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Expert Shopper Beauty

Best lip liner

Which lip liner is best?

When it comes to creating the perfect lip look, it’s more than a matter of choosing the right lipstick shade. Application is equally important, and to achieve a flawless one, you’ll need a lip liner.

Lip liners shape and define lips with crisp, clean lines, but that’s not all they do. They prolong the wear time of lip products, reduce smudging and prevent foundation from mixing with lip color. Some liners even bring out a lip color’s brightness, such as the top choice, Haus Laboratories Rip Lip Liner.

What to know before you buy a lip liner

Matching lip liner to lip products

In the world of makeup, one of the most challenging tasks is choosing a lip liner that matches your lip product. Finding the right one boils down to deciding the type of look you’d like to create.

If you prefer a natural look, opt for shades that match the lipstick or your natural lip color. If you can’t find an exact match, it’s OK to select the closest shade to either of these. For defined looks, including overlined lips or dark lip liner, use a few shades deeper or darker than the lipstick. Brown- and cinnamon-toned lip liner shades are especially popular for defined lip looks.

How to get the most out of lip liner

Lip liner application is more than just drawing lines with steady hands. You’ll need to prep lips with the right products and learn a few application techniques.

  • Exfoliate: Lip exfoliators gently buff away dry, dead skin on lips. They leave lips soft and smooth, which in turn results in a smoother lip liner and lip product application.
  • Prime: Lip primers provide a smooth foundation for lip product application and prolong wear times.
  • Sharpen: Lip liners wear down quickly; you’ll need to keep them sharpened to draw clean, smooth lines. Otherwise, worn-down pencils result in chunky, uneven application.
  • Perfect: Learning new techniques, like crisscrossing the bow of the lip or overlining, can take lip looks to the next level. 

What to look for in a quality lip liner

Pencil vs. retractable lip liners

Many people remain partial to classic pencil lip liners. They require sharpening for almost every use; however, some of these liners have caps with built-in sharpeners. One of the drawbacks of pencil liners, unfortunately, is that certain formulas have a tendency to splinter when they’re sharpened. 

Retractable or mechanical lip liners are self-sharpening and only require a few twists of the barrel to reveal more liner. They eliminate the hassle of traditional sharpening, though it may be challenging to create ultrathin lines with retractable liners. 


Most lip liners are available in matte or cream finishes. Matte lip liners are known for their flat, opaque color and dry formulas. They offer long wear times and hold onto lip products better than most cream liners. However, their drying formulas may result in feathering or flaking.

Cream lip liners have velvety textures that offer smooth application. Many of them are infused with nourishing ingredients that soothe and hydrate lips. One of the drawbacks of cream liners is that they rarely offer wear times as long as pencil liners. 

Long-wear lip liners

While most lip liners are designed to stay put for hours at a time, some people seek longer wear times to avoid touch-ups. Several formulas are specifically advertised as long-wearing, some of which promise wear times of up to 24 hours. Other liners are waterproof, smudge-resistant or transferproof. 

How much you can expect to spend on lip liner

Drugstore lip liners cost $3-$12, and you’ll need to look toward the higher end of the spectrum for better formulas. Several high-end beauty brands price their lip liners between $14-$25, whereas specialty formulas by these brands run closer to $35.

Lip liner FAQ

What’s the shelf life of lip liner?

A. Provided you keep lip liners clean and sharpened after every use, they may last up to two years before they expire. If you use lip liner frequently, there’s a good chance you’ll replace it much sooner. 

Can you use lip liner to shade your entire lip instead of lipstick?

A. Yes, and some people prefer this technique over using lipstick because wear time is generally longer. It’s worth noting that many lip liners have drying formulas, so you may end up with chapped lips at the end of the day.

What’s the best lip liner to buy?

Top lip liner

Haus Laboratories Rip Lip Liner

What you need to know: This creamy, high-pigment lip liner from Lady Gaga glides across lips and dries with a natural, demi-matte finish. 

What you’ll love: The liner is available in over a dozen shades to match natural lip colors and popular lipstick shades. It glides over lips smoothly and creates precise lines. Application is so easy that the liner is preferred for overlined lip looks. 

What you should consider: Some buyers felt the colors appear different in person and that the liners didn’t have the expected color payoff.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top lip liner for the money

Maybelline New York Sensational Shaping Lip Liner

What you need to know: Made by a much-loved drugstore brand, this creamy lip liner is a no-fuss option as a retractable, self-sharpening lip liner. 

What you’ll love: The lip liner has a no-smudge formula that won’t bleed or feather around lips. The shades are buildable and wear well beneath lipstick and lip gloss. A little goes a long way, so the barrel lasts longer than many pencil liners.

What you should consider: The liner is soft, and if you press too hard during the application, chunks may break off. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon and Ulta Beauty

Worth checking out

NYX Professional Makeup Slide-on Lip Pencil

What you need to know: While it’s a drugstore formula, many wearers are impressed with this lip liner’s high pigment and long wear time. 

What you’ll love: The liner has an opaque, matte finish that’s suitable to use with all types of lip products and lipstick finishes. The shade range is diverse and includes a few bolder colors for creative lip looks. The lip liner is acknowledged by PETA as cruelty-free. 

What you should consider: Several buyers stated it’s difficult to sharpen the lip liner without breaking it. 

Where to buy: Sold by Ulta Beauty

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Sian Babish writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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