How Do You Get Light Colored Lipsticks and Gloss to Show on Pigmented Lips?

Published in: Just For Fun, Makeup Tips/How To


In hip-hop class last week I marveled at my teacher’s naturally dark, berry-red lips. Struggling to booty pop (apparently, booty popping is nothing like riding a bike; if you don’t use it, you do loose it), I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of jealousy.


I’ve had pigmented lips on my mind since I got this e-mail from Eileen. Like my dance instructor, Eileen is blessed with dark lips, but sometimes that pigmentation gets up in her mix, like when she wants to wear light lipsticks or gloss…

Hi Karen,

Is there some kind of primer I can use on my lips to ensure a true reflection of the lipstick or lipgloss color I have purchased? My natural lip color is a very dark pink and because of this I tend to have a brownish/purplish cast when using pink-toned lipcolor (such as Clinique’s Bamboo Pink). Thanks for any help you can give me in this area!


Hi Eileen,

Isn’t the grass always greener on the other side? I’m totes jealous of your dark pigmented lips! Mine are naturally a pale pink, and I think they look boring with nothing on.

Here are a couple things you might try to get truer color from your lip products.

Foundation is yo’ friend!

Try applying a very thin layer of foundation to your lips before you apply lip color. It covers up the natural color of your lips, but it can also dry them out, so you’ll want to condition beforehand and at night. I really like Philosophy’s Kiss Me Lip Balm in Clear ($14); it’s one of the most moisturizing lip balms I’ve ever tried.

Nude lip liners work, too

Another trick you could try is to line and fill in your lips with a nude pencil before applying color. Nude pencils work like the foundation trick above, covering up your natural lip color. My favorites are MAC Cremestick Lip Liners ($15) in Sublime Culture (a brownish pink) and Creamola (a soft brown). They’re creamy, apply without skipping and don’t dry out my lips. If you’re not a MAC girl, then perhaps consider Urban Decay’s 24/7 Glide-On Lip Pencil in Naked ($14) or Chanel’s Nude Lip Liner ($28).

Homies, I’m betting a few of you out there with pigmented lips have run into this issue before. Do you have any tips for Eileen? What can she do to get truer color on her naturally dark lips?

Your friendly neighborhood beauty addict,


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  1. Shontay says:

    Hi, Karen. I have pigmented lips, myself. my top lip is actually a bit darker than the bottom and I have to put in a bit more effort to make a color show true on the top lip.

    Lip liners are a good way to go. They are not my fave because I’m lazy, but they can work wonders. I recommend Makeup Forever’s aqua lip. They are creamy and insanely pigmented. They can actually be worn alone with some gloss on top.

    I, myself, just like to use very pigmented glosses from mac, chanel and dior. These brands make opaque colors in a wide range of colors for me. I used to have lip envy, but not anymore. I love my lips now.

  2. Stephie says:

    Same here. My upper lip is actually quite brown while my lower is a darker red. Looks like I have forever brown lip liner :/

    Nude lip liner is really great, I just get drugstore ones like Revlon’s Rose or Rimmel’s Eastend Snob for times when I wanna rock a light pink gloss. They have pretty good staying power and are a steal when they are on sale. Otherwise I make sure to put on a nude lipstick before anything to get that true color to show up on my lips.

  3. Paris B says:

    I can’t wear nude/neutral lipsticks because I have naturally pinky lips so everything shows up pink on me! I’ll be taking notes 🙂
    .-= Paris B’s last blog post… Review: Silkygirl Eyeshadow Quad – Forest Green =-.

  4. Kate & Zena says:

    Mine are naturally a dusty rose (think of Revlon Colorstay lipcolor in 295–satin rosewood and lighten it two subtle shades). I usually put up with it as I hate touching up lipliner (blech). If I decide to go ahead and do it, I use it in gloss form OR a very, very, very thin application of foundation. Pinks normally show up on me.

    The reality is everyone has pigmented lips, just different colors. I think it’s in one’s best interest to work WITH one’s natural lip color, not against it. For example, I can wear pinks, reds and some beiges but I don’t even try messing with nudes, browns, mauves and purples as they don’t look right or they don’t show. Corals don’t look all that great either on me unless they’re blue/pink based but I haven’t found one of those.

  5. Katherine says:

    I use concealer to erase the color of my pigmented lips. It definitely helps colors show up more.
    .-= Katherine’s last blog post… In memory of.. (via Cik Kiah)
    A sweet way to remember icons who…

  6. Bomi says:

    Karen, I was hoping for a recommendation….

    I don’t have white teeth, and my natural color is a bit yellowish. I want to wear lipgloss and lipsticks but they just bring out the color of my teeth…
    I don’t want to damage my enamel with those whitening products or spend a lot of money on bleaching.

