I Tried To Figure Out If Lip Liner Really Matters

by Miki Hayes

You've likely heard that behind a good lipstick day is a good lip liner. Liners are meant to make your lipstick look better and last longer. But how much of a difference does lip liner actually make? Sometimes I wear it, and sometimes I don't; but I've never really kept track of how much it improves the wear of my lipstick. So it's about time I put it to the test to see how much of a necessity lip liner truly is.

For this little experiment, I decided to try three different formulas: a gloss, a cream lipstick, and a matte liquid lipstick. I first wore each formula without lip liner before pairing them each with the same lip liner to see if there was a significant difference in how each product wore throughout the day (no touch-ups allowed). And because red is a color notorious for requiring lip liner, this is the shade I selected in all three formulas.

Lip gloss inherently doesn't have amazing lasting power, so I was more curious about opacity and feathering. Instead of testing how well it lasted through a meal, I just measured how long it took for the gloss to bleed into the lines around my lips. Lipstick, on the other hand, I wanted to see how it held up not only to time but also to food. While I couldn't control for what I ate on each of these red-lipstick days, I did make sure to chow down on something at least slightly messy while testing. Here's how each red lippy held up with and without lip liner in the face of time and food.

For all of the pictures below, the picture on the left is immediately after application, and the picture on the right is from the end of the testing period.

Lip Gloss

Without Lip Liner

MAC Vamplify Lip Gloss In Suggestive, $20, MAC Cosmetics

While this lip gloss is pretty opaque and super comfortable on the lips, I only got one hour of wear-time out of it before I felt it needed to be touched up. I don't think I have very prominent lines around my lips, yet this bled almost immediately. From far away the wear of this lip gloss appears mostly the same from the beginning of the hour to the end — but up-close, there is quite a difference.

As you can probably tell, the picture on the right shows this gloss lost slight opacity over the hour, but significantly bled near the corner of my mouth. Without lip liner, this gloss needs to be touched-up relatively frequently.

With Lip Liner

MAC Vamplify Lip Gloss in Suggestive + NYX Cosmetics Slim Lip Pencil in Plush Red, $4, Walgreens

Even though this gloss is already pretty opaque on its own, the lip liner amped up the coverage. And although I did not eat or drink anything while testing this gloss, adding the lip liner tripled the wear time for me. It wasn't until the three-hour mark that I felt I needed to touch up some slight feathering.

While this side of my mouth fared worse than the other, the lip liner still could not contain the gloss for long. I definitely recommend using a lip liner with a pigmented gloss such as this one, but if you want to prevent feathering even longer, use a reverse lip-liner or concealer around the edges of your lips as well.


Without Lip Liner

Marc Jacobs Beauty Le Marc Lip Creme Lipstick In Dashing, $30, Sephora

Although this lipstick is supposed to be a cream formula, to me, it wears more like a demi-matte. I do usually wear this particular lipstick with a liner, so I was surprised at how well it lasted all on its own. I was able to clock seven hours of wear and eat pizza before I felt I needed to touch up. In fact, as you can see, at a distance it almost still looked like a fresh application. Only once you look a little closer can you tell that the pizza did a little damage.

I have no complaints about how well this lipstick lasted through the day and two slices of pizza. Sure, the color faded a little and the edges don't look as sharp as they did immediately after application, but it's still passable.

With Lip Liner

Marc Jacobs Beauty Le Marc Lip Creme Lipstick In Dashing + NYX Cosmetics Slim Lip Pencil in Plush Red

This is one of my go-to red-lip combos, so I had faith in its lasting power. And it did not do me wrong. While I didn't quite feel like I needed a touch-up, I took my "after" photos at the seven hour mark — the same amount of time I wore this lipstick without the lip liner. I actually made it through three smaller meals without this lipstick significantly fading or feathering.

While the lip liner did help the lip color stick a bit better and keep the edges sharper throughout the day, I have to say, with a demi-matte formula, a lip liner may not actually be necessary unless you need that next-level staying power.

Liquid Lipstick

Without Lip Liner

Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick In Fiery, $24, Amazon

Without a lip liner, this liquid lipstick wore perfectly until around the six-hour mark when I started to notice some cracking. As long as I didn't smile, it was totally unnoticeable. But if my lips were pulled taut, I could see lines of my natural lip color where the lipstick had cracked. However, this isn't abnormal for me with lipsticks that do dry completely matte, so I continued to wear it through my pasta dinner for another two hours.

While I don't think my lipstick would have necessarily looked like this after eight hours had I not had an oily dinner, the angel hair did cause significant fading and wear. Even though a lip liner isn't always necessary with a liquid lipstick to prevent feathering, it might have helped prevent so much fading during a meal.

With Lip Liner

Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick In Fiery + NYX Cosmetics Slim Lip Pencil In Plush Red

I don't usually wear lip liner with liquid lipsticks, so I had high hopes for the longevity of this pair. And it didn't let me down. While I still experienced some cracking around the six-hour mark, I couldn't see my natural lip color through the cracks because of the lip liner. I had Chipotle for dinner, and continued to wear this combo for the full eight hours I wore the liquid lipstick without the lip liner.

I'll admit it's possible that what I ate had an effect on how well this liquid lipstick lasted with versus without lip liner. However, it's still always impressive when a lip look can last through food and eight hours of wear without needing a touch up. While I probably won't start wearing lip liner with liquid lipstick all of the time from here on out, I may think to add that protective layer if I know I'm about to eat something particularly messy or greasy.

So, do you really need lip liner?

Lip liner can be a really handy tool. It can make your lip color wear longer, prevent the edges from feathering or fading, and even boost the intensity or opacity of your lippy. But do you always need to layer one under any lipstick? No. Depending on how bright of a color you choose to wear and its formula, you may be able to get along just fine without a lip liner.

While you may want to use a lip liner with a glossy or creamy formula in a brighter or darker color, nude and neutral hues, as well as matte or demi-matte formulas are generally safe to wear sans lip liner. Of course, if you just like insurance regardless, want some next-level staying power, or even want to mix your own custom color by layering a different-colored lip liner under your lipstick, then, yeah, you'll probably want to keep some of these pencils around for your ideal lip look.

Images: Miki Hayes (13)