The One Trick Experts Rely On For Expensive-Looking Makeup

Photographed by Jessica Garcia.
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Brands have a knack for selling us things we don't necessarily need. Heated eyelash curlers, silicone makeup blenders and skincare fridges are among them — but you can always count on TikTok's beauty enthusiasts to try and convince you otherwise. When a skincare tool or a makeup product finds fame on the app, expect countless tried and tested videos, funny stitches and click-worthy tutorials. This month, one beauty buy in particular has reached viral status — and it might not be one you've ever used before.
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Enter: clear lip liner.
As you might expect, clear lip liner does exactly what it says on the tin. Usually a gel-based formula, it's entirely transparent and doesn't contain any pigment like the trusty nudes and reds that might be in your makeup bag. Usually made up of a handful of waxes, plant-based oils and silicone, a number of beauty brands are jumping on the bandwagon. They include Dior (the Universal Contour Lipliner, $45, which is totally clear), not to mention Lancôme's Le Lip Liner, 00 Universelle, $48 and Sephora Collection's Universal Lip Liner, $14, which won't stretch your beauty budget.
You might think, what's the point of a clear lip liner if the whole idea is to plump and define lips? But a transparent lip product isn't really used to create any sort of shape at all. Instead, it's designed to keep your lipstick from budging — a must now that we're all wearing masks more often again. Makeup artist Zoë Moore explains, "A clear lip liner can help prevent feathering from lipstick, as it acts as a primer." If you've ever applied red lipstick only to notice it slowly but surely edging its way upwards and becoming blurred rather than crisp, lining your lips with a clear lip liner is a great way to prevent this from happening.
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That's not all, though. "Clear lip liner is great if you like to use a lip liner but don't have one that matches the lipstick you want to wear," adds Zoë. Unless you buy a lip pencil and a lipstick in the exact same shade from one brand, it's difficult to ensure the colours will complement each other. Even a slightly varying shade of red can be the difference between your makeup looking expensive or unfinished. "I'm actually a fan of clear lip liner for this very reason," says Zoe, "so it's a good addition to your makeup bag."
With nourishing ingredients like jojoba seed oil and those found in makeup primers like silicone, freelance hair and makeup artist Tasnim Nahar says you can also apply a clear pencil all over your lips to provide a smooth base for your lip colour — almost like a primer. It'll act like velcro for your chosen lipstick and help keep it around for longer. "I believe clear liner works," she says. "I've tried and tested it many times myself. It makes your lip colour look a bit more vibrant, works as a barrier to keep all the products where you would like and defines certain parts of your lip like your Cupid's bow." Sometimes, Tasnim even uses clear liner with lipgloss (typically thick and hard to keep in place) to prevent it from bleeding as much.
Makeup obsessives everywhere have got on board with clear lip liner including viral TikToker and beauty content creator Sean Anthony – but he's since found another use for the buzzy product. "Do you get bad smile lines with your makeup on? Let me show you how to avoid it," he says in a video, which has amassed 375.2 million likes so far. "Let me start off this video by saying that smile lines are perfectly normal – that means you are a happy person. But there are ways for you to minimise them. Let me show you."
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Sean suggests taking a clear lip liner, which he says is meant to smooth and fill in any lines around your lips. "It also works around your smile area," Sean continues. Before foundation, Sean applies the product where the smile lines are. "As you can see, smile lines are definitely minimised," he says after completing the makeup look.
It makes sense. The majority of clear lip liner pencils contain ingredients that are used in some makeup primers, like silicone and oils. Technically, it could work, but the pros have different ideas. "I have actually tested this out," says Tasnim. "Due to the consistency of the liner, I think it makes a good line filler. The longevity was not so great, but I'm experimenting with different finishes to see what makes it last longer. Makeup artist Zoë says that when it comes to preventing foundation and concealer from creasing, there are plenty of other, good primers that do this already. "A primer will last longer than using a pencil," says Zoë and it's easy to apply all over for a more seamless look.
R29 rates the e.l.f. Poreless Putty Primer Universal Sheer, $17, if you're after a smooth finish. Also try Charlotte Tilbury's Invisible UV Flawless Poreless Primer, $76, which contains SPF 50 for extra skin protection.
While clear lip liner might not make the best base under foundation, it's definitely one to try if you're a seasoned lipstick wearer.

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