    What colors would help my lips stand out without being upstaged by my teeth?

    • Jessica says:

      Stick to blue based colors or cool tones to make your teeth look whiter. I usually go for berry colors. Sally Hansen had a gloss collection that was meant to make your teeth seem whiter.

  7. Citrine says:

    I have seen that Shu Uemura has a white lipstick WH001 that completely nude out lips…(I have seen it on a blogger who used it before mac lavender whip, it looks pretty nice afterward)

    My lips are quite red (borderline vampire sometime) but whenever I use light beige/soft lipsticks, they just wash me out and make me look unhealthy…But I can use green gloss, which sort of neutralize the red a bit. (compare to using a clear gloss, since wetness tend to intensify my natural lip color)

  8. Marisol says:

    What I do to get a clean canvas on my lips is I apply a lip conditioner (like MAC’s) after I apply moisturizer. I will apply my primer & the concealer and then I will apply foundation. Using the foundation brush, I go over my lips with it. It helps me to achieve the true color of the lippie I am putting on.
    .-= Marisol’s last blog post… Just breathe… =-.

  9. Nicole15 says:

    This seems to be an issue for many (including myself) & from what I read through my searches, MAC is coming out with a product this fall called Lip Erase. It will be something to “white out” the pigmentation of an individual’s lips. Therefore, giving them a clean slate for colored lip application. Seems like concealer or foundation would do the trick just fine, but i guess we’ll see if it’s just a gimmick or something we’ve all been waiting for.

  10. alice says:

    My lips are a dusty rose-brown, and I don’t bother with lighter lip colors. If I’m doing a dramatic eye I leave my lips alone. Just use colorless lip balm.

  11. Lisa says:

    Max Factor has a great stick concealer that is White and works great to make your lips a blank canvas, so to speak, for applying color to them when they are naturally pretty dark. It works like foundation but like someone else mentioned, the white lipstick seems to work as well. I usually use this or foundation.

  12. shontay says:

    Hi Bomi,
    I know I’m not Karen(lol), but I’ve always found red lippies to be brightening for the teeth. My teeth aren’t yellow, but they are not sparkling white. However, when I put on a red gloss or lipstick (opaque, not sheer), I might as well be in a crest commercial. Something to consider.

  13. Marina says:

    Although i have fair skin, my lips are quite pigmented, which i sometimes hate, and i also hate wearing layers on my lips… so to make glosses show better, i use lip balms with high SPF. Titan dioxide in them leave a whitish cast thus toning down the lips. And no heavy layers!

  14. smiley says:

    I actually like layering a matte nude underneath to make the color show up better. I’ve heard that things like MAC’s Lip Erase work really well too.

  15. Jenn says:

    I happened to come across this blog post today:

    She mentions that she uses MAC Lip Erase…

    …to neutralize her pigmented lips.

    .-= Jenn’s last blog post… Lack of posts… =-.

  16. Jenn says:

    ugh no html coding apparently. Sorry for the UGLY comment!
    .-= Jenn’s last blog post… Lack of posts… =-.

  17. Aisha says:

    thanks for the tips–I have pigmented lips and tend to pick more opaque glosses. But I never thought to use nude lip liner to make my lips lighter–this will give me many more options for lip glosses! Not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing 😛 (And now I know why some people say certain lip glosses are really pigmented when I try them on and can’t see a thing!!)

    I also just learned that my eyelids have purplish pigmentation (I guess “hyperpigmentation”) and that’s why some light colors look weird on me. So I started using a beige shadow on top of the thin layer of concealer stick on my lids to lighten them up so that lighter shadows show up better. I can’t believe I never realized it before!!!

  18. Aimee says:

    An option that’s very popular for nude lips in Asia is specially formulated lip concealer. It covers up the lip color down to a nude pink, and fills in the lines. Some of them even moisturize! The only one I’ve been able to find so far in the US is Benefit’s Lip Plump, which I dab on my lips in a tiny amount (really, more and it will crease and flake) and pat it in. Then I go to town with whatever lipstick I’m using! It is perfect for that mod look. 🙂

  19. Jasmine says:

    I have very red lips that show through everything! I found that if I put lip balm at night, when I wake up my lips are this perfectly moisturised pastel pink, which totally complements light shades.

  20. Kristine says:

    I have extremely pigmented lips. They can look almost purple at times 🙁 the only thing that has allowed me to do a nude lip is Laura Gellar’s Lip Spackle! Stays on my lips way longer than foundations and concealers.
    .-= Kristine’s last blog post… hola =-.

