How to Master the Art of Lipstick Layering

Updated 12/11/17

While our everyday makeup motto is “less is more,” when it comes to lipstick, it’s a whole other story. Why should we have to choose between a red or a nude? A metallic or a subtle sheer? That's where the age-old art of layering lipsticks comes in. What better way to indulge the more maximalism makeup impulses the holiday season brings out in us? NARS senior makeup artist Niko Lopez agrees: “It [adds] more saturation and dimension to the lips, so the color won't just last longer, but you’ll take a better selfie too,” he explains. A better selfie? Influencer Carissa Alvarado was all in.

Alvarado took the limited-edition NARS x Man Ray The Kiss Velvet Matte Lip Pencil Set for a spin to prove how easy it is to mix and match lip colors. She worked with four lip pencils: Endangered Red, a matte bordeaux; Wild Ways, a limited-edition sheer mahogany; Toundra, a matte rust; and Spellbound, a limited-edition sheer, shimmery pink-beige. As far as rules go—there weren’t any. Lopez’s only piece of advice is to pick a color you love, then to choose another shade that’s in the same family but two to three tones darker—the rest is up to you.

Want in on the action? Alvarado created three-layered lip looks and is sharing how to get each below.

1. Soft, Subtle Ombré

Woman applying lipstick
Carissa Alvarado

We love ombré lips, but we’ll be the first to admit they can cross into tacky territory fast. The solution? Make sure to stay away from full-throttle brights. Start with your base color—something a little dark with a subtle sparkly undertone. (Here Alvarado used Toundra, a matte rust color). Use the pencil to line your lips; then go back and fill them in. Next, add a lighter, shimmery shade (like Spellbound) to the thickest part of your mouth—the center of your top and bottom lips. Dab and blend the shade with your base color using your ring finger. This adds contrast and creates a soft, subtle ombré effect that's nothing short of stylish.

2. Not Quite Crimson

Woman wearing a dark wine lipstick
Carissa Alvarado

Our pick for this year’s festive red lip hue? Something that’s not quite crimson—a rich red with a purple tinge to it. For this lip look, Alvarado went for Endangered Red, a dark wine color. Apply the shade directly to your lips, then blend it using your ring finger. To add dimension, top off the look with something dark yet sheer, like Wild Ways. Depending on your plans, you can dress this look up (keep it rich) or dress it down (layer more of the second sheer color over it)—the choice is yours.

3.Not Your Average Nudes

Woman wearing a nude lipstick with a coppery finish
Carissa Alvarado

This third look is all about nude tones—but think the more "extra" version of nude. It is the holidays after all. Choose your main shade (Alvarado used Wild Ways here, a sheer mahogany with a coppery finish). Next, highlight the lips—apply a pop of shimmer using Spellbound to the center of your upper lip and extend it across your Cupid’s bow. This creates the illusion of fuller-looking lips and adds intrigue to an otherwise simple look.

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