Lip liner has always been the unsung hero of our makeup bags. It often gets ignored while its cousin, lipstick, gets all of the attention. But there’s a lot more to liner than meets the eye—er, lips. You can use it to define your pout, prevent lipstick from bleeding, and make thin lips look fuller. In fact, Marilyn Monroe’s makeup artist, Allan "Whitey" Snyder, used a darker liner on the edges of her lips to create her signature contoured look.
Ever since I was a Nancy-from–The Craft wannabe teen lining my lips with black eyeliner and filling them in with red lipstick (hey, it was a look), I was aware of the power that lip liner could wield. While my lips are naturally pretty full, I always prefer to use a liner to define my Cupid’s bow and create dimension. “If you have full lips, lip liner can be your best friend because it can define your lip shape and give you some extra lip insurance underneath your lipstick or lip gloss,” says Stephanie Valentine, aka Glamzilla, the Toronto-based makeup artist and beauty influencer. While she lauds lip liner for its versatility, she does point out that certain formulas are better. “Gel formulas will glide better on the lips, while a traditional lip liner is better for shaping and defining,” she says.
I kept Valentine’s tips in mind when I was looking for the best drugstore lip liners to add to my arsenal. Thankfully, there are a lot of good options out there, but the one that got me immediately hooked was Covergirl Exhibitionist Lip Liner in Cherry Red ($6).
It has everything: rich pigment, velvety texture, and a self-sharpening pencil. The tip is precise and sharp on one side and flat and angled on the other, so whether I need more definition or want to fill in my entire lip, I can easily do so in a pinch. (Keeping that in mind if for some reason I stray from my habit of lugging around five red lipsticks at all times.)
Because Cherry Red is more of a coral-red, I thought it would be perfect to do a contoured look but something a little wilder—instead of another red, I opted for a bubblegum-pink matte liquid lipstick in the center! I used Suva Beauty's Moisture Matte Liquid Lipstick in Abstract Thoughts ($18) to create the ultimate summer Popsicle look.
Important tip: Keep in mind that lip liners (and lipsticks, for that matter) tend to build up around the lip area, leading to dry patches and clogged pores. Take care of your mouth by removing all of your lip product and using a scrub and mask at night. I like to use Beauty Bakerie Lip Whip Remover ($14)—it gets everything off—then Kopari Coconut Lip Scrubby ($16), and last but not least, Laneige Lip Sleeping Mask ($22) before going to bed.
More of the Best Drugstore Lip Liners to Try
With plenty of shades to choose from, this liner from Nyx Professional Makeup has a traditional tip for definition but a smooth formula for easy blending and filling in.
What’s better than a great lip liner? A lip liner that already has a pairing lipstick on the other end of it! The price for this two-in-one product cannot be beaten.
With 14 shades to choose from with this retractable liner, you’ll be able to create a ton of looks. Why not be adventurous and use two liners at a time?
No need to worry about your lipstick getting out of line (no pun intended) with this long-lasting liner from L.A. Girl.
Prettify your pout with this creamy lip liner from Drew Barrymore’s line. (She is a lipstick icon after all!)
This innovative gel liner from the cruelty-free brand Wet n Wild ensures comfortable, long-lasting wear for a fraction of the price of higher-end brands.
You’ll get a perfectly drawn-on pout that never feels dry with this L’Oréal liner, as it contains nourishing omega-3 and vitamin E.
Mented’s lip liners are waterproof, so you’ll be good no matter how many beverages you have at your desk that day.
You won’t be stressing about feathering with this liner if its smudge-proof formula has anything to say about it!
Two bucks—need I say more? This creamy formula comes in a range of shades to choose from.
The color payoff on these Milani lip liners is so good you’ll want to stock up.
Although your lips will feel soft and supple thanks to the presence of vitamin E and jojoba oil, you won’t have to worry about this stunning lip liner smudging.
Your lips are in for a treat with this vegan lip liner from The Lip Bar, which is Infused with both aloe vera and jojoba oil.
While the application goes on like butter, the pigments on these liners is also something to tell your group chat about.