How to Find the Best Red Lipstick
Whether it’s your signature look or a special-occasion thing, at some point red lipstick, in all its gorgeous glory, will likely grace your mouth. But with multitudes of shades and formulas to choose from, the frustration of finding the perfect one for your complexion can make you see, well, red. Here, how to master the always-hot hue.In this story: Makeup by Melissa Silver and Tanya Rae. Hair by Emily Heser for Cutler Salons.
Let’s start with: Red lipstick is a stone-cold classic, say makeup artists (and most mere mortals). Among women who wear lipstick regularly—that would be 71 percent of us, according to a survey by Elizabeth Arden—fully one-third sport crimson (and that number more than doubles over the holidays, reports Birchbox). However, these lipstick-wearers admit that when it comes to finding their perfect shade, red is the trickiest one to ace.
Fortunately, singling out your best scarlet just got a whole lot easier. Click through for tips on how to choose shades, everything from brick to cranberry, with skin-tone-specific color suggestions and—here’s where things really get simple—universally wearable hues. (Don’t believe there is such a thing? All three of our models here are wearing NARS limited-edition lipstick in Future Red; also try NARS Red Lizard or Fire Down Below) All that and application secrets, too.
To buy: Unfortunately, this item is no longer available.
For Fair Skin
If you have fair skin, consider a shade with a touch of orange in it to brighten your complexion, suggests New York City–based makeup artist Melissa Silver. Think tomato red to coral red. That’s not to say you can’t go with a dark red, but stay away from deep reds with blue in them, which can appear Goth against an alabaster skin tone. Here’s an easy way to gauge what works: Rather than swatch colors on your hand, dab on a fingertip and hold it up to your lip. Or apply the color (if possible) and snap a selfie. If the lipstick looks jarring to you, it will to others, too.
For a more modern effect, skip using a liner, unless you have fine lines around your mouth. In that case, outline your mouth with a nude (skin-toned, not lip-toned) pencil after applying color to keep it from bleeding into the creases.
Shown: L’OrÃ©al Paris Colour Riche Lipstick in British Red, $9, drugstore.com. Other options: Revlon Super Lustrous Pearl Lipstick in Red Lacquer, $5, drugstore.com. Sonia Kashuk Satin Luxe Lip Color SPF 16 in Red Orange, $10, target.com. (Blouse by Eva Mendes Collection for New York & Company.)
For Medium Skin
Good news for those with medium-toned skin: Basically, anything goes for you, from orange-red (ideal during the summer) to burgundy (in winter), according to Silver. One thing to keep in mind: If your teeth aren’t pristine clean, avoid hues with too much orange in them, which will amplify the yellow in your, um, pearly whites.
Shown: Jane Iredale Pure Moist Lipstick in Margi, $25, janeiredale.com. Other options: e.l.f. Moisturizing Lipstick in Red Carpet, $3, eyeslipsface.com. NYX Matte Lipstick in Pure Red, $6, nyxcosmetics.com. (Top by Massimo Dutti.)
For Dark Skin
Cool reds, devoid of orange undertones, are the most complementary on dark skin. In general, look for shades with a blue, almost plum, cast (as in, deep cranberry to light crimson). Remember, dark colors can be deceptive in the tube—coming out sheerer than expected—so when possible, test on skin before investing. To deepen the intensity of a sheer shade, try smoothing foundation that is a shade or two lighter than your skin on your lips first. This cancels out the pigment in your lips, and allows more of the color of the lipstick to come through.
Shown: MAC Lipstick in Dubonnet, $17, maccosmetics.com. Other options: NYC New York Color Ultra Moist Lipwear in Sheer Red, $1, newyorkcolor.com. Almay Color + Care Liquid Lip Balm in Apple-A-Day, $6, ulta.com. (Top by Design History.)
