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How to Apply Lip Liner, 2 Different Ways


Lip liner is a lot like primer: it allows your lip color to last without feathering or smudging. And while it's not usually the star of the show, this supporting player is a makeup bag must-have for creating long-lasting natural and dramatic lip looks.

If this is your first time using lip liner, don't stress. Coloring inside the lines (or outside) is much easier than it looks, especially when you take it slow. We're going to break it down step-by-step and show you how to apply lip liner like a professional makeup artist, below.

An image of ILLAMASQUA Lip Colouring Pencil Duo in Lust & Media

What You’ll Need

The lip products and tools you'll use to create a full lip look are exactly the same as what you'd use for a more natural shape. It's all in the technique (more on that below). No matter what lip look you're trying to create, here's what you need to get started:

  1. Lip Scrub: Lipstick looks its smoothest when your lips are at their softest. If yours feel dry or even a bit flaky, use a gentle exfoliant like NAKED COSMETICS' Vanilla Creme Lip Scrub to buff away dead skin. This lip scrub is made with vitamin E and moisturizing oils that rehydrate your lips and make applying lipstick easy (no tugging or patchy flakes). It also smells like vanilla, which basically makes it Lip Smackers' cooler older sibling.

  1. Lip Balm: Once your lips are smooth and even, keep 'em that way with a good lip balm. Choose a formula with SPF for daytime (yup, your lips can get sunburned, too) and an extra waxy one to hydrate your lips while you sleep at night. If you've already tried all the drugstore options and want something new, check out our guides to the lip balms and tinted balms that Ipsters love.

  1. Lip Liner: For natural daytime makeup looks, you'll want to choose a lip liner shade close to your natural lip color. For bold or brighter lip looks, choose a lip liner that matches your lipstick for easy blending. Pick up a set, like BELLE EN ARGENT Nextdoor 2D Creme Lip Kit, for a matching lipstick and lip liner pair that takes the guesswork out of color matching. You can also choose a slightly darker or contrasting shade to play with ombré effects or other blending techniques.

  1. Lip Brush (optional): It's totally fine to blend lip liner and lipstick with your fingertip or good old fashioned tissues. But if you're feeling like being extra precise, get yourself a lip brush. ROYAL & LANGNICKEL MŌDA® EZGlam Duo – Luscious Lips features two different lip brushes that you can use to create a variety of looks with ease. 

  1. Lipstick (optional): Yes, you can wear lip liner alone–it will define and fill out your lips for a less-pigmented, natural lip look. For more pigmented looks and textures, grab a lipstick. Not sure which color or formula to pick? Check out some of our favorite nude, matte, liquid, and red lipsticks for more inspiration.

  1. Lip Gloss (optional): Dabbing a matching lip gloss into just the center of your lips is one of the best hacks for faking a fuller pout. The subtle texture change makes the shape of your lips look even more pillowy. Of course, you can also layer it on top of your lipstick for a slick, glossy effect.  

  1. Concealer: You can use concealer to sharpen your lip line and to clean up any smudges. If you're overlining, take it a step further by actually applying concealer on the borders of your lips. This masks your natural lip line and makes it easier to draw on a bold new one.

An image of a model applying lip liner using a lip brush

How to Apply Lip Liner for a Natural Lip Look

Step 1: Prep Your Lips.

Use a lip scrub to gently brush off any dead skin and follow it with a lip balm to create a smooth canvas. You'll want to give the balm a couple of minutes to soak in before going in with color. (Tip: In a pinch, you can use a dry toothbrush or damp washcloth to manually exfoliate. Just remember to be extra delicate to avoid causing irritation or microtears in your skin.)

Step 2: Reverse Line with Concealer.

Dot concealer onto the skin just outside your lip line, working your way all around your top and bottom lips. Blend it into your foundation (or bare skin) with your fingertips or a damp sponge until it meets the borders of your lips.

Step 3: Line Your Upper Lip.

If you're using a traditional lip pencil, make sure the tip is sharp and fresh. You can draw some squiggles on the back of your hand to soften a too-sharp tip and warm up the product so it blends more easily. Start by making an "X" shape to define the highest points of your cupid's bow. Then, work your way out from the high points in short strokes until you reach the outer corners of your lips. 

Step 4: Line Your Bottom Lip.

Once again, you're going to start at the centermost point of your lower lip and work your way out toward the corners of your mouth, staying just inside the line of your natural shape. (For a slightly fuller look, reverse it and line your way from the outer corners into the center.)

Step 5: Fill 'Em In.

Run some lipstick across your bottom and top lips and lightly smudge them together to blend the color out. Then, take a closer look at your lip line and use your lip brush or fingertip to blend the lip liner into the lipstick. Once you're satisfied with the coverage and blend, blot your lips on a tissue, then dab a bit more lipstick onto just the center of your lips and rub them together again. Done!


Bonus Tips: 

  • If your color bleeds or smudges in the process, use a cotton bud to clean up the lines and reapply any concealer you may have wiped off. 

  • If you're worried about your color slipping off while you eat dinner or give bae a kiss, use lip liner to fill in your lips completely before going over them with lipstick. Lip liner is stickier (and often drier) than lipstick, so you won't see as much fading or feathering when you use it all over.

An image of a model lining her lips using a lip pencil

How to Apply Lip Liner for a Full Lip Look

Step 1: Prep Your Lips.

Same as above, gently exfoliate your lips with a scrub, toothbrush, or washcloth. Next, go over them with a lip balm and let it settle for a bit longer—up to 15 minutes—since this look calls for more precision.

Step 2: Prime with Concealer.

Dab the concealer right along your lip line and blend it out with a sponge or concealer brush until you can't see where your lips end and your skin begins.

Step 3: Overline 'Em.

Starting at your cupid's bow, use your lip pencil to draw short strokes on the skin just above the natural boundary of your top lip. Once you've defined it, do the same on the center of your bottom lip. This is where your lips naturally appear the plumpest, so it's a good starting point for determining how much (or little) you want to overline the rest of your mouth. From here, you can work your way out to the corners.

Step 4: Fill 'Em In.

Starting with your top lip, use the flat side of the pencil to extend your lip line down toward the center of your mouth. Repeat on the bottom lip, working upward from the baseline and inward from the corners. This technique creates a stickier foundation for the next few products. From here you can run a lipstick across your lips, blot, and repeat. 

Bonus Tip: For even more impact, dab lip gloss or a drop of illuminator onto just the center of your pout and diffuse it outward with a brush or by hand. You can also dust highlighter onto your Cupid’s bow to emphasize the fullness of your top lip even more.


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Article Last Updated January 31, 2020 12:00 AM