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It's no secret that we use makeup to highlight our features, but enhancing the lips has always come down to one small tool: lip liners. While they were used by every beauty maven more regularly in the '90s and early 2000s, the emphasis on lip liners decreased over the years. But now, much like many nostalgia-driven trends, they're back.
"I know there was a time when lip liners were not in style, but they were always in style in my book," said celebrity makeup artist Nydia Figueroa. When it comes to applying lip liner, the immediate use that comes to mind is to create fuller-looking lips, but that's not all there is to it.
"There's a lot of different reasons to use lip liner. I think the top three reasons would be: A) You want to define your lips better; B) You want your lipstick to last longer; [and] C) [You want] to prevent feathering or bleeding from a lipstick or liquid lip," celebrity makeup artist Christin Cook Zito explained.
"A lot of times when you wear lipstick, especially as you age and get a little bit of the fine lines around your lips, it's very common for lipsticks to gradually blur the edges of your lip and go outside of your lip line," Cook Zito added. "That's what I would call the bleed of a lip [product]. That is specifically what lip liner prevents."
What to look for in a quality lip liner
In a quality lip pencil, celebrity makeup artist Azra Red recommends looking for something that will apply smoothly. "Sometimes you have a client in your chair that might not have exfoliated lips...so you definitely want something that glides on smoothly. That's really important when I apply it," she said.
Another important quality? Staying power! "I usually use pencils...to outline and color the lip as well, because I use it as a stain," Red explained. "Once I do that and then I apply a little bit of lipstick, my clients usually don't have to reapply. Even if the lipstick comes off while they eat or something, there's still usually a stain from the lip pencil underneath."
When it's time to apply, don't be afraid to use your lip liner or pencil as the star of the show! Cook Zito shared that she does it with her own clients. "A lot of times when I'm working with a celebrity, I might just use lip liner on them instead of using a lipstick because [they produce] a beautiful matte lip and they don't get chalky or dry out the lips at all. I think it's an excellent choice to have in your purse because it takes up no room and it can do the job of two things."
If you're new to lip liners and don't know which color to start with, Figueroa believes every woman needs a lip liner in three colors: peachy nude, mauve-y pink and chestnut brown. While she notes that the choice ultimately depends on your complexion and personal aesthetic, she also recommends plum colors and a nice bold red.
When it's time to apply lip liner at the final steps of your makeup routine and you're trying to decide on the right lip liner color, Figueroa recommends matching or going a little bit darker than your lipstick color. "You want that lip color to pop so if you go a little bit darker, it's going to really amp up the color of that lip," she said.
If you're feeling down, Cook Zito recommends putting on a good lip color and watching how everything turns around from there. "The power of a great lip...is that it really can completely change your whole mood. If you're having a really bad day, you can throw on a bold lip and you feel completely different about the world and about yourself," she said.
Figueroa shared one final piece of vital advice when it comes to lip liners: Have fun! "I'm really excited that people are experimenting with lip liners again. Think outside the box with lip liners. Makeup is fun. It's fun to experiment [with] all the trends coming back so just go for it."
Best lip liners, according to makeup experts
"One of my favorite [lip pencils] that I've ever used is Sisley," Red said. It's made with ingredients like jojoba oil and aloe vera extract to nourish and hydrate the skin while providing long-lasting color in 10 different shades. "All of their makeup has skin care in it so it definitely feels...luxurious and it stays [on] pretty well," she added.
Every makeup artist mentioned the MAC lip pencil as a staple they keep in their kits. They love it for the wide range of colors available — almost 30! — and the quality of the product.
Figueroa noted that this lip liner has been a "cult classic" for the majority of her career. Aside from praising the color ranges, she said they work for every skin tone "from the fairest to the richest complexions."
"They're really created for the artists and there's a wide range of shades to choose from," said Red. This pencil is also a customer favorite with average ratings of 4.6 stars or higher on Ulta, Nordstrom and MAC's websites.
Cook Zito called this her "all-time favorite lip pencil." She noted that it has a gel formula, which helps the pencil glide over your lips and easily create your desired shape. "I often use it as a liner or as a lipstick...and you can just put a gloss over it to make it look more like a lip gloss," she said.
Cook Zito is also a fan of these waterproof gel lip liners from Pat McGrath Labs. "Sometimes when you use other kinds of lip liners, they come off really easily or you have to really dig in to get that definition in the shape that you want on the lip. When it's a gel formula, it's really easy to apply," she added.
Zito really likes these lip pencils from Urban Decay. "The color payoff is really great," she said.
They come in over 20 different colors with clear, nude and red options galore.
"I love, love, love the Jane Iredale lip pencil," Figueroa raved. This pencil has a 4.5-star average on Amazon and over 500 verified five-star ratings. It comes in 15 different colors, so there's something for every look. Figueroa likes this pencil when she fills in lips with a liner because it has a conditioning formula that makes for a good base.
For an affordable drugstore option, Figueroa loves these lip liners from NYX Professional Makeup. She calls this option "really inexpensive but super buttery."
Aside from the long-lasting six-hour wear and dozen pigmented color options, Figueroa emphasized one other (very cool) element of this lip pencil: It's self-sharpening! "How many times have you lost a sharpener? I can never find my sharpener when I need it and it's down to a nub," she said. With this pencil, just put on the cap and twist to keep your liner perfectly pointed for precise application.
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