Ask a Beauty Editor: How to Apply Lipstick on Dry Lips

Plus the best lipsticks for a perpetually parched pout.

woman applying lipstick
Photo: Image Source/Getty Images

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Reader question: I have really dry lips so lipstick always looks terrible on me. Is there any way for me to wear it? —Judy Price

As someone with eternally chapped lips, lipstick has always felt intimidating to me too. There are few things more unpleasant (and anti-ASMR) than slathering lipstick over dry lips, and unless you were blessed with supernatural membranes, flaking tends to be a perpetual problem. And don't even get me started on matte finishes, which might as well be dry lip purgatory.

But I also feel somewhat naked leaving the house bare-lipped, especially when I'm sporting a full face beat, so I am determined to wear lipstick somehow. Long story short, wearing lipstick is doable with dry lips, but it does take a little extra work. The key is spending more prep time to hydrate and exfoliate, followed by applying more moisturizing formulations that prevent your lips from getting dry throughout the day.

How to Prepare Lips for Lipstick

Step 1: Apply a hydrating lip mask overnight.

Just like you might prepare for a big event with a face mask (or skin slugging) the night before, a lip treatment that sits on your lips overnight can make all the difference come morning. More intense than a traditional lip balm, an overnight lip mask goes on thicker, allowing for more emollient ingredients to sink in. And because the skin repairs itself overnight, supplying it with a nourishing formula before you go to sleep is the best time to fortify the skin barrier and seal in moisture.

Try: Tatcha Kissu Lip Mask ($28;

Step 2: Exfoliate with a lip scrub in the morning.

If you really want to keep your pout flake-free, it's time to bring in an exfoliator. These guys are the best way to banish rough textures and eliminate the temptation to lick your lips every other minute. Unlike most lip balms, which only work to hydrate and soften lips, a lip scrub can slough away dead skin and smooth over uneven texture.

Keep in mind that dermatologists warn against misusing—or overusing—these abrasive formulations since the lip skin is among the thinnest of the body. "Going overboard can easily disrupt the outer skin leading to dryness and irritation," says Joshua Zeichner, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. He adds that sugar-based scrubs can offer more gentle exfoliation without the risk of irritation that other harsh exfoliants can cause.

Try: Fresh Sugar Lip Polish Exfoliator ($18;

Step 3: Apply a thin layer of lip balm 10-20 minutes before applying lipstick.

Think of lip balm as a lipstick primer—it will give your lips the ideal base to layer lipstick over. So, why wait the extra few minutes? It's the same concept of waiting 10 seconds after applying lash glue for the glue to get tacky. Applying lipstick right after lip balm won't give the formula enough time to set, and will only cause the lipstick to apply unevenly. It can also shorten the wear of your lipstick since the waxes prevent the pigment from setting properly. To avoid unnecessary waiting (because who has time for that in the morning?), I recommend doing this step in the beginning of your makeup routine so that the lip balm can sit on the lips while you're getting the rest of yourself ready.

Try: Rosebud Perfume Co. Rosebud Lip Salve ($7;

Step 4: Apply a hydrating lipstick.

Yes, they exist! But not all lipsticks are formulated equal, so to make your search a bit easier, I personally tested and narrowed the selection of lipsticks to include only the most hydrating formulas. Not only are they super creamy and slide on easily, your lips actually get more moisturized as the day goes on.

Best Lipstick for Dry Lips

01 of 06

Maybelline Color Sensational Shine Compulsion Lipstick

best-lipstick-for-dry-lips-Maybelline Color Sensational Shine Compulsion Lipstick

There's nothing better than a lip product that makes you forget that you're wearing a lip product. These Maybelline lipsticks glide on like butter and feel like practically nothing on lips. But don't be fooled by the balm-like texture—the color payoff won't disappoint.

02 of 06

Nars Afterglow Lip Balm

best-lipstick-for-dry-lips-Nars Afterglow Lip Balm

This lip balm is infused with a blend of antioxidants to condition lips—and comes in a gorgeous shade lineup that has an uncanny ability to flatter every skin tone (trust me, I have references).

03 of 06

Charlotte Tilbury Hyaluronic Happikiss Lipstick Balm

best-lipstick-for-dry-lips-Charlotte Tilbury Hyaluronic Happikiss Lipstick Balm

This 2-in-1 lipstick and lip balm is infused with hyaluronic acid, emollients, and peptides that reduce the appearance of vertical lip lines (read: younger-looking lips).

04 of 06

Fenty Beauty by Rihanna Fenty Icon The Fill Semi-Matte Refillable Lipstick

best-lipstick-for-dry-lips-Fenty Beauty by Rihanna Fenty Icon The Fill Semi-Matte Refillable Lipstick

I know it says semi-matte, but this formula goes against everything you know about traditional matte lipsticks. The high-pigment, low-maintenance lipstick is packed with moisture-plumping hyaluronic acid, conditioning vitamins C and E, and lip-loving amino acid technology to give lips a bouncy texture. If you're looking for a hydrating red lipstick, this is a great option. Fun fact: The unique bullet shape is inspired by Rihanna's iconic Cupid's bow for uber-precise application.

05 of 06

L'Oreal Glow Paradise Balm-in-Lipstick

best-lipstick-for-dry-lips-Loreal Glow Paradise Balm-in-Lipstick

Formulated with 92 percent natural ingredients and plant-based waxes and oils, this affordable drugstore pick has attracted a cult following for its cushiony, buttery formula that colors like a lipstick and hydrates like a balm.

06 of 06

Tarte Maracuja Juicy Lip

best-lipstick-for-dry-lips-Tarte Maracuja Juicy Lip

Remember the Lip Smackers collection you hoarded in the '90s? This tinted lip balm/lipstick fusion is the more modern version, infused with natural moisturizers and vitamin E that temporarily plump your lips. The pigmented formula will never feel goopy on your lips (or have hair stick to it). Plus, it smells like coconut!

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