How to Apply Lipstick: From Prep to Reapplication

Back to the basics — let’s learn how to apply lipstick! From tips on how to prep your lips for the smoothest lipstick application to how to help lipstick apply better on dry lips to how to get your lipstick to go on evenly, we’ll help you get more out of your favorite lipsticks.  As always, you want to give yourself time to play and practice if some of the steps are new to you or seem like they’ll be too time-consuming.  You may also find that certain steps are necessary for some formulas but not all or that some formulas are harder (or easier) to apply.

1. How to Prep Your Lips for Lipstick

These are prepping steps that can be beneficial for anyone, but if you have drier lips, check out the next section as well!  So here are three ways I prep my lips before applying lipstick to ensure a smoother, more even application of my lip color:

Exfoliate your lips regularly.  Like exfoliating the skin, how often, how vigorous, and if it’s necessary at all will depend on your lips.  I find that while in the shower, the steam and warmth make it so I can gently rub my lips with my fingertip and get some of the dead skin to come off. It’s extremely gentle manual exfoliation and requires zero tools or products to do.  Some also like using a wash cloth, soft toothbrush, or a standalone lip scrub (often sugar-based).  I usually rub my fingertip over my lips in the shower two to three times a week, and every week or two–in lieu of one time in the shower–I’ll use a sugar scrub for a bit more vigorous exfoliation.

Recommended Lip Scrubs:  sugar and jojoba oil; Fresh Sugar Lip Scrub, $24; Sara Happ The Lip Scrub, $22

Use a more hydrating lip balm at night.  I like to use heavier, tackier lip balms at night, as I find that they help keep or restore the hydration and suppleness of my lips while I’m sleeping.  If you’re someone who doesn’t wear lip color every day, this could also be done during the day.

Recommended Lip Balms: Bite Beauty Agave Lip Mask, $26 (hydrating, tacky, long-wearing); Jack Black Intense Therapy Lip Balm SPF 25, $7.50 (hydrating, long-wearing, less tacky); Hourglass No. 28 Lip Treatment Oil, $44 (ultra-hydrating, smoothing, less tacky); Sara Happ The Lip Slip, $24 (hydrating, smoothing, long-wearing, tacky).

Use a lip primer to help fill in deeper lip lines and create a smoother canvas.  I don’t find that this is a critical step for each person, and it sometimes depends on the formula and finish that you’re applying.

Recommended Lip PrimersMAC Prep + Prime Lip, $18.50 (smooths, softens, minimizes feathering); ColourPop Lippie Primer, $5.50 (smooths, fills lip lines, minimizes feathering); Bite Beauty Line & Define Lip Primer, $22 (smooths, softens, minimizes feathering).

How to Apply Lipstick
Linda Hallberg Metallic Mysteries II Palette | Look Details

2. How to Apply Lipstick Evenly

I find that at least 60% of how well (or poorly) a lipstick applies is in how good the formula is.  The drier, stiffer the formula, the harder it is to get fluid strokes and even coverage out of them.  However, if a formula is extremely slippery, it can be hard to keep the color in place, too!  These are my tips on how to apply lipstick evenly that I find work well across a lot of formulas:

Use a lip liner to prevent feathering or bleeding color and uneven edges.  A lip liner can be a must-have for some and a nice-to-have for others and completely skippable for some!  A lip liner’s purpose is to prevent feathering/migration of lip color beyond the lip area, provide more precision/sharpness of the lip lines, improve adherence and coverage out of your lipstick, help your lip color stay on longer, and can sometimes even out the natural lip color or minimize product getting into lip lines.

There are also clear lip liners, which are also called universal lip liners, and these can be applied on the lips but also just outside the natural lip line to prevent feathering and bleeding lip color.  (Urban Decay Ozone 24/7 Glide-On Lip Pencil is one of my favorites.)

Lip primers can also be useful for someone who doesn’t like liner or wants a colorless base.  Lip primers do a better job at prepping the actual lips to receive color by often smoothing out lip lines slightly and giving the lip color something to grip onto.

Start at the center of the bottom lip and pull the lipstick fluidly to one corner of the bottom lip, and then go back to the middle and pull the lipstick fluidly across to the other corner of the bottom lip.  I like to part my lips slightly (more like relaxing the jaw than anything else).

