The best lip liner

Matching your lip liner to your lipstick gives a natural, seamless look. Using a darker lip liner than your lipstick shade will help define your lips by adding contrast and dimension.

Full lips have always been en vogue. While lip fillers may be on the rise, you can enhance your lips sans needles by using a lip liner. By lining your lips, your pout looks fuller and more defined. Lip liners can also be used to fill in lips as a matte base for lipstick.

Lip liners offer a variety of looks depending on how you use them. For instance, overlining your lips with a bold liner will make your pout pop. A highly pigmented lip liner will stay put and extend the longevity of your lipstick, such as the popular Haus Laboratories’ water-resistant lip liner.

What to know before you buy a lip liner

Pencil

Traditionally, lip liners come in pencil form. While lip pencils are the most affordable form of liner, they also require frequent sharpening — and the purchase of a separate sharpener. Some brands manufacture their own sharpeners or feature one built into the end of the liner. A low-quality sharpener can shave off too much color or break the tip, so include the cost of a quality sharpener when considering the expense of a lip pencil.

Retractable

Doing away with sharpeners altogether, retractable lip liners come in a twist-up barrel that reveals a little liner at a time. All you have to do is twist the barrel when the tip gets low (1/8 inch at a time is the recommended amount). One downside of retractable lip liners is that they offer less product. On the upside, none of the color will be lost to sharpening and retractable liners are much more convenient.

Color

For a classic look, select a lip liner shade that matches your lipstick. Many lipsticks offer a matching lip liner. If yours doesn’t, select a shade that closely matches or is a lighter shade than your lipstick but in the same color family. For a defined and bolder look, select a color that’s one or two shades deeper than your lipstick but also in the same color family. For example, a red liner would be in the same color family as a red lipstick but would clash with a pink lipstick. For the most versatility, you can also purchase a lip liner that is as close as possible to your natural lip color to use with any lipstick.

Wear time

Not all lip liners are created the same in terms of longevity. Some can “kiss off” with eating, drinking and, well, kissing — or after a couple hours of regular wear. High-pigment lip liners offer long wear and can last for several hours. While lip liners advertised as 24/7 may claim all-day wear, read consumer reviews to get a more realistic sense of their wear time.

Lip liner features

Finish

While there are a number of finishes of lip liners, matte is the most popular finish because it stays put longer and smudges less than a satin finish. Matte lip liners lack shine and their color appears flat. Liners that offer a semi-shiny, satin finish often have a silkier formula that can smear more easily. Glossy finishes are also available and are best paired with a lip gloss.

Cream

Cream-based lip liners glide on easier than non-cream lip liners due to their velvety texture. They also often contain skin-nourishing and hydrating ingredients, such as vitamin E, jojoba oil and hyaluronic acid. Lip liners with a cream formula can smear more easily than more brittle pencils and often have a shinier finish. But you can also find longwear cream and matte lip liners.

Waterproof

For the ultimate test of how budge-proof your lip liner is, take a swim or engage in an activity that makes you perspire heavily. Or simply purchase a lip liner that’s advertised as waterproof. Even if you’re not planning on getting wet, waterproof lip liners have a long-lasting reputation. They can also be notoriously hard to remove. If your waterproof lip liner is too difficult to take off, opt for a water-resistant one instead.

Lip liner cost

Lip liners cost $4-$30. Expect to pay $15-$25 for a high-quality, pigmented lip liner with long-lasting wear.

Lip liner FAQ

Do I apply a lip liner before or after I apply lipstick?

A. You can use a lip liner in both ways. The advantage of applying liner before a lipstick is that it can help guide your lipstick application in the boundaries you’ve defined. By applying lip liner after lipstick, you can even out and sharpen the borders of your lipstick. There are benefits to both methods, and at the end of the day it comes down to personal preference.

What’s the advantage of filling in my lips with a lip liner?

A. Lip liner can hold onto pigment, much like a primer, and help your lipstick grip to your lips. By shading in your lips with a lip liner before applying your lipstick, you’ll extend the wear of your lipstick. You can also subtly amplify or adjust the color by using a liner under your lipstick.

Which lip liner should I get?

Best of the best lip liner

Haus Laboratories by Lady Gaga RIP Lip Liner: Available at Amazon

Our take: A highly pigmented lip liner with a demi-matte, longwear finish.

What we like: This long-lasting lip liner comes in 16 colors, from neutral to bold shades such as purple fuchsia. The application of this pencil is smooth. The formula is water-resistant, cruelty-free and vegan.

What we dislike: For some wearers, the color doesn’t last and feathers.

Best bang for your buck lip liner

NYX Professional Makeup Slim Lip Pencil: Available at Amazon and Ulta

Our take: This creamy, long-lasting lip liner costs under five bucks and comes in a whopping 35 shades.

What we like: Enriched with coconut oil, this hydrating lip pencil is creamy and applies smoothly. It doesn’t feather or bleed. It’s popular to pair with lip gloss. The formula is cruelty-free.

What we dislike: For some users, the pencil is too hard and the colors don’t match the shade swatches.

Honorable mention lip liner

Palladio Retractable Waterproof Lip Liner: Available at Amazon

Our take: An affordable, waterproof lip liner with rain-or-shine staying power.

What we like: This retractable liner never needs to be sharpened. The multiple color options also include dark shades. The color glides on smoothly and lasts all day. The colors are great and rival those of luxury brands. The nude shade is heralded as the “perfect nude.”

What we dislike: The lip liner can be drying, especially if you use it to fill in your entire lip.

Ana Sanchez is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.