Most time-honored beauty tips involve some degree of pain: bite your lips until they turn red, or rub them with a toothbrush, or pinch your fingertips or cheeks.
But to find the elusive shade known as “my lips but better” – in theory undetectable by natural lip color, but usually a little darker – some experts simply suggest looking at various plump body parts. No manipulation required.
âA lot of people say it’s right for your gums,â said Rachel Goodwin, a makeup artist. This is “a more decent version” of another common recommendation (nipples), although she has heard even more indecent versions.
Finding MLBB in a lipstick, balm, gloss, oil or pencil is to achieve the ultimate beauty trick: wearing products without appearing to be wearing products. It’s ancient magic, reincarnated in the 1990s as âno-makeup makeupâ and worshiped by natural-looking evangelist Bobbi Brown.
He resurfaced in the 2010sWhen Americans started craving bright Korean beauty trends, new brands like Glossier marketed ambitious skincare in the form of makeup, and Meghan Markle dared to show off freckles on her wedding day.
In the meantime, Makeup Alley forum members and pre-YouTube beauty bloggers have popularized the term âmy lips but betterâ (less commonly âyour lips but betterâ or YLBB).
They also referred to âmy skin but betterâ and sometimes âmy eyes for betterâ, for foundation and eye shadow products, but none took quite the same mythical ease. It has become a product of the Holy Grail (or HG): a product for the lips visible but barely, in a perfectly individualized shade, both long-lasting and easy to apply.
For some, it represented the fountain of youth, in a tube.
“If you look at little kids, they have these healthy looking natural rosebud lips, and as we mature and get older, I feel like women are really losing the color of our lips,” he said. said Nam Vo, a makeup artist who defends a wet look at what she calls âdumpling dew glowâ on her popular Instagram account.
All makeup is sold to women as a means of enhancement. But an MLBB? âThis is literally the best version of what I have yet,â said Jackie Aina, a beauty YouTuber with over 3.5 million subscribers. “It’s just an effortless look that really takes very little skill or talent to perform.”
It takes effort to hunt down its ideal MLBB product, however. It’s more personal than finding a good mascara or concealer. There may even be more than one shade per person, depending on the occasion, outfit or time of day. What kept the MLBB fantasy alive for nearly two decades and allowed beauty companies to capitalize on it endlessly.
Edward Bess registered âmy lips but betterâ as a brand in 2013. It Cosmetics registered âyour lips but betterâ in 2015. (For both brands, L’OrÃ©al is the previous owner listed.) Last year , Perricone Â® sold a “Your Lips Better” collection of three shades; Yves Saint Laurent is currently selling a âmy lips but betterâ set.
“It’s not something that makes people say, ‘Oh, this is my favorite lipstick,'” said Ms Goodwin, whose clients include Emma Stone and January Jones, and who is one of the founders of the new Makeup Museum in New York. âBut whoever I work with, it’s the one they always have in their bag. It’s probably not the one they would talk about in an interview, but it’s the workhorse of their makeup bag.
The pink glow of an MLBB is one of Ms Goodwin’s favorite looks – although, she said, her main focus in history (as in the 18th century and Victorian times) was to make “marriageable and vital” women, in order to “obtain a man to marry you”.
âPeople died very easily – looking young and healthy was the biggest goal,â she said. “The pink and healthy nature of your lips and cheeks correlate with being a reproductive woman.”
While âmy lips but betterâ falls under the general oxymoron of natural makeup, makeup artists will emphasize that natural is not nude – a look that tends to appear more daring and rebellious, Ms. Goodwin said, because it is devoid of all beauty and vitality.
Nude makeup is deliberate; MLBB sometimes looks like residue left after a night’s sleep in lipstick, Ms. Aina said.
âNude can still be full coverage, nude can still be opaque, nude can still be super glam,â she said. “Whereas ‘my skin but better’ doesn’t make me look like I’m wearing makeup.”
Both makeup artists recommend transparent and liquid products to achieve MLBB. Ms. Aina suggests a shimmering gloss that lets natural pigmentation shine through. Her choice, if that’s what you’ve come for, is Fenty Beauty’s shiny bombshell in Trophy Wife. (Ms. Aina has worked with Fenty in the past but no longer has a business relationship with the brand.)
For Ms. Goodwin, too, the look requires âhydration and hydration,â although she prefers balms, including Burt’s Bees Tinted Lip Balm in Red Dahlia and Nars Afterglow Lip Balm.
Unlike others, Ms. Vo likes products with matte finishes, especially those that channel fruit like watermelon and cherry, like Glossier’s Gen G in Zip. On YouTube, there are plenty of MLBB product reviews featuring deep reds and berry undertones.
There is also the more drastic step of tattooing; “Redness of the lips”, a emerging shading technique (like microblading for eyebrows), promises to add enough color to lips to make them naturally plump and reddened – for a few years, anyway.
This confusion is part of the reason why MLBB has persisted as a trend, regularly inspiring articles in fashion and beauty publications, almost 20 years after the term first appeared online.
The âbestâ in âmy lips but betterâ is inherently subjective. It’s a look designed for people who, as Ms. Aina said, lack the time or talent for advanced makeup application and may not even know what âbetterâ means to them. They may feel overwhelmed by the vastness of the market – by the thousands of tinted balms, sheer lipsticks and pink lip glosses – and yearn to be referred to the best products.
Perhaps representing the search for eternal youth, with all of its rosy reproductive vitality, the search for the perfect MLBB never ends.
âWe have all of this information at our fingertips,â Ms. Goodwin said. âAnd yet, we are still confused. I still marvel at it. “