The Red Lipstick That Matches Your Skin Tone

Makeup artist and founder of the brand that bears her name, Bobbi Brown, said, “Nothing says confidence and glamour like a classic red lip.” Legendary fashion designer Bill Blass said, “When in doubt, wear red.”

By Mandie Brice3 min read
Shutterstock/Victoria Chudinova

But what if you’re a little afraid of red, or don’t know where to start? Here’s a definitive guide for the red lip, including tips on choosing the right red and making sure it’s beautifully executed!

First, Are Your Lips healthy?

If you’ve read any of the other articles I’ve written, you're probably already expecting a mini-lecture in skincare. I always recommend preparing the skin to be as healthy and beautiful as possible before any makeup is even applied, and the same goes with a red lip. In fact, it may be even more important, because when you’re going bold, it can be easier to see imperfections!

When you’re going bold, it can be easier to see imperfections!

To make sure that your crimson pucker doesn’t have any dead and flaky skin, start with a great lip scrub. I love the sugar lip polish by NIU Body, which comes in vanilla, coconut or pina colada, because it exfoliates and leaves a bit of moisture behind! If you’re a fan of lip masques, now is an excellent time to do one of those, and I’d follow with a light layer of balm. Lucas Pawpaw ointment is a classic favorite of many makeup artists for this!

Another tip that’s important to remember (even if you decide to disregard it later) is that it's often a best practice to choose one feature to really get the attention and do the rest in more neutral tones. Since you’re going with a bright red lip, you may want to consider minimal blush/bronzer/highlighter and neutral colored eyes. You can still do a dramatic/smokey eye, but I’d avoid using a lot of color there, or there may be a clown-like result!

Choosing the Right Red

Once your lips are prepared, and the rest of your face is done, it’s time to make sure you’re choosing the right red! If you’re new to a bold lip, you may want to try something a little sheerer and muted to ease your way into red. A couple of universally beautiful choices would be Glossier Generation G lipstick in "Zip" for an orange-toned red (for those with warmer undertones) or "Jam" (for those with cool undertones)!

If your motto is “Go big or go home,” and you’re already set to make the bold move into red lips, here are the best reds for your skin tone, followed by some tips for best practices!

My Red Lipstick Recommendations

Universally Flattering Red Lipstick

One red that seems to be universal (the one I keep in my professional kit) is Lancome’s Color Design Lipstick in “Red Stiletto,” which I think works on everyone!

The rest really breaks down into undertones. One of the easiest ways to determine your undertones is to look through your skin at your veins. If they appear blue or purple, you have cool undertones, and if they look greenish, you have warm undertones. You can also judge by what metal looks best on you - silver for cool, and gold for warm! How fair or dark you are has less of an impact on overall look and selection, though naturally darker colors are going to look more dramatic on fair-skinned beauties, while lighter colors will look bolder the darker your lovely skin is!

Red Lips for Cool Undertones

For the cooler undertoned ladies, blue or purple-based reds are best. One favorite is the infamous "Ruby Woo" by MAC. You can also do a different version of red - think those that skew more toward wine and berry colors, like Nars Pure Matte Lipstick in "Volga."

Red Lips for Warm Undertones

If you have warm undertones, opting for a more orange-toned shade is going to look more flattering - so you’re wearing your lipstick as opposed to your lipstick wearing you! Nars Powermatte Lip Pigment in "Don’t Stop" is a great choice. You can also try a more coral red, like Revlon Super Lustrous Creme Lipstick in "Kiss Me Coral."

Containing Your Lipstick

Once you have the right color, the next challenge is keeping it where you want it. It amazes me how easy it is for red lipstick to get everywhere, from smudging around our lips, to even getting into our hair and all over our faces!

A couple tips to help your lipstick stay put:

  • Use a Lip Liner in the same shade (or as close as you can get) to create an outline at the edges to fill in (because lipliner is usually more solid than lipstick).

  • Put a tissue on top of your finished lips and cover that with translucent powder (to set your lipstick).

  • Finally, line the outside of your lips with a skin toned pencil, like the Nyx Wonder Pencil!

Closing Thoughts

I make no promises that these tips will stop you from making a mess on your date’s face - as your kisses will definitely be desired when the focus is on them!