It will surprise none of my regular readers to learn that if I could wear only one category of makeup for the rest of my life, it would be lipstick. (I could probably use nude lipstick as undereye concealer, right?…right?) I wear lipstick every single day. I’ve tried almost every color category of lipstick. I created a lipstick taxonomy, for God’s sake. But despite my passion for lipstick, a passion that has lasted the better part of a decade, I didn’t use lip liner until fairly recently. The reason will sound a little neurotic, because it is: I wanted to experience each of my lipsticks in its “purest” form, without adulteration. If I bought a lipstick, it was because I loved that particular mixture of pigments and respected the craftsmanship behind it. I didn’t want anything to alter the delicate balance of warm and cool tones in NARS Mysterious Red or the subtle dustiness of Urban Decay Backtalk.
But tastes change, and sometimes it takes me a while to figure out how unflattering a lipstick truly is. That happened last year when I was trying to use up Urban Decay Revolution Lipstick in Streak, a slightly sheer pinkish peach. I realized that Streak had a white base that clashed with my cool olive undertones, and that I’d be better served by a muted peach. But I was so close to finishing the tube; I couldn’t give up now! Enter lip liner. A layer of Milani Color Statement Lip Pencil in Nude, a deep MLBB shade, neutralized Streak’s white base and produced a more flattering brownish peach.
Around the same time, I discovered that liquid lipsticks looked less wonky when I took the time to outline my lips with liner in a similar shade. That was the period when I was falling in love with the Wet n Wild Liquid Catsuits, and I ended up buying lip liners to go with Missy & Fierce and Nice to Fuchsia. I took to outlining my lips with a pencil, smudging that line inward, and then applying the liquid lipstick just to the inside of the line; or else applying the lipstick first, then penciling in a line to clean up the edges.
I present all these methods as if they’re glorious revelations, but they’re literally how you use lip liner; I was just too stubborn and lazy to learn. Now, a year later, I have a respectable collection of seven lip liners, one in almost every color category. And what better way to express my newfound appreciation of lip liner than with a post featuring the whole family? From left to right, we have NYX Slim Lip Pencils in Pumpkin, Mauve, Cabaret, and Bloom; Milani Color Statement Lipliners in Nude and True Red; and Barry M Lip Liner in Plum.
|Lip liner: not the most photogenic beauty product.|
(Even within this tiny sample size, there’s disagreement over whether “lipliner” is one or two words. Personally, I incline toward “lip liner,” but then I run into the awkwardness of having to hyphenate the phrase when I use it adjectivally, as in “lip-liner collection.” That looks pretentious, but it’s correct, damn it.)
Swatches, top to bottom: NYX Pumpkin, Milani True Red, NYX Bloom, NYX Cabaret, NYX Mauve, Milani Nude, Barry M Plum:
These three formulas are quite distinct from each other, which is convenient for review purposes. I’ve tried just the one shade from Barry M (£2.99), and I’d say it has the driest formula of the three. It’s a very traditional lip pencil: good for outlining, but a bit too dry and patchy to use all over the lips. The Milani liners ($3-$5) lie at the other end of the texture range: they’re very soft and creamy, which makes them good for filling in lips but less good for outlining. As you can see from the photo of Nude above, it’s almost impossible to sharpen these liners into fine points. Finally, the NYX liners ($3-4-ish) are somewhere in the middle: fairly creamy and opaque, yet hard enough to retain a fine point and sticky enough to hold lipstick in place. (Note: these are the Slim Lip Pencils, not the slightly pricier Suede Matte Lip Liners, which are terrible.) The only other formula I’ve tried is the ColourPop Lippie Pencil (cringe). Frenchie didn’t impress me much, but I have another shade, 951, on the way as we speak. Now that ColourPop has had three years to tweak its formulas, I’m hoping the lip pencils have improved. Review to come! Probably!
For the record, lip liner is one of the beauty products, along with mascara and lip gloss, for which I refuse to pay non-drugstore prices. I’ve heard great things about Kevyn Aucoin’s Flesh Tone Lip Pencils and Charlotte Tilbury’s Lip Cheats, but I’m not going to drop $25 on a lip pencil when $3 NYX pencils do the job just as beautifully and come in a wider array of shades. (I say this now, but check back with me in six months.)
And now for some individual reviews, in alphabetical order! To give a better idea of the colors, I’ve applied each liner all over my lips, but I don’t wear most of them that way. I’m assessing these lip liners as lip liners, not as lipsticks, so it’s not a dealbreaker if they’re not perfectly opaque in the swatches below.
1. Barry M Plum
Color Description: Dark purple.
Favorite Pairings: Wet n Wild Goth Topic. It also works decently for MAC Antique Velvet, but isn’t quite brown enough.
2. Milani Color Statement Lipliner in Nude
Color Description: Pinkish beige.
Favorite Pairings: Revlon Rosy Future, Wet n Wild Nudist Peach.
Notes: This is by far my most-used liner, though its creaminess makes it better for all-over coverage than for precise outlining. When I wear it under gloss, my lips look…pretty. They look almost sensual. And, as the owner of smallish WASPy lips that (to the best of my knowledge) have never once been described as “sensual,” I need all the help I can get. Where Nude really comes in handy, though, is for muting too-bright coral lipsticks. Below, we have a creepy triptych of Nudist Peach on its own (top), Nude on its own (middle), and Nudist Peach layered over Nude (bottom). If you wear one “nude” lip product over another one, do your lips become extra-nude, or do the two nudes cancel each other out? I could probably get a Nobel Prize for figuring out that one.
And a full face with Nudist Peach over Nude:
3. Milani Color Statement Lipliner in True Red
Color Description: Bright blue-based red.
Favorite Pairing: Wet n Wild Missy and Fierce.
Notes: This is another creamy liner that could work as a lipstick in a pinch, though it feels too thick and waxy to wear that way.
4. NYX Slim Lip Pencil in Bloom
Color Description: Bright magenta.
Favorite Pairing: Wet n Wild Nice to Fuchsia.
5. NYX Slim Lip Pencil in Cabaret
Color Description: Muted berry red.
Favorite Pairings: Maybelline Smoking Red, MAC D for Danger, MAC Eugenie.
Notes: This is my second-favorite lip liner, with the chameleonic ability to adapt to most colors I pair it with. I always want to call it “Cabernet” instead of “Cabaret,” though. Doesn’t that make more sense?
6. NYX Slim Lip Pencil in Mauve
Color Description: Brownish pink with a hint of taupe. Cooler-toned than Milani Nude. Not mauve. I’m not sure there are more than five people currently working in the beauty industry who know what mauve is.
Favorite Pairings: Pat McGrath Madame Greige, Urban Decay Backtalk.
7. NYX Slim Lip Pencil in Pumpkin
Color Description: Red-orange with gold pearl.
Favorite Pairing: No idea.
Notes: I’ve owned this for three years (original review here), and have never worn it out of the house. I’m not even sure what prompted me to buy it in the first place.
And that’s it! Let’s talk about lip liner. Do you use it? Do you write it as one or two words? Do you think high-end liners really are worth it?