Cosmetically compensating for bulbar lip changes

It has been my intention since this website’s inception, to devote a section of it to topics that will mostly interest women; covering ground that touches on subjects which  uniquely impact women.

Although my website is mostly focused on life with a feeding tube,  this page should be of interest to any woman, whether or not she has a feeding tube, if she has concerns about the downturn  her lips have taken due to weakness of the bulbar area.

Before I begin, I want to point out that no one has a completely symmetrical face.  Several years ago, photographer Julian Wolkenstein  created a ‘Symmetrical Portraits’ series – using photographs of men and women of different ethnic backgrounds.  He would photograph his subjects and then  make both halves of their face either the same as the right side, or the left side.  If you are interested in learning more about completely normal facial asymmetry, try googling his name, or the subject in general, and see what comes up.

One of the first ways that bulbar palsy affected my face, was I lost muscle bulk in my lips.  My lips not only lost volume, but, the ridges running from the bows of my upper lip to my nose, flattened, so that “hollow” (philtrum) became much less visible, which adds to the flattened appearance of this part of my face. The space between my upper lip and nose grew larger as my lips lost mass.

My lower lip droops much more on the left than the right, but, I have more muscle loss on the right side of my face directly under my cheekbone.

In short, a face that wasn’t completely symmetrical became more so.

As a bit of background on me, I am not a makeup artist, but, I did work successfully as a portrait painter,  so I have a good grasp on how to make a flat surface appear to have dimension, and have it look realistic.

Before being forced to stop work due to this stupid disease, I worked in the public eye for long hours straight, and always wore makeup.  When I “retired” I made a promise to myself that I would keep myself up.  So much about life is about attitude. Therefore,  each and every day, some form of makeup goes on my face.

As a silver lining, now that I am tube fed, my lipstick stays on all day without touch-up 🙂

If you don’t wear lipstick, and are not interested in wearing it now, this page will not interest you much.

If you do wear, or are are willing to start wearing lipstick, there are some simple steps you can easily learn to make a difference in the appearance of your lips.

There is no denying that things look different in real life than they do in print, or online photography.  Some of the visuals I show below are more extreme for the benefit of the camera, than would be done in real life.

Understand the basics of how the eye perceives shape.

  1. Bright and light colors move forward
  2. Dark and dull colors recede
  3. Warm colors move forward
  4. Cool colors recede
  5. Shiny surfaces appear lighter,  closer
  6. Matte surfaces appear darker, recede

If you were preparing for a photo to be taken of you and you knew it was going to be a black and white photo, the main concerns would be dark and light.

You may not personally prefer the lip colors I wear, you may like them on me, but wouldn’t wear them yourself, or, you may just not care for a bright lip.  That’s okay.  What I will show can be applied with more muted lip colors, or darker, bolder, lighter… the principles remain the same.  Dark and dull recedes, bright and light move forward.

The products I am using are:

  1. A medium lip pencil, darker than my natural lips, but not a whole lot. The shade is Hot Pink.
  2. A darker lip pencil, close in value to the lighter pencil, but not so much that the colors look the same. This pencil is called Hot Red.  Both lip pencils are by NYX.
  3. A light skin toned pencil.  It is by Shiseido, and I’ve owned it for probably ten years, I assume it is still being made.
  4. A mid tone shading powder.  I think it is by Lauren Hutton, but, like everything else I am using, it is the  placement that matters, the color value in relation to each other, and to your personal coloring, rather  than  a specific shade or product. A small fluffy eyeshadow  brush is used to apply it. I have no clue who makes it.  Its old.
  5. A highlighter stick.  IT Cosmetics   I truly love this thing! Everything else listed good too, but this highlighter stick is a real favorite of mine.

Look at your face.  Let your mouth relax.  Take a photo of it.  Look at the photo upside down, look at the photo in a mirror.

All of these maneuvers are for the purpose of seeing what is out of kilter.  Our eye has a memory.  When we look at ourselves in the mirror, we see, at least to a relative degree, what we expect to see.

When I painted portraits, these were the exact steps I took to make sure I was on track with my work. I would turn the painting upside down on the easel, and come back and look at it after a while.  I would look at it in a mirror.  The goal is to see what is really there, not what we are used to seeing.

