Makeup Colors That Flatter Everyone
Story behind the story: Perhaps you’ve heard of Clinique Black Honey, the legendary berryish lip color that somehow manages to suit every single woman. (Chances are, you and your mother each own a tube.) Real Simple suspected there were even more lipsticks—and eye shadows and nail polishes—that could work shade-shifting magic on all skin tones. To find out, we asked cosmetics companies to send us their top sellers. Then, with the help of makeup artists Carmindy, of TLC’s What Not to Wear, and Spring Super, we invited dozens of women of every skin color to give them a try. The results of our experiment are here: 15 universally flattering shades and formulas that are legends in the making.
Bobbi Brown Creamy Lip Color in Blue Raspberry ($26, bobbibrowncosmetics.com), though colorfully named, is a versatile neutral that testers raved about. “It basically just deepens your lips’ natural color,” said one tester. And the glossy finish adds shine, which complements any complexion.
Maybelline New York Color Sensational LipColor in Red ReVival ($7.50 at drugstores) was described by several testers as the ultimate “old-Hollywood red.” Says New York City makeup artist Spring Super, “It has a slightly blue base, which transforms any lip tone into a true crimson instead of turning orangey or fuchsia, the way some reds do.”
Nars Semi Matte Lipstick in Schiap ($26, narscosmetics.com) is a shocking pink shade that shocked testers by complementing both pale and dark skin. “I usually go for subtler pinks. Even though this one was bold, it wasn’t over-the-top,” said a light-skinned tester. “The brightness also stands out nicely against deep complexions,” says Carmindy, a makeup artist on TLC’s What Not to Wear.
See what readers thought of our 15 shades for everyone. Then find more examples of universally flattering makeup colors.
Laura Mercier Lip Pencil in Naked ($22, lauramercier.com) was lauded for its uncanny ability to blend seamlessly with any lipstick on any tester.
Stila Long Wear Lip Liner in Aspiring (unfortunately, this item is so popular it has sold out) has a creamy texture ideal for lining and filling in lips. It struck the perfect balance: not too harsh on fair-skinned testers, not too light on those with darker skin.
L’Oréal Paris Extra-Intense Liquid Pencil Eyeliner in Black ($9 at drugstores)—surprisingly, not in brown or plum or any other softer, seemingly more wearable color—was a standout for its ability to create a deep, smoky statement eye that was more charcoal than jet.
Lancôme Artliner EyeLiner in Noir ($30.50, lancome-usa.com) won accolades for being the most user-friendly liquid liner in everyone’s favorite hue. The foam tip can be held horizontally and gently pressed along the lash lines so lashes look naturally thicker.
Nars powder blush in Orgasm ($30, narscosmetics.com) has already achieved star status, which our testers considered justified. The fusion of cool pink and warm peach, with the slightest hint of golden shimmer, gave everyone’s cheeks a natural flush. “The light-reflecting particles diffuse the color, so it doesn’t come on too strong,” says Carmindy. Said one fair-skinned tester, “It didn’t overpower my skin or make me look clownish.”
Elizabeth Arden Ceramide Cream Blush in Nectar ($24, elizabetharden.com) had universal appeal, thanks to its blendability. “I could make it so sheer that my skin’s coloring came through,” said an olive-toned tester.
Shiseido Luminizing Satin Face Color in Petal/RD103 ($30, shiseido.com) has a touch of brown, “so it looks like your skin would with a tan,” says Carmindy. Testers also liked the smooth texture and the buildable, slightly translucent formula.
Stila Eye Shadow in Kitten ($18, stilacosmetics.com) is a nude-pink shade with reflective pigments that give the powder its chameleonlike ability to blend with and brighten any complexion. “You can wear it alone or with taupe shadows, or even with sheer blue or green ones,” says Super.
Clarins Eye Quartet Mineral Palette in Rosewood ($42, clarinsusa.com) contains four shades, ranging from a shimmery pale pink highlighter to a definition-adding cocoa brown, that mirror the tones that appear naturally in everyone’s eyelids. “You can do a wash of the pink over your lids for daytime, then layer on the darker colors for night,” said an enthusiastic fair-skinned tester.
Dior Vernis in Red Royalty ($24, neimanmarcus.com) is one of those unusual-in-a-good-way shades that “have warm and cool pigments and therefore suit all skin tones,” says Super. Said one tester, “I’ve tried all kinds of reds, and this is the one I had always hoped to find. It’s bright but sophisticated.”
Essie in Mademoiselle ($8.50, essie.com) has become a classic for good reason. “You just can’t go wrong with it,” said one tester. Not too bubble gum and not too sheer, this pale pink adds a finished touch to fingers and toes.
Chanel Le Vernis in Distraction ($27, chanel.com), deemed the “perfect coral” by one tester, looks equally great against dark and pale skin. “A shade this bold can act like an accessory, adding a little something unexpected to any outfit,” says Carmindy. Pink undertones keep it safely out of Grandma-coral territory.
Foolproof Ways to Find a Shade that Works
•But when in doubt, go for see-through shades. “Sheer makeup is much more forgiving, as it doesn’t contrast as much with your natural skin tone. So the same color can work on a variety of complexions,” says Denver-based makeup artist Michael Moore.
•Seek out shades with violet or yellow tones. “These are considered neutral on the color wheel, meaning they blend with any hue,” says John Stapleton, a senior artist for MAC Cosmetics. This may sound challenging, but even an untrained eye can usually gauge what has a tinge of violet (like the Clarins quad on slide 7) or yellow.
•Natural light is the best setting for evaluating any color. If you can’t leave the fluorescents, keep in mind that they can make reds look more blue-toned and make nude shades turn pale. “It’s better to buy a shade that seems slightly too bright because you can always blend to make it more wearable,” says New York City makeup artist Nick Barose.