All About Texture
The days of lipstick in one-texture-suits-all (that texture being waxy) are long gone. Now you can choose from a variety of finishes—lustrous gloss, shine-free matte, rich cream—depending on the look you’re after. Going for a subtle effect? Avoid a color-rich matte red, which can make you look “like you stuck Mr. Potato Head’s lips on your face,” says Silver. A gloss or balm would make more nuanced choices. You’ll need to reapply more frequently: Neither formula has the staying power of a cream or a matte, containing less pigment in a more slippery base. For long-lasting wear, a stain—which delivers sheer color but has extra-tenacious pigments—is ideal. However, because it’s also runny, you’ll need practice to master a stain (i.e., don’t apply one seconds before a photo op unless you’ve experimented previously). A final caveat: Glosses and stains are not ideal for women with fine lines around the lips, as they can bleed into and magnify them.
To buy (clockwise from top right): Lipstick Queen in Medieval, $24, nordstrom.com. BeneFit BeneTint Rose-Tinted Lip and Cheek Stain, $30, benefitcosmetics.com. Sephora Cream Lip Stain in Always Red, $14, sephora.com. L’OrÃ©al Paris Colour Riche Le Gloss in Red Ravishing, $4, ulta.com. Maybelline ColorSensational in Gleaming Grenadine, $8, amazon.com. Yves Saint Laurent Rouge Pur Couture Glossy Stain in Rouge Laque, $36, sephora.com. Giorgio Armani Lip Maestro in 400, $36, bloomingdales.com.
Still slightly overwhelmed by your options? Consider a “universal” red, one with either violet or yellow undertones (considered neutral on the color wheel, these colors blend with any skin tone). Yes, it’s a bit challenging to detect such subtleties, but even an untrained eye can usually gauge a tinge of yellow or purple. Before buying, if possible, take a red lip color to a window so you can see it in natural light (fluorescent store lighting can make reds look more blue-toned). When in doubt, it’s better to buy a shade that seems slightly too bright, because you can always blend it or blot it to make it sheerer and more wearable. (Sheering a color out—makeup artist-speak for blotting with a tissue—to lessen the intensity of the pigment is also a good way to ease into reds, if you’re not used to seeing yourself in them.) A few other helpful hints:
1. Smile broadly before applying. This stretches your lip skin so that you get color into every nook and cranny.
2. Not handy with a tube? Consider using a lip brush for precise placement of color.
3. If your lips are flaky, exfoliate with a lip scrub or facial exfoliant, then smooth on a lip cream or balm before applying red lipstick, which can accentuate dryness and lines. If your lips are always dry, choose a more emollient formula, like a cream lipstick or tinted balm.
4. Stains can take some getting used to, as they come on strong. Silver recommends applying them from the inside of lips (where they meet your mouth) out toward the perimeter so that you get a feel for the product—and avoid obvious mistakes around the lip line. If you want extra shine, allow a stain to set for a minute, then top with gloss.
5. Last but not least, before walking out the door—whatever formula you’re wearing—stick your pointer finger in your mouth and drag it out slowly to capture any excess pigment so it doesn’t end up on your teeth!
To buy (clockwise from center top): Chanel Rouge Allure in Pirate, $36, chanel.com. Clarins Rouge Eclat Satin Finish Lipstick in Passion Red, $27, clarinsusa.com. NARS Future Red, $26 (Unfortunately, this item is no longer available.). L’OrÃ©al Paris Colour Riche Lipstick in British Red, $9, drugstore.com. MAC Lipstick in Ruby Woo, $17, maccosmetics.com. Jane Iredale Pure Moist Lipstick in Margi, $25, janeiredale.com. By Terry Hyaluronic Sheer Rouge Be Red, $36, barneys.com. CoverGirl Lipstick in Hot Passion (Unfortunately, this item is no longer available.). Laura Geller Color Enriched Anti-Aging Lipstick in Chile Red, $21, laurageller.com. LancÃ´me Paris Rouge in Love in Rouge Saint Honore, $29, lancome-usa.com. EstÃ©e Lauder Pure Color Vivid Shone Lipstick in Forbidden Apple, $26, shop.nordstrom.com.