‘How Do I Overline My Lips Without Going Overboard?’

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photo: Getty Images

Dear Beauty Editor,

I notice lots of people on TikTok overlining their lips, and the results look really good, but every time I try it, the liner looks so obvious and my mouth just looks bigger. How do I do it so my lips look fuller and poutier in a good way?


Every overlining journey is unique, so what works for you may be completely different than what works for the people you follow on social media.

Let’s first get into the makeup. At its simplest, overlining is a technique that “reworks your natural lip line to be believably fuller,” says makeup artist Jenna Menard. The key word is believably. She suggests using a matte pencil to trace just outside (a millimeter at most) your natural lip line. The shade you choose will depend on your lip color, your skin tone, and the finished look you’re after. But, generally, a pencil close to your natural lip tone works well. Menard suggests Rare Beauty by Selena Gomez Kind Words Lip Liner, which comes in ten shades; Jones Road the Lip Pencil, which comes in eight shades; and Exa All Smiles Bare Lip Liner, which has seven shades. After your lips are lined, she suggests filling them in with a balmy-matte lipstick like Violette_Fr Bisou Balm. I also like the ColourPop Blotted Lip, and I’m mildly obsessed with the new (refillable) Prada Beauty Monochrome Soft Matte Lipsticks.

If you’ve already tried a simple version of overlining and didn’t love the results, it could be time for a more advanced technique, where you adjust the natural shape of your lips to correct any (perceived) imperfections or asymmetries and add targeted fullness. How you do that will depend on your lip shape and personal preferences, but makeup artist Donni Davy says a good place to start is by softening the points of your Cupid’s bow — if you have one — and contouring beneath the center of your bottom lip. To do it, think of your Cupid’s bow as two mountain peaks and use a liner close to your natural lip color to round out the peaks and make the valley between them shallower. “Use sketchy strokes and a light hand,” Davy says. If you like how it looks, you can adjust the contours more or hide the Cupid’s bow completely for a pillowy look. Then, to make your bottom lip appear poutier, Davy suggests using a pencil that’s slightly darker than your skin tone to contour (or sketch a faux shadow) beneath the center of your bottom lip, just beyond your natural lip edge. Davy’s makeup line, Half Magic, has gorgeous double-sided pencils that would give you both shades you need: The Half Magic Sculptitude 2-in-1 Lip Liner in I Have Needs/I’ll Pray for You works well on light to medium skin tones, and the Ur My Taupe/Badassery shade is great for medium-dark to deep skin tones.

My final advice is to slow down. Makeup artists and content creators speed up their videos and edit out all the sketching and blending and correcting, which makes the results seem easier to achieve. But good makeup takes time! If you start out slow and subtle, stepping back to assess your work frequently as you go, the results will be all the better for it.

Now, I have to ask this: Are you checking your makeup in a mirror or phone? Because both have their downsides. With the mirror check, you’re comparing your real self to a video or photo with professional lighting and (more likely than not) a filter or retouching effects. If you saw any of the content creators you follow in real life, their makeup would probably look pretty “obvious” too. (As someone who attends many industry events with the same influencers that populate your feeds, I can tell you their makeup often looks heavy-handed IRL.) And if you’re checking your makeup in a selfie photo or video, then don’t forget that the image is distorted. Self-facing smartphone cameras widen the center or your face and make your chin look smaller, making your mouth appear “bigger” — perhaps in a way you don’t like. (In a recent study, plastic surgeons who were researching how selfie cameras make noses look larger also found that a selfie taken from 12 inches away increases the ratio of nose-to-chin length by 17 percent.) You may know, logically, that it’s futile to compare yourself to videos online and that the camera distorts your features, but it’s good to remember that — and to be kinder to yourself! — as you’re figuring out the best way to line your lips.

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