How To Rock Bright Lips Without Looking Like A Sad Clown By Noon

I thought I would never have the skill or patience to rock a true red or a deep purple, and then I learned a time-saving trick that actually works.
Publish date:
April 25, 2014
lipstick, lip liner, lip pencils, long lasting lipstick, bright lips

I don’t know about y’all, but I have a very complicated relationship with bright lipstick. I love the way it looks on other people. I even love the way it looks on me. But over the course of the day, I start re-thinking whether or not it’s worth the effort. Such as, I’m in a cab en route to a meeting wearing my favorite orange-red and my lips start to feel cakey and dry so I dab a bit of Aquaphor on top. Then, somewhere between good to see you and let’s discuss next year’s strategy, I realize (okay, I’m told) said lipstick has traveled to my left incisor. I mean, no love lost -- it happens to everyone. But as a gal who values comfort as much as, if not more than, style, I’d rather play it safe with a little gloss than gamble my dignity on a fashion statement.

But then I have a change of heart. Usually I’m sitting in some hip, undone restaurant and the hip, undone waitress saunters over with lips the color of, like, the most unnatural neon-y shade of pink you can imagine. As she’s casually listing the specials of the day (a.k.a. something with kale, something with beets), I’m seduced into giving this bright lipstick thing another go. Because she makes it look so good. And so easy. There’s no dryness or flaking or telltale line emerging around the edges of her lips. Not to mention -- let’s be honest -- whatever she’s wearing is so much more confident and badass and interesting than f-ing lip gloss.

This scenario has played out more than a few times over the last several years. Since, I’ve amassed a rather extensive collection of some of the best of the best when it comes to aggressive lipstick shades: MAC Ruby Woo, Diorific Dolce Vita Red, Nars Schiap (pronounced skee-ahp -- you’re welcome) and Tom Ford Black Orchid to name a few.

Now, all of these products are amazing in their own right. They go on rich and velvety and full of personality. But somewhere between my first sip of soy latte and my pre-lunch snack of stale Twizzlers and Diet Coke, things go awry. The color feels like dry clay on top of my once-moisturized lips. Then it starts to travel to the outer corners or flake off in certain sections. And before I know it, what was once very “Mad Men” is now just…insane person mad.

So I enlisted the help of Ricky Wilson, a good friend of mine who also happens to be an amazing makeup artist. I thought he was going to give me a long list of application tips, including powder and blotting papers and some sort of, I don’t know, finishing spray that locked everything in place. “Nah,” he said. “Just use a good long-wearing lip liner.” I stared back at him, confused. “And what else?” “Just lip liner,” he said. “Like, instead of lipstick.”

His advice was kind of funny to me, because every time I’ve purchased a bright lipstick, the sales girl has tried to sell me a lip liner as well. The thing is, I’m kind of lazy when it comes to my beauty routine and I hate extra steps. So sometimes I listen to her, sometimes I don’t. Most recently, upon purchasing my first tube of MAC Ruby Woo, I actually listened, and also walked away with their Cherry Lip Pencil ($15), although I’ve never once used it. And while Ruby Woo is one of the most long-wearing formulas I have in my lipstick arsenal, it does start to fade a few hours down the road. So. On a Saturday afternoon I ventured out of my apartment wearing MAC Cherry Lip Pencil and nothing else. That is, I had clothes on! But beyond a bit of Nivea lip balm, the pencil was doing all of the work.

And it lasted for about three hours, through a cup of tea, a trip to the dog park and a 20-minute phone conversation with a friend. By the time I made it back inside, it was starting to fade somewhere in the middle. Which, really, is pretty impressive for a highly pigmented red. Side note: I filled in the faded area with Ruby Woo, which was faster than re-drawing the liner and worked just fine.

On Sunday I was feeling more Nicki Minaj than Betty Draper, so I tested out Make Up For Ever Aqua Lip #16C ($19), a bright, matte pink that’s extremely similar to my favorite Nars Lipstick shade, Schiap.

Let me tell you, this stuff is gold! I should note that I prepped my lips a bit better than the day before by applying a bit of tea tree oil -- both tingling and moisturizing at the same time -- and scrubbing gently with a toothbrush to lift any dead skin, (Confession: sometimes I use a tweezer to pull off errant flakes. It kind of reminds me of that cringe-y scene in “Charlie Wilson’s War,” where Julia Roberts separates her eyelashes with a safety pin, but it does the trick), but this waterproof pencil did not budge. Not even a little. In fact I forgot I had it on right before dinner and the only thing that would take it off was a Garnier Soothing Remover Cleansing Towelette ($5.94). I immediately ran over to Sephora and picked up four more shades: Pomegranate Pink #19C (the perfect bright berry), Red 8C (a true red) and Bright Orange #17C (a cheerful tangerine).

While I was there I added Make Up For Ever’s Lip Liner & Concealer Pencil ($19) to the mix because Ricky said it served as a good base. I mean, I was already sold on the simplicity (and efficacy!) of the lip liner pencil alone concept. And here I was venturing back into “more than one step” territory again. But I’ll try anything once. Maybe even four times. So I figured, why not give it a go? I was looking for something close to Volga, which is a shade in Nars’ Pure Matte Lipstick collection that is 90’s cool and yet also timeless cool, like Doc Martens or flight jackets. Turns out Marnie is their deepest plum shade (and it’s not that deep), so I cheated a little and used Velvet Matte Lip Pencil (a lipstick hybrid) in Train Bleu instead. I have to admit going over my lips with the color-canceling concealer pencil before filling them in with a lip color that is so dark it’s almost black felt counterintuitive, but the end result was worth it: the concealer acted like an anchor for the Elvira-esque shade and also added a bit of creamy texture.

So there ya have it. I’m not saying I’m giving up lipstick for good. Lipstick has its time and place, especially if you’re going for a creamier, more buildable look. Oh, and if you’re willing to put in the effort to stay on top of touchups, which sometimes I am, really. But if you’re having one of those marathon days where you can barely stay on top of your text messages let alone remember to look in the mirror (and, yet, bright red lips would be the PERFECT accent with that cute floral dress you have on), a simple lip liner is the pretty much fool-proof the way to go.

What are your favorite products and tricks for creating a longwearing lip?