You, yes you, can wear red lipstick.
To me, pulling off red lipstick is a huge and somewhat intimidating power move. For almost my entire life, I didn’t think I could do it for one reason or another. Funny enough, what changed my mind was seeing Christina Hendricks in Mad Men looking like a bad b**ch with her red hair, tailored pencil skirts, and red lipstick. “If she can pull off red hair and red lips, maybe I can too?” I thought to myself.
So I went on an internet excursion to try to figure out how to choose a red lipstick that didn’t look clownish on me. I had dabbled with them in the past, but they always ended up being really orange, really dark, or uncomfortably circus-y.
What I found on my red lipstick journey is that it requires both a little bit of art and a little bit of science to find the perfect shade for you.
Step 1: Know Your Reds
Just like any other colored makeup, red lipstick is created by blending multiple pigments. Typically, there are blue-based reds (which tend to be cooler-toned), and orange-based reds (which tend to be warmer). If we made a Venn diagram of these two groups, there would also be a small sliver of overlap that contains “neutral” reds that are made with near-equal amounts of blue and orange.
While some lucky ducks can wear reds from any of these groups, most of us should stick to one group or the other to avoid looking washed out or Joker-crazy.
Step 2: Know Your Undertones
This one is a little tricky for some of us. I’m told it’s even more difficult for people with dark skin, so if you have any additional tips for helping dark-skinned beauty lovers figure out their undertones, please drop them in the comments so we can all be a little wiser!
There are warm, cool, and neutral undertones. There are several ways that you can try to decipher your undertones, but the vein test and the jewelry test are two that are pretty quick and easy.
For the vein test, check your wrist or the inside of your arm and look for a noticeable vein. If it’s clearly bluish-purple, you have cool undertones. If it’s clearly green, then you have a warm undertone. Finally, if they’re a blue-green mix, you likely have neutral undertones.
To do the jewelry test, just take an inventory of your stash! We tend to gravitate toward the metals that look most flattering, so you likely already have a good collection of what suits you. If it’s mostly gold, you’re probably a warm undertone. Mostly silver usually indicates cool undertones, and if you notice that you have a decent mix of both, then congrats! You likely have neutral undertones, and this means that you have the most options for finding a flattering red.
Step 3: Know Your Preferences
First, are you hoping to just dip your toes into wearing red lipstick, or do you want to say YOLO and dive into the boldest red you can find?
If you’re unsure or want to play it safe, look for a red that falls into your “most flattering shades” group from step 1. If you want to play around with bold, in-your-face color, look for a shade from the opposite group. As long as you downplay the rest of your makeup, choosing one of these shades will give you the boldest possible “pop,” and you’ll turn heads wherever you go.
Once you know your goals, consider the lipstick itself. Do you prefer creamy, moisturizing formulas, or are you a “set it and forget it” kind of girl? I can’t stand fussing with lip color once I’ve applied it, so I usually opt for lip stains or heavy-duty liquid lippies that won’t budge once they’re set. They tend to be a bit more drying, but I can tap some lip balm on top to make them more comfortable.
Deciding how much maintenance you’re willing to do throughout the day (or night) will help you narrow down your search. You can fill your lips with a red pencil and then coat them with a shiny red gloss, or you can grab a tube of comfy, satin-finish lipstick that you just blot and reapply after eating. Or, if you’re like me, you can opt for a bright red lip stain that’s matte, long-lasting, and buildable.
Red Is a Universal Shade
I know it may not seem this way, especially if you’re new to the idea of wearing a bold color on your lips, but red lipstick is truly for everyone! It’s all about knowing which tones work with your coloring and just how bold you want to go.
When in doubt, test it out! Experiment with swatches, sheer layers, and blotting techniques until you feel confident in your perfect red lip.