How To Pick The Perfect Red Lipstick

Black model wearing red lipstick

Whenever you watch the red carpet, you see it, and you want it. What am I talking about? Not the dresses… that bold red lipstick! (Okay, maybe the dresses too). 

A classic, elevated look that is both captivating and timeless is a red lip. Finding the right shade for you, on the other hand, is akin to discovering a unicorn. The wrong red lipstick can make you appear older, washed out, or simply blah. However, the right red lipstick can make a powerful and beautiful statement. If only you knew what color that was…

how to choose red lipstick

Find out your shade of red by determining your skin tone

Most of us don’t know what our undertone is, but it’s a beauty essential to find your most flattering shade in almost…everything, from foundation to lipstick to hair color, and so on. Unsure about yours or what an undertone is? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

Consider your skin to have two layers. Of course, you know whether you have a fair, medium, olive, or dark complexion. However, the layer beneath has its own tone, which can be cool, neutral, or warm. And here’s how to figure out which is which.

Undertone test 1: Examine your wrist, particularly your veins. What shade are they? You have a cool undertone if your veins are purple-bluish. You have a neutral undertone if they are more blue-greenish.. 

And if they’re very green, you’ve got a warm undertone. What if your wrist veins are a mix of green, purple, and blue? This is another sign of a neutral undertone.

Undertone test 2: This and the following tests are fairly subjective, but they can be useful if the vein test did not provide a clear answer. Get yourself some gold and silver-tone jewelry, such as necklaces. Which one suits your skin tone the best? If it’s gold, congratulations, you’re a warm undertone! You have a cool undertone if it is silver. And if you look great in both, you are neutral. Still not convinced? Then let’s move on…

Undertone test 3: In the mirror, place some different-colored clothes on your body. If you look better in blues, greens, and bluish-reds, you have a cool undertone. You have a warm undertone if you look better in yellow or orangey-reds. And if you look great in all of them, you’re a neutral.

Undertone test 4: Consider what happens when you’re out in the sun. If you tan rather than burn, you are more likely to have a warm undertone. You have a cool undertone if you go straight to looking like a lobster. Those who swing both ways could be considered neutral.

It’s possible that you won’t get a clear answer from just one of these tests, so take them all and see if there’s a recurring undertone. For example, if you burn easily but tests 1-3 indicated a warm undertone, you are most likely warm.

How to pick the perfect red lipstick for each undertone

Fair skin

how to choose red lipstick for fair skin

Cool undertone

The best red shades for fair skin will brighten your complexion. For pale ladies with cool undertones, blue-pink based red lipsticks are generally preferable. To contrast, complement, and warm up the cool pink undertones found in very fair, ivory skin, we recommend raspberry and cranberry hues. Avoid dark maroon-reds, which have a tendency to give off a ‘goth’ vibe.

The best red lipstick for fair skin is one that’ll complement the natural pink flush tone your skin already has. Look for the red color that use blue and purple as a base (versus orange) for a flattering finish. You wanna know the best part? They can also make your teeth appear whiter. Try MAC’s Powder Kiss Lipstick ($22) in Werk, Werk, Werk or Glossier Generation G ($18) in Zip.

Neutral or Warm undertone

If your fair skin is neutral or warm in tone, you can get away with some fiery orange-reds! The key is to keep the rest of your makeup simple because these reds really pop.

Light skin

red lipstick for light skin tone

People with light skin tones can wear a bright red for a bold pop of color against their fair skin, but berry red lips with blue undertones look better on them (think: cranberry). Pat McGrath Labs Mattetrance Lipstick in Elson 013 ($38) or Jane Iredale’s Triple Luxe Long Lasting Naturally Moist Lipstick in Gwen ($35).

Medium, tan & olive complexions 

choosing red lipstick for medium skin tone

Cool undertone

Women with medium complexions have the most options because they can wear both darker and brighter red lipsticks. Red lipsticks rarely overpower your face; you can still experiment with your blush, contour, and eye makeup while wearing a bold red lip.

Medium skin tones with cool undertones are uncommon, but if you have them, you should stick to blue-based red lipsticks.

Neutral or undertone

Most medium skin tones have warm undertones, which is a fantastic combination that allows you to wear almost anything! For a sexy evening look, try a true red, burgundy, or bright orange red.

Darker skin

Choosing red lipstick for dark skin tone

Shopping for a red lip color for darker complexions can be difficult because red lipsticks don’t always register as red when applied to darker lips. But that doesn’t mean a classic red lipstick doesn’t look great on women of color!

A bright red lip is fun and summery, whereas a softer red is sophisticated and lip-enhancing. The lipsticks that will give you a true red effect will usually be a little darker and appear a little cooler in the tube.

Dark skin can tolerate more intense colors, such as deep reds and reds with cooler undertones. Wines, berries, and brick reds are ideal accompaniments to your darker hue. Bite Beauty’s Power Move Creamy Matte Lip Crayon ($13) in Red Velvet and Kjaer Weis’ Lipstick ($30) in Adore are two of our favorites.

For all skin tones

There are only a few reds that are universally flattering. Who is Rankin’s favorite? Ruby Woo MAC Retro Matte Lipstick ($19). “The blue undertones in this lipstick are just right,” she says, “and it truly looks great on every complexion.” “Other cosmetic companies frequently add too much yellow or orange to their red lipsticks, causing the lipstick to appear extremely bright on some skin tones.” Ruby Woo is a perfect, universal red that anyone, regardless of skin tone, can proudly wear.”

Maybelline’s Color Sensational Made for All Lipstick collection ($5 each) is a budget-friendly option; the shade selection is designed to flatter skin tones on all ends of the spectrum.

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