The most time-honored beauty tips involve some degree of pain: Bite your lips until they redden, or scrub them with a toothbrush, or pinch your fingertips or cheeks.

But to find the elusive shade that has come to be known as “my lips but better” — in theory undetectable from natural lip color, but typically a bit darker — some experts suggest simply examining various fleshy body parts. No manipulation required.

“A lot of people say match it to your gums,” said Rachel Goodwin, a makeup artist. This is “a more decent version” of another common recommendation (nipples), though she’s heard even more indecent versions.

To find MLBB in a lipstick, balm, gloss, oil or pencil is to perform the ultimate beauty trick: Wearing products without looking like you’re wearing products. This is old magic, reincarnated in the 1990s as “no-makeup makeup” and proselytized by the natural-look evangelist Bobbi Brown.

It resurged in the 2010s, when Americans began thirsting after luminous Korean beauty trends, new brands like Glossier marketed aspirational skin care as makeup, and Meghan Markle dared to show freckles on her wedding day.

Sometime in between, members of the Makeup Alley forum and pre-YouTube beauty bloggers popularized the term “my lips but better” (less commonly “your lips but better,” or YLBB).

They also referred to “my skin but better,” and occasionally “my eyes but better,” for foundation and eye shadow products, but neither took on quite the same mythical ease. It became a holy grail (or HG) product: a lip product that was visible but only barely, in a perfect individualized shade, both long lasting and simple to apply.

For some, it represented the fountain of youth, in a tube.

“If you look at little kids, they have this natural rosebud healthy-looking lips, and as we mature and age, I feel like women really lose color in our lips,” said Nam Vo, a makeup artist who champions a moist look she calls “dewy dumpling glow” on her popular Instagram account.

All makeup is sold to women as a means of improvement. But an MLBB? “It’s quite literally the better version of what I already have,” said Jackie Aina, a beauty YouTuber with more than 3.5 million subscribers. “It’s just an effortless look that really takes very little skill or talent to execute.”

It does take effort to track down one’s ideal MLBB product, however. It’s more personal than finding a good mascara or concealer. There might even be more than one shade per person, depending on the occasion, outfit or time of day. Which has kept the fantasy of MLBB alive for nearly two decades, and allowed beauty companies to capitalize endlessly on it.

Edward Bess registered “my lips but better” as a trademark in 2013. It Cosmetics registered “your lips but better” in 2015. (For both trademarks, L’Oreal is the previous listed owner.) Last year, Perricone MD sold a “your lips but better” collection of three shades; Yves Saint Laurent is currently selling a “my lips but better” set of its own.

“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 a founder of the new Makeup Museum in New York City. “But no matter who I work with, it’s the one they always have in their bag. It’s probably not the one that they would talk about in an interview, but it’s the workhorse of their makeup bag.”

The rosy glow of an MLBB is one of Ms. Goodwin’s favorite looks — even if, she said, its main purpose in history (like during the 18th century and the Victorian era) was to make women look “nubile and vital,” in order “to get a man to marry you.”

“People died very easily — to look young and healthy was the biggest goal,” she said. “The rosiness and the healthy nature of your lips and your cheeks are correlated to being a woman that’s reproducing.”

While “my lips but better” falls under the general oxymoronic category of natural makeup, makeup artists will emphasize that natural is not nude — a look that tends to come off as more bold and rebellious, Ms. Goodwin said, as it’s devoid of all prettiness and vitality.

Nude makeup is deliberate; MLBB sometimes looks like the residue left over after a night of sleeping in lipstick, Ms. Aina said.

“Nude can still be full coverage, nude can still be opaque, nude can still be superglam,” she said. “Whereas ‘my skin but better’ does not look like I’m wearing makeup.”

Both makeup artists recommend sheer, liquid-y products to achieve MLBB. Ms. Aina suggests a shimmery gloss that allows natural pigmentation to show through. Her pick, if this is what you came for, is Fenty Beauty’s Gloss Bomb in Trophy Wife. (Ms. Aina has worked with Fenty in the past but has no continuing business with the brand.)

For Ms. Goodwin too, the look requires “hydration and moisture,” although she prefers balms, including Burt’s Bees Tinted Lip Balm in Red Dahlia and Nars Afterglow Lip Balm.

Unlike the others, Ms. Vo likes products with matte finishes, particularly those that channel fruit like watermelon and cherry, like Glossier’s Generation G in Zip. Across YouTube, there are plenty of MLBB product reviews featuring deep reds and berry shades.

There is also the more drastic step of tattooing; “lip blushing,” an emerging shading technique (like microblading for eyebrows), promises to add enough color to the lips to make them look naturally plump and flushed — for a few years, anyway.

This confusion is part of why MLBB has persisted as a trend, inspiring articles from fashion and beauty publications on a regular basis, nearly 20 years after the term first emerged online.

The “better” in “my lips but better” is inherently subjective. It’s a look made for people who, as Ms. Aina said, lack the time or talent for advanced makeup application, and may not even know what “better” means for them. They can feel overwhelmed by the market’s vastness — by the thousands of tinted balms, sheer lipsticks and rosy glosses — and crave direction toward the best products.

Representing perhaps the search for eternal youth, with all of its rosy reproductive vitality, the search for the perfect MLBB never ends.

“We have all this information at our fingertips,” Ms. Goodwin said. “And yet somehow we’re still confused. I always marvel at it.”

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