What a Difference a Lip Line Makes…

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A while ago (it may have been last year, or even the year before that), I mentioned that I had been comparing recent and old photographs of myself and trying – in a highly scientific and objective manner – to identify which changes to my face were the most ageing. (You’d think it would be difficult to look at your own face in an objective way, but if you’ve spent a decade or more as a model, with people zooming in on your nose and lips and keeping up a running commentary about your eyelid colour or the spacing of your teeth, then you learn to be as detached as possible!)

One of the things that I noticed was that it looked as though my lips were losing their volume. And as lips tend to get less plumptious with age (pretty much everything gets less plumptious with age, as collagen production slows down), it follows that thinning lips can make you look a little less youthful. I asked my friend Caroline Barnes about this (Caroline is a very experienced and in-demand makeup artist and knows all sorts of cosmetic trickery!) and she said that it’s not just about the lips losing volume, it’s about the lip line losing its definition, which in turn makes the lips seem much smaller.

We did actually film a video along these lines, if you’ll excuse the pun, and you can watch it here – but it’s only in the past few months that I’ve properly taken Caroline’s advice on board. (Shame on me!) She suggested using a lip liner to redefine the lips and, if they’re lacking in volume, “cheating” a bit more of a curve. My lips don’t really lack volume, but they do lack a little definition and so I’ve been using a nude lip pencil to subtly trace along the outer lines.

And does a lip liner make a difference?

Too right it does! I’ve taken to using one every time I do my makeup – what have I been playing at for all of these years? It’s like an instant lip overhaul! Sometimes I put it on even when I’m not wearing any lipstick, sketching the faintest of lines and then using a plain or tinted lip balm over the top.

Take a look at my “with and without” pictures – I’ve used a pink lip liner, which might seem odd, but I thought that it was good to choose a shade that was a little noticeable, so that you could see where I’d drawn it on, but also subtle enough for you to get the idea of the final effect. I don’t go about with pink lip liner on and no lipstick normally, rest assured! Here I am without lip liner:

Does Lip Liner Make A Difference?

and with:

Does Lip Liner Make A Difference?

Can you see how the extra definition gives a fuller look? I was careful not draw outside of my actual lip line, because this post is about redefining and not about using liner to “enlarge”. That’s a brilliant cheat, but a whole other story – I always think that’s quite a specific skill, and I’ve had many a makeup artist botch it up on my face, leaving me looking clown-like and slightly grotesque.

Here’s a close-up without lip liner and then with – again, excuse the pink. I thought that it would be helpful to be able to see it, but now I wish I’d taken the photos using a nude one!

Does Lip Liner Make A Difference?

Does Lip Liner Make A Difference?

Note how my lower lip line is sort of smudgey and non-descript in the before picture; the liner just gives a nice, definite edge and reasserts the lip boundaries, for want of a better phrase. Lips look fuller, but the application method is foolproof – it’s basically just tracing what’s already there.

I realise that I’m probably very late to the lip liner party – I never really understood the need for it, before, but it’s bloody great stuff! A lip pencil matched exactly to your own lip shade is a thing of great magnificence (at the moment I’m using one that’s had all the writing rubbed off, so I can’t even tell you what brand it is let alone the shade!) and I shall now never be without one.

I also realise that this post is stating the obvious almost to the point of hilarity. I mean, “for redefined lips, take a lip pencil and trace around your natural lip line.” It’s all rather Pippa’s Tips. But there must be other people out there who have never thought to delve into the world of liners, especially if they don’t wear lipstick.

Tell me: are you a lip liner aficionado? Or is it one of those makeup items you’ve never bothered to try?

© 2018 A Model Recommends®: all opinions are my own and any sponsored or paid posts will always be clearly marked as an AD in the title. I accept press samples and receive product and services to review as part of my job. *Outbound links are affiliate links, which means that I receive a very small percentage of any sale made. This does not affect my content in any way and does not cost you anything, but you are most welcome to Google the products on a new page if you prefer. Please see here for full "about" section and disclaimer. A Model Recommends and Ruth Crilly are registered trademarks.



  1. Mary
    May 19, 2017 / 8:16 am

    A lip liner makes much of a difference, the lips look more defined. Dior’s lip liner in the colour “Grège” is my favorite. I must admit that often I am too bored to bother though.

  2. Danielle Breachwood
    May 19, 2017 / 8:27 am

    Becoming a teenager in the late 90s with all that Mac Spice (and then darker shades of brown) and nothing but gloss in the middle look (where your lip line looked like a beard basically) I have pretty much avoided lip liner my entire makeup life as that is the association for me- dark or badly matched and over done!

  3. Becks
    May 19, 2017 / 8:47 am

    I’ve been using a pink colour which looks really obvious. Never thought of the beige idea, ta!

