My first-ever lip gloss was purchased at a beauty supply store in Brooklyn's East Flatbush neighborhood. It came in a rollerball, was available in a dizzying amount of scents (I was partial to fruit punch and mango), and cost me a grand total of $1.99. It carried me through school picture days and dances, and gave me the mirror-like shine only cheap glosses can offer. I've since graduated to more sophisticated formulas (my mom bought me M.A.C LipGlass at the start of middle school as a rite of passage), and have become something of a lip gloss connoisseur. I can often be found layering at least three different glosses to get my ideal combination of shine, texture, and comfortability. So, when I say I like a gloss, I mean it.
My criteria is fairly simple: It must be shiny, easy-to-wear, and can't cost a million dollars. Preferably, it'll be less than $20—hence the theme of this post. Ultra-sticky glosses are a no for me—well, with one exception, but we'll get to that later—and I don't want it gunking up in the corners of my mouth after a few hours of wear. Because any clear gloss that rolls across my desk gets a fair shot, I've tested a bunch in my time as a beauty editor. Below, I've rounded up the ones that have passed my very critical test—none of which break the bank.
The Best $3 You’ll Ever Spend
The Essence Shine Shine Shine Lip Gloss reminds me of my childhood favorite sans the artificial scent, and has all the trappings of a good go-to gloss. It's really shiny (sometimes distractingly so), and is so cheap I stock up by the handful. It can be a little sticky if you apply too much but wears off nicely after a few hours.
Essence, Shine Shine Shine Lipgloss, $3, available at Ulta.com.
The Gloss For Anyone Who Hates Lip Gloss
The first time I tried this lip gloss—err, lip oil—I thought I'd never wear anything else again. It's ultra-hydrating (it's packed with jojoba, almond, and rosehip oils), and gives my lips a shiny finish. It's a good option for anyone who hates traditional gloss—the texture is practically weightless and it has zero stickiness.
NYX Professional Makeup, #THISISEVERYTHING Lip Oil, $6, available at NyxCosmetics.com.
The Gloss That’s Not Really A Gloss
The least glossy of the bunch, the Kopari Coconut Lip Glossy is more of a shiny lip balm, but I would be remiss not to include it on the list. It's typically my base layer (remember what I said about layering?), but makes my lips feel good. Plus, it's petroleum-free and smells so good you'll want to reapply throughout the day.
Kopari, Coconut Lip Glossy, $13, available at Sephora.com.
The One That Makes Your Teeth Look Whiter
This smooth gloss has the subtlest blue tint—it goes on clear when applied, so it still makes the list—and highlights the white in your teeth. Bonus, it smells good and looks cool in-tube.
Fluide, Lip Gloss in Elsewhere, $12, available at Fluide.us.
The One That’s Actually Good For Your Lips
Few glosses check all the boxes—clean, shiny, and nourishing—but somehow the ShineOn Lip Jelly from Tower 28 Beauty fits the bill. It has the feel of a balm, the shine of a gloss, and is also petroleum-free.
Tower 28 Beauty, ShineOn Lip Jelly, $14, available at Tower28Beauty.com.
The Goldilocks of Lip Gloss
I hate to call anything "perfect," but the Lime Crime Wet Cherry Gloss comes pretty close. The doe-foot applicator is oversized—a plus for anyone with bigger, cushion-y lips—which makes it easy to get lots of shine in just a few swipes. It's also lightweight and non-sticky. It really is... extra poppin'.
Lime Crime, Wet Cherry Gloss in Extra Poppin', $18, available at LimeCrime.com.
The OG Option You Can’t Help But Love
I'm the first to admit that M.A.C Clear Lipglass has its issues, but the shine is undeniable. As my OG young adult gloss, I can't help but be loyal to this formula—even if it can become sticky when I apply too much (which is always). The key to mastering this gloss is using just a little—try layering with a shinier balm and popping this in the center.
M.A.C, Clear Lipglass, $17.50, available at Nordstrom.com.
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