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How to Apply Lip Liner – Tips and Tricks for an Elevated Look

Last Updated: October 12, 2021

If you’ve stayed away from lip liner for fear of clown mouth or looking like Joey’s agent Estelle from Friends, it’s time to set your mind at ease and discover all of the wonderful things lip liner can do. All you need to do is learn how to apply lip liner! 

Not only does lip liner make lips appear fuller, it also ensures a neat line and helps lipstick stay in place. That’s right, lip liner actually keeps clown mouth at bay (when done right, of course). Read on for the best way to apply lip liner and take your gloss, satin, or matte lips to a new level.

How to Apply Lip Liner

First, Prep Your Lips

  • If your lips are really chapped or flaky, you may want to exfoliate them prior to lining. While exfoliation helps to take away dead skin and smooth lips, it can also lead to small tears if you’re too rough. This turns into more chapped lips, so treat lips with extra gentle care.

For a quick DIY lip exfoliation, mix 1 teaspoon of cane sugar with olive oil until you have a rough paste. Gently move the paste across lips (avoid harsh scrubbing). Follow up with a moisturizer, ideally 20 minutes before applying lip liner.

  • Moisturize. Ideally, you’ll want your lips to be soft before applying liner for smooth application, but they’ll also need to be dry. If your lips are oily, liner and lipstick won’t stick. Put moisturizer on lips before bed so it has ample time to sink in.
  • Pick your shade. For a natural look, you’ll want a lip liner shade that closely matches your skin tone. For bolder colors, your neutral lip liner will still work, but you can also use a matching color or one shade darker than your lipstick for extra pop.

Application (Step-by-Step)

  1. Lips should be clean and dry. If you recently applied moisturizer that hasn’t fully soaked in, wipe it off with a tissue.
  1. Optional: dab a bit of concealer around lips and blend into your lip line. This is necessary if you are planning to overline your lips since it blurs your lip line.
  1. Starting with the center of your top lip (also known as your cupid’s bow), make an “X” shape from the highest point of your lip diagonally down, crossing over the center of your top lip. Repeat on the other side to finish your “X” shape.
  1. Working from the center outwards, follow your natural lip line (or slightly above if you’re overlining) with small strokes to the outside corners of your top lip on both right and left.
  1. On your bottom lip, start in the center and work to the outsides on both right and left.
  1. Swipe on your lipstick and rub your top and bottom lip together for even coverage.
  1. Take a lip brush, tissue, or finger and blend your lip liner and lipstick together.

Going the Extra Mile

If you want to go above and beyond, here are some extra tips to expand your lip liner skills. 

  • If you’re feeling fancy, dot a bit of gloss in the center of your lips to make them appear even larger.
  • For extra long-lasting lipstick, fill in your lips completely with the lip liner and then add lipstick on top. Lip liner is a sticky base and hangs on to color longer.
  • Try an ombre lip by using a lighter shade of lipstick in the center of lips, a slightly darker shade of lipstick towards the outside, and a dark lip liner (major ‘90s vibes). Don’t forget to blend everything together!

What to Avoid When Applying Lip Liner

  • Overlining your lips too much. Yes, lip liner can be used to fudge your lip shape and make it appear larger, but it’s a very fine line (no pun intended) and can easily turn bad. If you’re overlining, less is more.
  • You forgot to blend. Similar to eye shadow, blending can make or break your lip liner. Don’t forget to blend in your lipstick with a lip brush, a tissue, or your finger for a cohesive look.
  • Your lip liner connects at the corners of your mouth. This leads to a major clown look. This area of your lips has the most contact and rubs together every time you talk, sip, or smile, which means it’s a high-smudge zone. The top and bottom lip liner should disappear into the corners of your mouth and should not visibly connect.
  • Your neutral lip liner doesn’t match your skin tone. Everyone knows the struggle of finding the perfect foundation base to match their skin tone – finding a neutral lip liner is no different. Since this shade should mimic your natural skin, remember to match your skin’s undertones (cool, warm, or neutral) with a similar lip liner. Read a guide to finding your undertone if needed. 
  • You didn’t sharpen your lip liner before application. You’ll need the most precise point possible so always aim to sharpen your lip liner pencil before application. If you find your tip is always breaking, stick the lip liner in the fridge before sharpening.
  • You didn’t warm up the lip liner. Okay, so your lip liner is cold and sharpened, but the application is still not quite right. For effortless swiping, warm up the newly sharpened tip on the back of your hand first.

Bottom Line

We hope you learned everything you need to know about how to apply lip liner! Lip liner, while once a scary and untamable beast, is a great way to elevate your natural look and kick up your lip colors. Lip liners also have extra staying power and ensures your lip line never looks choppy.

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