  4. Teeniep
    May 19, 2017 / 9:10 am

    I’m a relatively recent convert. Over the last two years I’ve used at least 6 Charlotte Tilbury’s pillow talk lip cheat. It’s amazing as it matches my lip colour and goes under any colour lipstick or gloss. It is different to other liners as it seems to hug the lipstick and really truly stops it from bleeding. I’ll never use another!

    • May 19, 2017 / 1:47 pm

      Oh yes, that’s a good one! I shall dig it out. x

      • Anne-Marie
        May 22, 2017 / 12:12 am

        I love that one but the pencil wears down much more quickly than my other lip pencil brands.

  5. Sandie
    May 19, 2017 / 9:36 am

    Hi Ruth, thank you for this post. I have always avoided Lip Liners – could never find one that was a good colour, easy and gentle to apply (all those harsh pencils of the 90s!) and thought it was totally unnecessary but after watching your video with Caroline, I can see just how much I need one! Makes such a huge difference :)

  6. May 19, 2017 / 10:12 am

    Lip liner is an absolute must for me! Lighter pink and nude shades look quite chalky against my dark skin without using a lip liner from MAC i.e. Cork, Chestnut or Plum.

  7. Lucy
    May 19, 2017 / 10:22 am

    I have experimented with a couple recently but my lips are incredibly dry so I find they can look cakey and unnatural. So if you’ve got any tips for good brands to try, I’d love to hear them. I want something that’s soft and smooth to apply, looks natural, and stays put! x

    • May 20, 2017 / 9:45 am

      Boots No 7 Precision Lips pencil – I use “Nude”, but there are a few nice colours. Very moisturising, long lasting and a bargain

      • Jacqui Hossack
        July 17, 2017 / 5:28 pm

        I’m with Natalya! No7 Nude is the one thing I always buy every time there is a £3 off coupon on the go… & surprisingly Top Shop!
        For those who are giving Beauty Pie a go (subscription but you choose the items. Paying a fraction as all the ‘extras’ like fancy packaging etc are taken off) their lip liners are great… if looking for an alternative to Charlotte Tilbury or Huda Beauty…

    • May 20, 2017 / 5:43 pm

      Lucy, the Barry M lip liners are excellent. I have really dry lips also, but can wear them all over. H x

  8. May 19, 2017 / 10:36 am

    Yes! Lip liner, who knew! I have also rediscovered it recently. Not stating the obvious at all, I loved this post. The Pippa’s tips part, ha. H x

    • May 19, 2017 / 1:46 pm

      “Use ice to cool your drinks down on a hot summer’s day..”

      • Jane
        May 19, 2017 / 2:04 pm

        OMG, seriously??!! I had a feeling she’s an airhead but that confirms it!

        • May 19, 2017 / 7:32 pm

          It was something along those lines.. Read the buzzfeed thing I linked to! Very funny. I didn’t read the book so feel bad jumping on the pisstaking wagon but the jokes that came out around that time were just too good!

  9. Maja
    May 19, 2017 / 10:48 am

    Great coincidence. I just got my first lip liner last week. I quite like the effect.
    I love your blog, fantastic reviews, particularly for foundations! And you have a wonderful sense of humor.

  10. May 19, 2017 / 11:19 am

    I’m not an avid lip liner wearer but I should really get into it! x

    – Eternalleigh.blogspot.com

  11. Suez
    May 19, 2017 / 11:59 am

    It makes a massive difference – wow! Ruth, do you know which brand/shade the pink liner is? x

    • May 19, 2017 / 1:45 pm

      Yes it’s BITE from Sephora, shade 002 x

      • Nina
        May 20, 2017 / 7:41 am

        I love Sephora cosmetics. I always stick up when I go on holiday!

      • Nina
        May 20, 2017 / 7:42 am

        I love Sephora cosmetics. I always stock up when I go on holiday!

  12. Dee B
    May 19, 2017 / 12:17 pm

    Really does make a difference on you Ruth, looks lovely. Just wait for the joys that lie 10/15 years ahead when some lipsticks start to bleed up those little lines around the mouth :O I’m fine with a reasonable quality liner and lighter shades of lipstick but still haven’t found a rock solid liner that won’t let any bleed past it in richer more pigmented shades. I tried a ysl neutral one but it’s a slippy silicony feel and it might be great for some but it doesn’t work for me – I don’t get on with silicone. If any of your readers have any tips for lip liner that forms an impenetrable barrier , I’d really love to hear them.

    • May 19, 2017 / 1:45 pm

      I’ll get onto a bit of research! xx

    • Jane
      May 19, 2017 / 5:16 pm

      Hi Dee, it’s not a liner, more of a lip primer/base, but I have always found Guerlain Lip Lift to be really effective for preventing lipstick from feathering. Hope that helps!