Next, apply lipstick in a fluid stroke from one side of the cupid’s bow to the outer corner of the upper lip.  It’s very similar to the first step, just starting a little left or right of center but using the center of the cupid’s bow as a guide.  I like to hold my mouth a little more open than before to start and then actually open my mouth as I move the lipstick past my cupid’s bow and toward the corner of my lips letting the lipstick move gradually as I do so.  This stretches the skin on the lips so that lines aren’t apparent and allows the lip color to go on smoothly across a stretched surface (minimizes gaps).

Gently press lips together to softly distribute color more evenly and ensure a smooth, even layer of product.  I wouldn’t rub my lips vigorously together to blend unless that was necessary; this is more of a gentle, soft rub/press motion to ensure that the layer isn’t too thick or too thin in any one place while “blending” any faint unevenness.

Reapply more product as needed.  If you find that an area did not seem to get enough product, go back to just that area and gently press the lipstick against the area and wiggle–unless you find another layer everywhere is more preferred, then just repeat the process.

Clean up edges with makeup remover or concealer.  Concealer is a good trick to sharpen or clean up any blurry edges or wobbles in application.  I recommend using a very small, almost “sharp”0edged brush and a tiny amount of concealer to do so.   If you haven’t applied your base yet (and usually, lip color is toward the end of most people’s routines), you could also simply remove any color that went beyond where you wanted it.

For more advice on how to make your lipstick last longer, check out our dedicated guide!

3. How to Reapply Your Lipstick

Getting longer wear out of your lip color is worth pursuing, but sometimes, what’s more important is how a lipstick fades and how easily it can be reapplied or topped up on-the-go.  Longer-wearing formulas can often be drying, so for those willing to sacrifice some wear time for more comfort, learning how to reapply and touch up your lipstick is key.

Use a lipgloss or lip balm on top to soften and allow for a gradual fade of lip color.  This is particularly useful if you’re wearing a more matte lipstick to begin with, as it can help to give the underlying color more slip to re-blend and smooth it out, while the gloss or balm will add some natural shine and are more hydrating.

After eating, use the natural oils from whatever you ate to help remove more product to make reapplication easier.  It is always easier to reapply color when most of it has faded rather than trying to reapply on top of a very patchy, uneven amount of leftover color!

Carry a lip brush to touch-up color on the go as needed.  A lip brush affords you more precision so that you can apply the color as you need it and in thinner layers, which helps the old and new applications merge together for a more seamless effect.

OPTIONAL! Remove your lip color entirely and start fresh by having a makeup remover solution on you. This could take the form of a disposable, pre-moistened makeup wipe (I try to limit use of this type of product, e.g. never at night but only on the go), a reusable microfiber makeup removing cloth (and plastic bag to store it in), or a standalone makeup remover and cotton round (or reusable cotton cloth) to remove.

Plus, check out our top formulas for lipsticks and lipglosses!

Lipsticks We Recommend

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Thank you once again for this information Christine. I must remember to exfoliate my lips in the shower, as I do use a facewasher (clean every day). I have always suffered from dry lips, so lip balms and creams have long featured in my beauty routine. I am currently using a Dermal E Ultra moisturing lip balm and it is very good.
I reapply my lipstick quite a lot during the day and your tips are handy. I don’t use a lip balm during the day, I find I can easily replenish my lipstick without any dramas.

You have such a wealth of information, you should compile some of your beautiful pictures and posts like this into a makeup type of encyclopedia. having a book that defines industry words (illuminating vs glowy, metalic vs shimmer), defined types of make up and who usually prefers it ( what a dewey foundation usually entails and why someone might prefer it over a matte one), common ingredients and what they do, and advice on shade matching, would be really useful.

Think of how nice it would be to walk into sephora and there’s a book being sold that can answer all the questions you have about makeup, right there to purchase.

There are tons and tons of great books about how to apply makeup that already exist and have for decades (like Kevyn Aucoin’s books!), actually! 🙂

If I know that I will be eating (and I want to wear a bold-colored lipstick), I put a layer of lip pencil on my entire lip that is similar (or at least complementary) to the lipstick that I will be wearing. Less color seems to be removed by eating and any color that is removed is less apparent; in the worst-case scenario, my lip color has an ombre effect. Then I touch up the lipstick later when I get a chance, but I don’t feel awkward if I can’t do so immediately after eating.

Great article Christine, i also rub my lips gently in the shower to get the dead skin to come off. I just can not wear some matte formula because of dry lips. Thanks again.

We try to approve comments within 24 hours (and reply to them within 72 hours) but can sometimes get behind and appreciate your patience! 🙂 If you have general feedback, product review requests, off-topic questions, or need technical support, please contact us directly. Thank you for your patience!