For decades, lip liner has been a tried-and-true staple in makeup artists’ kits for creating the defined pouts seen on icons (like Naomi Campbell and Pamela Anderson), “It” girls (like Lori Harvey and Alexa Demie), and pop stars (like Dua Lipa and Kali Uchis). Sure, applying liner before lipstick is a great way to sketch an outline for a cleaner, more immaculate application. But lip liner isn’t just a precursor to lipstick; it’s a product that, on its own, can create depth and shadowing, quickly defining and enhancing your lips and tying your makeup look together. When I spoke to my friend and makeup artist Mollie Gloss about the power of lip liner, she said adding one both finesses and finishes your makeup look, as it can build the structure to create totally different moods depending on the shade and tone you choose.
But not all lip liners are created equal: Some are twist-up, others pencil, and some are crayon formulas, all of which feel and wear differently on the lips. But what’s great about lip liners is you needn’t shell out a ton of money to purchase an excellent one. In fact, some of my personal favorites are cheaper than my weekly oat-milk-latte order.
Below are four truly excellent lip liners, all priced at $7 or less.
For Easy Blending
I picked up this one from ColourPop on a whim during a recent trip to Ulta and fell in love with it immediately. The crayon formula is ultrapigmented and waxy, which lets you easily create smooth, clean lines. With just a quick tap or two of your fingers, this liner also blends seamlessly into your bare lips or lipstick without bleeding out over your lip line or overly smudging the edges, creating a natural-looking contour to the lips. It also has excellent staying power — last weekend, it held up through a pasta dinner. My favorite shades are BFF (a warm chestnut brown) and BFF 3 (a deeper mocha). I’m going to Ulta next week and plan on purchasing another one of these because I need a backup in case of emergency. That’s how much I love it.
For Natural Overlining
This pencil from NYX is one of my favorites for when I want to do a really subtle overlining of my lips and ensure that it stays totally natural looking. Unlike the ColourPop, which is more of a waxy crayon and tends to draw a thicker line, this pencil can be sharpened for a super-precise fine line. It has a nice creamy formula that glides on easily and is great for softly overlining your cupid’s bow without looking too dramatic. But what I personally love most about this lip liner is its shades. Obviously, “nude” is completely different for everyone depending on their skin tone, but for me, its shade Natural is an almost identical match to my lips’ own coloring, making it the perfect choice for overlining. For more melanated skin tones, I’ve been seeing folks sing the praises of both Espressoh and Nutmeg on TikTok as well.
For Smudge-Free Long Wear
The major pro for twist-up lip liners is that you don’t have to sharpen them. I spend far too much time sharpening liners, which can be particularly cumbersome and annoying when you’re in a rush and have misplaced your sharpener (this, as you know, is not uncommon). This liner also has really great staying power, so you don’t have to worry about constant touch-ups throughout the day or evening. I’ve tried (and loved) the brand’s blue-red shade Relentless Red for wearing underneath my Pat McGrath lipstick in Elson, but I plan to get the liner’s warm-caramel shade Keep It Spicy next time I go to Ulta.
An Iconic Nude Dupe
Charlotte Tilbury’s Lip Cheat Lip Liner in Iconic Nude is one of my all-time favorites. It’s a cool-toned, pinky-taupe brown that’s a little bit darker than my lips’ natural color, so it gives a nice subtle contour. I’ve long looked for a dupe, and the closest I’ve ever come is the All Natural shade from Milani, which is creamy, applies smoothly, and is a quarter of the price of Lip Cheat.
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