      • Dee B
        May 19, 2017 / 10:29 pm

        Brilliant, thanks Jane I’ll check it out and yay Ruth, that would be great.

  13. Maria
    May 19, 2017 / 12:32 pm

    I’m turning 36 this year, so yeah, losing lip defifnition, and I do love this trick. However, my lips are naturally pink, so if you could share what liner was used in this post, I’d be most greatful. My biggest issue though is that lower lip is asymmetrical and it becomes more evident the older I get… Thank God for all lip products out there.
    P.S. Much love from your Russian fans!

    • May 19, 2017 / 1:44 pm

      Yes it’s BITE from Sephora, shade 002! xx

  14. May 19, 2017 / 12:33 pm

    Lovely post and this tip isn’t necessarily obvious to me as most people think of lip liners and lip pencils as a way to cheat and make the lips bigger, but only a few people talk about redefining the lip contour! My lips are naturally quite pigmented and well-defined, so lip liner isn’t something I need (yet), but the difference in the before and after pictures is quite impressive!


  15. May 19, 2017 / 12:36 pm

    It is one of the items that I, against better knowledge, never really bother with. I am naturally thin lipped and 38, so I should better get myself a lipliner before they disappear completely from my face.
    Oh, and I think the pink was a smart choice.

  16. May 19, 2017 / 1:13 pm

    Hi Ruth, thank you so much for talking about this. I’m 40 and about a year ago, I really started to notice my lips losing definition on the outer bit that we use lipliner on, how sad…But I had been using lipliner before often already. Biy now it has also become an essential when I can be bothered, which is, usually, when going out or for business appointments etc. Women in their late 30s and above will love this article. My favourite lipliner had been a natural rose one from Jacques Dessanges. I’m so scared it gets discontinued. NY other favourite one from n°7 has been discontinued. I’m gutted. I should have bought them by the dozens…Ladies, do this when you find your perfect one. You will thank me:-)

  17. Eliza
    May 19, 2017 / 3:05 pm

    Ha. you’re a funny one Ruth. :) No apologies necessary, especially on the topic of lip liner as for some rando and possibly illegitimate reason, I think women may avoid them for their 80’s and possibly even 90’s ‘heavy’ more obvious make up vibe? To add to that, it’s sort of one of those so obvious, so it must be rubbish ‘tricks’ that we don’t bother. But you know what, you reminded me that lip liners *are* genius for subtle definition. Lately I’ve just been using matte lip colors in a stain manner…but missing the defined edge. I’m gonna dip my toes back into the lip liner game. Brill post per us. :))

  18. Waxed Bat
    May 19, 2017 / 3:48 pm

    Charlotte Tilbury lip liners have been a game changer for me. I’d never been a fan of them.before but Pillow Talk and Pknk Venus are on my lips on a daily basis even if I don’t have anything else on. It just seems to add a touch of colour and definition and the rest I can get away with. They post!

  19. May 19, 2017 / 4:13 pm

    I use a nude lip liner just to emphasize my cupid’s bow and the bottom center line of my lower lip. I read about this tip in an old YM magazine from the late 90’s and it’s stuck with me since.

    • May 19, 2017 / 7:31 pm

      Oh that’s good! Probably all you need, actually – I’ll experiment with that tomorrow! x

  20. Chelsea
    May 19, 2017 / 6:25 pm

    Quick Q (seeking an A) (like M seeking F? Yes? I laugh at my own jokes.): which lip line do you follow personally follow? The pink portions of my lips are smaller than the formed part. I have quite a sharp Cupid’s bow, and bits of the physical lip are my normal skin color. Do you line only the pink section to reinforce the pink or the actual lips themselves no matter the color?

    I do hope this makes sense. I’ve had this question for years and have avoided lining because of it.

    • May 19, 2017 / 7:30 pm

      Haha! Oh God, I honestly have no idea what you mean. I need a sketch! When you say the formed part, what do you mean? We need to do a skype call!! : )

      • Chelsea
        May 25, 2017 / 10:39 pm

        18 years later and I’m just now responding? Seems about right. It’s as the lovely Evelyn stated below: there’s a bit of a white border (?) between my lip pigmentation and the physical edges. I think I tried lining to the physical line once when I was 12 and don’t have fond memories of it. Probably has something to do with being a heavy-handed tween with a mauve Clinique lip liner that did not match my actual lip color in any way, shape or form… Skype may be necessary, though half the time would most likely be me squishing my face like a living Rorschach trying to illustrate my point.

        • May 25, 2017 / 10:45 pm

          Hahaha!! Sounds like an amazing skype call, it’s a date! : )

    • Evelyn
      May 22, 2017 / 8:07 am

      Hiya, I know what you mean. Caroline Barnes recommends lining the line of the actual lips for a fuller look, so you are joining up the white / skin coloured border of your lips with the pigmented inner lips. I do that when I am trying to achieve a fuller look. On more subtle days I stick to just filling in the pigmented inner lip line.

