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Fashionista Beauty Helpline: What's the Right Way to Put on Lipstick?

It's time to pucker up and show that lipstick who's boss.
Photo: Rosdiana Ciaravolo/Getty Images

Photo: Rosdiana Ciaravolo/Getty Images

Beauty editors and writers are used to getting late-night (or early-morning or literally 24-hours-a-day) texts with zero context and burning questions. No, we don't mean of the "U up?" variety. These inquiries are about skin freak-outs, product recommendations and makeup mishaps... and we've seen 'em all. With that in mind, we welcome you to our new series, "Fashionista Beauty Helpline," where we address the beauty questions we get asked most frequently — and run them by experts who really know their stuff.

The beauty editor's "U up?"

The beauty editor's "U up?"

There is perhaps no single cosmetic more deserving of the title "beauty essential" than lipstick. It's classic, it's elegant, it makes you look like you actually tried even when you slept through your alarm and forgot to put on deodorant. It's just about as close as we mere beauty-mortals get to performing red carpet magic.

It can also be intimidating. 

Of all of the many beauty quandaries with which your average beauty editor is routinely posed, few are as anxiety-riddled as lipstick woes. "How do you keep it off your teeth?" "How do you keep it off of every other part of your face?" "How do you make it last?" "How do you keep it from looking all wobbly or fussy or uneven?" "HOW DO YOU?"

It doesn't have to be this way. In fact, turning lipstick into the top trick in your beauty arsenal is way easier (and way less fiddly) than you think. To unlock the mystical art of lipstick mastery, we talked to makeup artist Fiona Stiles, who works with celebrities like Lily Collins and Gabrielle Union.

First things first: As anyone who's ever had their makeup done at a department store beauty counter (or who has a "don't leave the house without your lipstick on" type of grandmother) can tell you, to get the perfect lip look you must, MUST have a matching lip liner for each and every one of your lipsticks... right? 

Not so much. Consider this particular bit of makeup lore strictly optional. While a matchy-matchy lip liner can help you achieve ultra-sharp lines if you're going for some Old Hollywood glam by preventing bleeding, most modern lipstick formulas are built with plenty of staying power all on their own, which makes the additional step less necessary than it was back when lip liners came into fashion.

If you do find your lip game naturally prone to feathering, apply a moisturizing balm several minutes before you put on lipstick to help plump your lips and minimize those little folds along the edges that pigment can slip into. If you're set on the idea of using a liner, choose one in a neutral tone. "Long-wear formulas are great for preventing bleeding but can also be harder to blend into your lipstick, so the color should be a match with your lip color," Stiles advises. 

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That doesn't mean you need to toss all of those lip liners collecting dust in your drawer, though. "I personally love a lip liner, but I tend to use them as actual lipstick," says Stiles. Everybody out there who claims they can't draw a straight line, take note: lip liner can make laying down clean lines of color easier and may also help out those who find the texture of lipstick unappealing. Just make sure to fill in the whole lip with your liner to avoid a '90s Pamela Anderson effect. No offense, Pam.

As for a more traditional lipstick application, despite what you might have seen on beauty vlogs or backstage shots, when it comes to applying your own shade, you're better off taking things straight from the tube.

"In all honesty, [applying lipstick] straight from the bullet is the best way," Stiles explains. "I know makeup artists always say use a brush, but that's because it's easier for us to apply lipstick to someone else with a brush." On your own mouth, the bullet (aka the "lipstick" part of your lipstick) gives you more control and a more intense color payout without the mess of cleaning up a brush or wasted product in the bristles. That said, there is at least one occasion when Stiles recommends having a brush around for your personal lip use: "A brush does come in handy when your bullet is down to a tiny nub and you want to use every last bit of it," she says. Essential for when you're trying to maximize your discontinued Estée Edit lippies.

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If you like a controlled lip look, you can stop there, but if you're craving a softer, diffused style (think: that summery, I-just-ate-a-popsicle look), Stiles suggests taking a clean concealer brush or cotton swab and gently running it along the perimeter of your lips to feather out the edge.

Finally, when it comes to keeping your lipstick where you put it, (read: not smeared all over your teeth, or cheeks, or chin) this is one occasion when taking notes from the starlets of yore actually does pay off. That old trick of blotting your lips with a tissue, leaving a perfect kiss print? Totally legit.  Blotting helps lift away excess product that's not adhering to your lips and also absorbs some of the oils that can make lipsticks especially apt to smudge. For an additional dose of lasting power, you can also lightly dust the surface of your lipstick with loose, translucent setting powder.

Want extra smile insurance? Stiles swears by this old-school trick: Place a finger into your mouth and close your lips around it, then, with your lips still closed, pull your finger out. The maneuver picks up the pigment along the very inside of your lips, closest to your teeth, while leaving the rest of your hard-earned look intact.

Looking to round out your lipstick stash? Click through the gallery below to see 17 of our favorite lipstick formulas.

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