In my opinion, the only area of the upper lip you can extend beyond the natural lip line with a pencil, is that little dip that makes up the cupid’s bow.  Any going over the border past the bow along the sides of the upper lip going down to the corners will just look bad.  You can go directly on the border, don’t draw inside it, and most importantly,  don’t go off of it onto your face.

The bottom lip is a different story, you have more leeway there.

Because I used the reverse camera on my iPhone, all photos are actually reversed.  What you see will be the right side lower lip drooping, even though its really my left.  

All photos are taken in natural light coming in through a window.

All detail photos are cropped in order to have you focus on just the mouth and surrounding area.  It will help you to scrutinize yourself if you crop the photos you take.  It removes distraction.

Here is my mouth without any makeup on my lips.  I am relaxed, and not smiling (obviously)

This is my mouth smiling:


As you can see, the lower side of left (your right) droops when relaxed.  When smiling, it still droops, but the upper lip on that side does lift some.

The right side of my mouth (your left)  on the lower lip does not droop, but the upper right does not elevate much when I smile.

These are the products I will show being applied:


  • First step: Apply the light skin toned pencil to either side of the philtrum, and connect the two lines across the bow of the upper lip.  It should be above the actual lip line.
  • Next, take the shading brush and some of the midtone shadow powder, and apply lightly between the lines you just made.


(The light toned lines are applied more heavily here for the purpose of illustration, than they would be for actual wear).

  • Take the shading brush, and add a bit to the dip under the lower lip right before the chin bone protrudes out.


  • Take a lip pencil, and draw a line connecting the tips of the cupid’s bow.  You can taper it down into the natural lip line on either side, or just leave it as is, reducing the amount of “V” at center top of your upper lip. Place line either directly on the border, or, touching the edge, but a fraction beyond too.  I have drawn beyond the lip border further than I would in real life.


  • Now, you’re going to start the groundwork for creating dimension. This is done with the darker of the two lip pencils.Photo is below.


  • The next step is addressing bottom lip asymmetry.   For me, that is a droop on  only one side. I can’t bring the drooping side up, but I can create the illusion of my other half of lip being lower and matching it.

If your lower lip droops on both sides evenly, concentrate on increasing or emphasising  the depth of lip at center, and draw up to corners on either side by going inside the border of your lip line. Create as much of a crescent shape as you can.

  • All of the lip pencil work so far, has been with the darker pencil.   Now, switch to the lighter shade of lip pencil, and fill in the center of lower lip.  On the upper lip, fill that in too, and also go over that original line you created between the bows of you lip so that it is a blend of the two shades.


  • For the photo below, I added the highlighting stick to the center of my lower lip, and a tiny dot on the upper lip.  It is important to not highlight the natural ridge of lip bow if you have drawn beyond its border.
  • For wear in real life, I would use a satin, frosted, or pearlized lighter brighter lipstick in the center of my lips  instead of the highlighting stick.  This was excellent to use for photography though.  I dislike gloss for the center highlighting  because even though it creates dimension,  it doesn’t stay in place that well.
  • Also highlight  a tiny bit on your chin  top where it bumps out. This is directly below where you shaded earlier.

Here are the finished lips.

The highlighting of chin and lower lip step was hard to photograph.  Arrows below indicate where highlights were placed are on photo below.

I apologize  for not adding a smile photo for an “after” picture, my lips tremble so much when I try to hold a smile pose for the camera, that I gave up.

I have had a few questions in the past, asking for suggestions as to how to handle a lip that just hangs open, exposing  the lower row of teeth.  My first thought was to try using stage adhesive, the kind  used to hold on prosthetics on a face for  film. (the brand Ben Nye comes to mind) But,  I also believe that another product (immensely  easier to purchase locally) would be false eyelash adhesive.  The type that comes in a tube for strip type lashes, not permanent glue.  If you have lost your speech, and don’t eat by mouth, there would be no reason you couldn’t try adding a little dab to the corners of your lips to keep them together more.

I hope this has been a help.

Phoenix is helping proofread.

Phoenix is helping me proofread