Asking For Myself: Do Lipstick and Lip Liner Have to Match?

Megan thee Stallion with a pretty lipstick/liner combo


During the 1990s, one of the hottest ways to rock a lip combo was to pair a dark lip liner with light-colored lipstick. Fast forward to the 2000s, and a pale lipstick shade with hardly any visible liner was one of the trendiest looks of the moment.

Styles tend to move in cycles, and sure enough, lip liner is majorly back. But do you have to use one to create a beautiful lip color? According to LYS Beauty founder and CEO Tisha Thompson, the answer is no. “I tend to think makeup is done best when there are no rules, but lip liner can absolutely enhance the wearability of a lipstick,” she says. 

When pairing a lip liner with lipstick, it’s important to lean into your creative freedom. Lipsticks and lip liners do not have to be the same shade to look stunning. “Mixing and matching your makeup products is how you can create a look that’s uniquely your own,” Thompson says. Conversely, Bobbi Brown Cosmetics pro artist Michele Shakeshaft says there is a shortcut to a stunning combo: “I like to keep the lip pencils and lipsticks in the same color family,” she says.

Meet the Expert

Ahead, Thompson, Shakeshaft, and celebrity makeup artist Katie Mellinger share their favorite tips and how-tos for pairing lipsticks and lip liners.

01 of 07


The classic red lip has been a makeup staple for decades, but the application can get messy. Mellinger says she typically chooses a red liner that matches the red lipstick she’s applying to achieve a precise lip: “That way if I make an error along the lip line when applying the lipstick, I can just adjust the lip line with the lip liner."

If you want to switch it up and add a bit of a contour to the lip, Mellinger recommends going for a brick-red color with a brown undertone like that of Pat McGrath Labs' PermaGel Ultra Lip Pencil in Living Legend ($29). “One of my favorite long-wearing lip colors is Lime Crime's Velvetines Liquid Lipstick in Red Velvet ($15), [paired] with Charlotte Tilbury's Lip Cheat in Kiss and Tell ($24)," she adds. 

For traditional red lipsticks, Thompson will typically choose a lip liner just a few shades darker. “The LYS Speak Love Moisture Matte Lipstick in Rich AF ($20) is the perfect red lipstick shade to pair with like shades," she tells us.

Another useful pro tip? Choose pairings with similar undertones, as Shakeshaft recommends. “I use a lip pencil with a similar undertone, or a neutral-based pencil if the client wants to tone down the brightness of the lipstick,” she says.

02 of 07


When it comes to brown lip looks, choosing the right combo often depends on your skin tone. “Brown is a neutral shade, so for brown lipstick, I suggest using a nude that matches your lip color exactly,” Mellinger says. Her brown lipstick hall of famer? The NARS Audacious Lipstick in the shade Deborah ($34). “It has just a touch of red in it and legit looks good on everyone," she says, adding that its perfect match is the brand's Precision Lip Liner in Spunk ($24); the true brown tone deepens the color for added dimension. 

Brown shades that can complement many different skin tones are must-haves. “The LYS Speak Love Lip Liner in Devoted ($15) can be a staple for so many makeup collections because it’s a flexible shade that can accommodate a wide range or deeper complexions,” Thompson says.

03 of 07


For pink shades, Shakeshaft says there are multiple directions you can go in. “If you like a softer pink, you can use a neutral-based pink lip pencil," she says. "This will keep the pink lipstick from going bubblegum pink. I like Luxe Lip in Pink Cloud ($40) and Lip Pencil in Ballet Pink ($28) from Bobbie Brown.” 

Using brown lip liners with pink lipstick shades can also yield stunning results. Thompson uses this strategy "to make the shade more flattering on [her] skin tone."

Mellinger suggests either matching the lip pencil with your lipstick for a precise finish or adding contour to the lip with a deeper shade of pink. “Pinks run the gamut, so you want to make sure you’re aligning the undertone of the lipstick to the lip liner,” she explains.

04 of 07


Brown lip liner is an MVP for orange lipstick because the two colors complement each other well. Thompson recommends pairing lip liners such as the MAC Lip Pencil in Chestnut ($22) or NYX's Slim Lip Pencil in Espresso ($5) with LYS Beauty's Speak Love Moisture Matte Lipstick in Joyful ($20) or Charlotte Tilbury's The Super Nudes Matte Revolution Lipstick in Cover Star ($34).

Shakeshaft likes to go deeper with a red or coral lip liner as a spunky way to add even more pop to the lip. Mellinger concurs: “I absolutely love an orange, red-orange, or coral lip. Those look gorgeous on anyone,” she says. “I like to match a true orange liner with a true orange matte lipstick like the Trixie Cosmetics Matte Lipstick in Model Actress ($16).”

05 of 07


While there are many different shades of purple, Mellinger points out that the hues tend to lean more toward blue or red. So paying attention to the detail of the undertone makes all the difference. “For true purples, I might pair Lime Crime's Velvetines Liquid Lipstick in Scandal ($15) with the Charlotte Tilbury Lip Cheat in Bad Romance ($24),” she says. 

Thompson recommends keeping it in the same family when choosing a liner to pair with purple lipstick. “Deep plum is ideal for purple or mauve-toned lipsticks," she advises. "Sticking with the purple family will accentuate the tones in the lipstick without pulling the shade into a brown tone."

06 of 07


Nude is all about a natural-looking shade that is unique to the individual. According to Shakeshaft, you can take a nude color in lots of different directions, but it almost always starts by using your skin’s undertone as a guide to finding the right shade. “If someone has a cooler undertone to their lips, any lipstick that doesn’t have a cool undertone to it will usually pull orangey or warm,” she says. 

“If your lipstick is very pale, for the lip liner I [recommend matching] the color of the lip but a step or two deeper in the shade to give the lip more weight,” Mellinger says. 

For a clean nude lip, sticking to a brown liner that is only one or two shades darker can define your pout. Or you can opt for a mauve lip liner for a rosy tone, as Thompson advises. “There are no rules here,” she says.

07 of 07


As bold as it may be, you can get super creative with black lipstick by using the right technique. “You can always play with deeper color lip pencils to add a bit of Bordeaux or plum to the black lipstick,” Shakeshaft says. “If you don’t have dark lip pencils laying around, grab an eyeliner.” 

The key is to avoid straying too far away from the original dark shade when choosing a lip liner for black lipstick. “Stick with a dark, black lip liner for black lipsticks to control bleeding and color transfer," Thompson advises. "For added vibrancy, outline the lips with concealer to make the color pop more."

“If a black lipstick is truly opaque, any lip liner used underneath is going to completely disappear,” Mellinger says. “Luckily, some brands do have black lip liners like the KVD Beauty Everlasting Lip Liner in Skully ($20) and Make Up For Ever's Artist Color Pencil in Whatever Black ($22)."

Related Stories