them to wear long though—they are usually super moisturizing! In fact, they are advertised as being able to give your lips a wet look to them. If you’re looking for an easy-to-wear lipstick that offers a subtle, but noticeable, color impact, the lustre finish may just be your new best friend.

Product recommendation: MAC lipstick in Plumful


If you want your lips to really shine but don’t want to deal with your hair catching onto the sticky gloss, a super-shiny lipstick might be just for you. High-shine lipsticks are usually packed with fine shimmer and a more emollient base to deliver the most amount of shine possible. These lipsticks are ultra-hydrating and deliver fairly good color payoff. Don’t expect this slick formula to wear for hours on end, though. These lipsticks may be more pigmented than the sheer lipstick family, but you will notice that the shine fades with time. No worries, though! These lipsticks are buildable and you’ll probably want to keep applying them over and over again since they’ll make your lips feel like a dream!

Product recommendation: Sephora Collection Rough Shine Lipstick in Stay Together

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Author Celina Feng

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