How Lipstick Works

Lipstick Application: Puttin' on the Lips

A contestant in a "Miss World" beauty competition applies her lipstick using a shiny car as a mirror, November 1953.
Thurston Hopkins/Picture Post/Getty Images

­Being exact isn't all that important with sheer or light-colored lipsticks, but messy application of dark lipstick can look especially bad. Lipstick essentially redefines the shape of the mouth, so how it's applied can mean the difference between looking put together and looking sloppy.

Using lip liner can help. It often comes in a pencil or liquid application with brush. In addition to creating precisely defined lines, it can also prevent lip color from "bleeding" outside the edges of the lips onto the skin. This can happen especially if you have wrinkles or lines around the mouth. The lip liner creates the outline, which is then colored in with lipstick.


It's important to choose a color that is either a neutral or one shade darker than the lipstick. Start at the center of the upper lip and draw a thin line out to the corners, then switch to the lower lip and do the same thing. If you have small or uneven lips, you can make them appear larger and more symmetrical by going along the outside of the lip line. To minimize lips, draw more along the inside of the lip line. One way to make sure that the lines are straight is to space out dots along the edge of the lips and draw lines between the dots.

Keeping lips moisturized can make lipstick go on better, but lip primer can also be used. It usually contains conditioners like vitamin E and aloe. Manufacturers claim that it fills in creases and wrinkles, makes lipstick glide on smoother and makes it last longer. Some people also apply foundation or powder to the lips prior to putting on lipstick to provide more staying power, or even fill in the entire lips with a neutral lip liner as a base.

Next comes the lipstick. It can be applied straight from the tube or with a small brush. Some people actually trim their lipsticks using a razor blade to provide a cleaner line, as the tips tend to get blunt with repeated use. Start at the center of the lips and work outward, being careful to stay inside the lines. Blotting the lips with a tissue can help make sure that the texture is even, and adding another layer will deepen the color. To set the lipstick, some people also lightly powder it with a loose face powder. This doesn't work with glossy lipsticks because it will make them look cakey, but can work well with matte or creme lipstick.

While the lipstick tube has been around for less than 100 years, lipstick has been used in some form for thousands of years. We'll look at the origins of lipstick on the next page.