  21. Shiny says:

    Good post Karen, I have pigmented lips… but they are not entirely even. I find that a lipliner just on the outer 1/3 of the lip does wonders for making my lipstick look very even. Or even using a lip crayon (any waxy lip product) and coloring over the whole lip before applying lipstick works well.

  22. Britt says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for posting this Karen! If I had a nickle everytime I was asked if I was wearing lipstick I would be a very rich girl.

    I have very red lips and very fair skin, and I used to be embarrased of how red my lips were (however I love them now!). When I wanted to go for a nude look I would use Benefits lip primer and it works well enough… but I was never really thrilled with how it looked on because it always seemed to mix with the lighter color lipstick or gloss making it muddy and … just weird looking.

    Has anyone else tried the Benefits lip primer with any success?

  23. Britt says:

    *oops I meant Benefit Lip Plump

  24. tatiana says:

    D’oh I wish this were my problem! My lips are the opposite, I call them corpse lips.

  25. Alison says:

    I wish I could achieve that gorgeous nude lip you see on girls with tanned skin, my skin is really fair and my lips naturally pink so can’t carry off those taupe/nude colours. For a nude lip I have to go with a rosy or pale pink, I am currently loving Chanel RA in Tender.

  26. Cari says:

    Co-sign with all who said to use a nude lip liner! I have hyperpigmentation around my eyes, cheeks and upper lip. My bottom lip is naturally red while top lip is rather dark. I use good ol’ chapstick as a base on both then a creamy nude lip liner on my top lip to make both lips the same shade. Then I line my lips with shade appropriate lip liner then apply gloss. Voila!

  27. Aimee says:

    Britt: I blot the benefit lip plump with a tissue then powder lightly before applying my lip color.

  28. Marcela says:

    Def MAC’s Lip Erase. Have seen PRO Makeup Artists working with this and at least the one I had the honor of meeting swears by it. If you can’t wait till fall, head yourself to a MAC PRO store stat!

  29. Ariell says:

    ah thank you so much for this:)

  30. Lori says:

    Laura Geller Lip Spackle!! It truly works….you should definitely try it. :0)

  31. lexi says:

    creme o’spice is my favorite nude cremestick lip liner something with a little more pink – whirl is my other go to Mac liner.

  32. Megan says:

    This is what happens when baby’s asleep and kitty won’t leave my lap…I browse old MBB articles. And leave comments!

    Anyway. Same issue–my lips are ridiculously berry. NARS Gothika gloss berry. I love light pink glosses, though, and there are some days I just don’t want to work the dark lips. I’ve tried foundation, lip liner bases, and all of these wore off pretty quickly.

    And then–success. Urban Decay Eyeshadow Primer Potion in Eden (for a true neutral base) or Sin (for an amazing champagne base) is amazing. Freakin’ amazing.

    I know UD makes a lip primer potion–but honestly, I really like the color the Sin gives me. Put it on using the applicator (or a separate applicator if you’re squeamish about eyes and lips using the same brush…or if, you know, being sanitary appeals to you) and blend out softly with fingertips so your whole lip area is covered evenly. Gloss overtop–and voila. The gloss soaks in a bit, giving you a bit of a matte color (great if you don’t love lipstick). Another coat will give you the shiny gloss look. Using Eden will give you the true look of the gloss; Sin will ensure a nice undertone of champagne that I’m telling you is to die for. Great for when you want a bit of dimension to the color, but really hate gloss with particulate glitter or shimmer.

  33. kerry says:

    Benefit’s Lip PLump completely erases my natural lip color making it perfect to make a pale lippie appear!!

  34. jigisha says:

    mac lip erase.

  35. Jessica says:

    I have a raspberry hue to my lips and I struggle to find a lip color. I have had success with Revlon Just Bitten Kissable Balm Stain. I have the colors Romantic (the brightest red I have ever tried) and Crush which is a berry color. I have learned to embrace that cool tone fair skin has a hard time finding hues that don’t look like clown makeup. I have been on the search for a peach color. I decided I’m not a lipstick person. I prefer stains. I don’t do glosses because my lips are already big if I put any “wet” look on them it looks like I demolished a fried chicken. Greasy not glamorous. Pinks no matter what hue don’t show either. Its trial and error.

  36. Nez says:

    Try Mac Lip Erase. Like a nude lip balm. Very moisturizing and creates a pale base for you to work on.

  37. amber says:

    i always use a light layer of my lightest foundation but if the color im trying to use is really light, i will use my white buttery eyeliner stick, it doesn’t dry out, or just pop a tad bit of powder on top of my foundation,like setting powder..those are my tips and tricks of the trade. I too stuggle with the gift of pigmented lips 🙂

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