Want To Fake A Plumper Pout? Everything You Need To Know About Lip Contouring

Artwork: Anna Jay
It started with Marilyn Monroe slightly over-lining her lips way back in the ‘50s and now we’ll call it the Kylie Jenner effect. There’s no avoiding it – today we want our lips fuller, plumper and more ‘bee-stung’ than ever. And with lip fillers on the rise (data released in the US in 2015 showed a 48% increase since 2000 in the number of women getting them), a whole host of new serums designed specifically to plump up lips (Fillerina Lip Volume Lip Plumper, holla) and plumping ingredients like hyaluronic acid in pretty much every lipstick and gloss we come across, there really is no stopping the rise of the full lip.
But before you resort to more invasive treatments – which also involve pain and a not-insignificant amount of money – look no further than the wonderful world of makeup to create the illusion of fuller lips. The technique? Lip contouring. It’s all smoke and mirrors over here.
What is it?
Well, just like contouring your cheeks, forehead or nose, it’s the art of placing shadows and highlights to define and accentuate your lips.
Choosing your colour
The darker the shade of lipstick you go, the thinner lips will look, so if you’re naturally thin-lipped be sure to avoid dark oxbloods and plums and go for light colours like nudes, bright reds or pinks.
What you need
You’ve got a few options. If you're not a dab hand at doing makeup, you might prefer to use two lip liners and a lipstick to properly contour the lips. Creating light and shade needs precision and lip liners are the easiest way to achieve that.
You’ll also need two colours: one needs to be darker to serve as your ‘contour’ and the other should be lighter to create the ‘highlight’ in the centre of the lips. The darker shade should be around two shades darker than your light shade (so if we’re talking reds, you might have a darker cranberry-red lip liner like Hourglass’ Panoramic Long Wear Lip Liner in Icon, and a brighter pillar box-red liner – Lipstick Queen Lip Liner in Red – with matching lipstick, Lipstick Queen Sinner in Fire Red).
If you are confident in the makeup department, you might prefer using an assortment of lip liners and lipsticks – it really is personal preference – but make sure they’re in the same colour family.
How to do it
First things first: a smooth base is non-negotiable for lipstick that looks good on lips, rather than flaky. With your fingers, massage a lip scrub like MAC’s Lip Scrubtious (which also smells amazing) into lips, using circular motions – this will help slough off any dead skin cells and even up skin tone.
Next, make an X shape at the Cupid’s bow with your darker lip liner, applying just outside the point where the natural lip line meets the skin. While this adds dimension to your lips, be wary of going too far – it is (quite literally) a fine line between plump pout and trout pout. After you’ve made the cross, follow the same line around the whole of both top and bottom lip and fill in the very outer corners for that defining shadow.
Then take your lighter colour and, starting in the centre of the mouth, fill in the rest of the lips, taking care to blend, blend, blend. In fact, blending is the cardinal rule for nailing this look; you want to make sure the shadow looks natural rather than like makeup, so a seamless transition between colours is important.
For evening, add a fingerprint of creamy highlighter onto the centre of your bottom lip – it’ll catch the light and make lips look even better. For day, a gloss (Rimmel’s Oh My Gloss Crystal Clear Lipgloss will do the trick) can help amp up volume and makes a pretty change from matte everything. The really dedicated might also line lips with concealer post-lipstick to achieve that stamped-on, no-messing look – this isn’t for the fainthearted, though.
The tools of the trade
Huda Beauty Lip Contour Set, £29, available at Cult Beauty
Huda is the queen of lip contour – check out her YouTube video – and now she’s making it as easy as possible for everyone else in the world. These sets contain a lip liner and two liquid lipsticks (which dry down to a matte) and are perfectly colour-matched for lip contouring – one is a couple of shades darker than the other – so the hard work is done for you.
Burberry Lip Colour Contour, £24, available at Burberry
Burberry does everything the natural way so it’s no surprise that these super creamy, blendable sticks are designed to deliver the softest of shadows. You can apply straight to lips as normal or you can line them and buff in for a very light contour. Easy.
Maybelline Lip Contour Palette Blushed Bombshell, £11.99, available at Boots
This palette contains everything you need for lip contour perfection. It’s got a primer, which will help lipstick stay put, along with six different lip colours to experiment with. You can even dab these pinky colours onto cheeks – bargain.

More from Makeup

R29 Original Series