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What is Lip Liner?

Jessica Ellis
Updated Jan 29, 2024
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Lip liner is a cosmetic product used to outline and define the lips. Available from dozens of brands and in a rainbow of colors, lip liner can be applied to create subtle enhancement or make a bold statement. Makeup experts are split on the proper use of lip liner; like many cosmetic products, its popularity waxes and wanes in accordance with current fashions.

Most lip liners resemble a pen or pencil in design. Pencil lip liners typically need periodic sharpening to retain correct shape and enable easy applications. Liquid or pen-like liners sometimes include a mechanism to push more liner up through the applicator as needed. It is also possible to have permanent lip liner through the use of tattoos and permanent makeup application.

Lip liner is often used in conjunction with lipstick or lip gloss, to create a fuller, more filled-in appearance. Because the skin texture around the edge of the mouth can be somewhat uneven, lipstick can sometimes be difficult to apply evenly. Some people may also use liner out of a desire to create more definition around the edge of the mouth, or even to create an altered lip shape.

According to some makeup experts, lip liner should be matched with lipstick and should not be more than one shade darker or lighter. Typically, the product is used before applying lipstick or gloss, to give a defined outline for these secondary products. To make lips appear larger, color can be drawn on just outside of the natural line of the mouth. A smaller mouth can be achieved by drawing lip liner just inside the natural edge of lips. Lipstick is then applied inside the defined area for a completed look.

Some people choose to use the product to create a bold statement, and may use dark or unusual colors to draw attention to the mouth. Although typically found in shades of red, pink, brown, and orange, some lip liners used for special looks are available in other colors, including white and black. Using unusual colors or wearing contrasting liner is far from a subtle statement, and is certain to gain some attention.

Since colors often look different on the packaging as opposed to when applied, it is important to engage in trial-and-error to find the best shades. Some companies offer coordinating sets of liner, lipstick and gloss to ensure that shades match to create a subtle or bold look. When trying to match products from different brands, try to find a beauty supplier that has samples available or will allow the return of beauty products that have been opened.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis , Writer
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for WiseGeek. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.

Discussion Comments

By cmsmith10 — On Jan 01, 2011

@carrotisland: Yes, you can get permanent lip liner. You can also get permanent eye liner. Cosmetic tattooing has been around for a long time. It was first used by the ancient African and Mediterranean cultures. You can get cosmetic lip tattooing through most tattoo artists and some cosmetologists.

Before you decide to get this procedure done, there are several things you should consider. First of all, you need to make sure it is done by a professional who has experience in this kind of tattoo. Most people who do this professionally will have a portfolio to show you their work.

Second, you need to make certain that the color you choose is one that you will want to have on your lips for the rest of your life. There are several neutral tones that do have the look of natural lip liners.

By CarrotIsland — On Dec 30, 2010

Is it true that you can get lip liner tattooed on your lips? If so, does it look like natural lip liner?

Jessica Ellis

Jessica Ellis


With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
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