      Hope this helps!

  21. Susan
    May 19, 2017 / 6:32 pm

    MAC’s “Half Red” lip liner is a good one if you’re going to wear a rose, or reddish lipstick. It’s a darker neutral, really more a medium shade. I use it a lot. I still use “Spice”, also.

  22. Gisela
    May 19, 2017 / 7:51 pm

    I must admit that although I love seeing all the trendy ombre and brights I myself never could bare fussy lipstick.
    It must be comfortable and nothing I mean NOTHING must stick to my lips. If a stray hair should attach itself I smear it off immediately. I like the way you do your lips Ruth. Mostly just your lips but better. I gross out when they are literally dripping glossy slobbery looking things.
    As you get older the lip liner becomes your best friend as the lips seem to disappear sadly.
    and wrinkle up.
    Nice post and good reminder as its just been a bit of balm and out the door for me lately.

    • May 19, 2017 / 11:10 pm

      Me too!! I hate anything touching my face full stop. Stray hairs drive me mad. Nightmare situation: when someone in a car opens the window and all your hair sticks to your face. UGH!!

  23. Tanya
    May 20, 2017 / 12:38 am

    Gosh this post is too funny!! Stating the obvious, but you’re certainly not alone :) I’ve just ‘discovered’ lip liners after never using them, and they make such a difference just by defining the edges – my mum asked if I’d had my lips done!

  24. Helen
    May 20, 2017 / 3:27 am

    Agree on the lip line, the other one is brows – mine are blonde and virtually invisible at the tails, and adding a bit of colour back in makes such a difference to my face as I age.

  25. Nina
    May 20, 2017 / 7:48 am

    All my ‘edges’ have blurred as I’ve got older. I like Rimmel’s Spice, which is a natural lip shade (unlike the MAC version). I have to colour my lips in now with the liner, as they have started to lose their pigment. Lipstick looks much better and lasts if I do this – plus when the lippy does wear off I am not left with ghost lips!!!!

  26. Meredith
    May 20, 2017 / 3:41 pm

    Hi Ruth! I absolutely love the shirt you’re wearing in the pics – is it a recent purchase? I want want!!

    • May 20, 2017 / 10:00 pm

      Equipment, The Outnet! May still have one if you’re lucky… x

  27. Sophie
    May 20, 2017 / 11:42 pm

    Now that I’m practically 103, lip liners have suddenly appeared on my horizon as surprisingly useful. They not only define the lip as you demonstrated, but they also stop the dreaded liptstick bleed into lines, which horror I am now experiencing. I use a soft coloured lip liner under my red lipstick as a dark, strong colour in lip liner somehow looks more aging, not less. The fine lines we girls have to tread……..

  28. May 21, 2017 / 1:06 am

    I never used to bother with lip liner but now I love it just because it makes my lips look so much fuller! x

  29. bella
    May 21, 2017 / 3:39 pm

    I love the Sephora gel lip liners. They are only $12. and I line my lips and also fill them in and they make them so much fuller!

  30. Carla
    May 21, 2017 / 6:24 pm

    Hey Ruth,
    Love your blog!
    Good reviews and I love your sense of humor.
    Greetings from Holland

  31. Ali
    May 21, 2017 / 8:04 pm

    I love lip liners, so much so I often wear it all over my lips, with no lipstick. I have sooooo many liners, from cheap £1 Essence pencils right up to Estee Lauder, MAC and,Charlotte Tilbury. It’s an addiction lol. My absolute favourite has to be Nude Suede Shoes from Nyx, at the moment. I found lipcare to be as important as any other skin care, when I hit my 30s and 40s. I use Kiko lip exfoliator, and Manuka honey lip serum from Holland & Barret. I think my lips still loft pretty soft, and full for my age, and I can still wear my favourite matte products.

    • Evelyn
      May 22, 2017 / 8:08 am

      Essence lip liners are awesome. I love the nude one!

  32. Mansi
    May 26, 2017 / 11:41 am

    Lipliner is up there with winged eyeliner on things I need to practice. Seems straightforward enough, but there’s such a fine line between defined and overlined lips- and I tend to overdo it always. You’ve got it right though!

  33. Clare
    September 8, 2017 / 8:41 am

    Thank you so much Ruth! I haven’t worn any make up for years and I stumbled across your blog reading reviews for Laura Mercier lipsticks. I got pretty excited because you have the same hair and colouring as me so I feel confident to follow your recommendations. I have NEVER used lip-liner, (always been a smoky eyed lip-balm person), This post has be super helpful. Please never think all your readers are super sophisticated make up wearers, I need the bleeding obvious spelt out :D

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