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After spending several years in social services, Nicole has finally followed her lifelong dream of being a full-time writer. In addition to her work for The Hudsucker, Nicole is also a staff writer for Womanista. An avid comic book fan, BBQ aficionado, professional makeup artist and first-time mom, Nicole can be found exploring Kansas City rich history when she's not blogging about suburban life at Suburban Flamingo.

The Pretty Files: All About Red Lips

A friend asked me one day what were the most common things people asked me in regards to makeup.  I had been working for a prestige skincare and cosmetics line for only a few months, but even as a rookie I had a fast answer for her: how to do dramatic eyeliner, how to hide dark circles/discoloration, and how in the world to find the right red lipstick.  Even now that I am a seasoned artist those three questions come up in nearly every makeover, photoshoot, or session I do and when given their preference of which one they’d want to learn the most it’s always red lips.  People want to know how to find the right color, how to put it on, and how to make it work.  People also often tell me that they don’t think they can wear red, always going back to the idea of being unable to find the right shade.

What is it about red lipstick?  No other color brings with it so much passion and so much fear.  Perhaps some of what informs the beauty world’s relationship with red is how iconic the color is.  When we think of Hollywood and glamour, we almost always think about that “red carpet” look, specifically of old Hollywood stars like Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, and Elizabeth Taylor.  These were ladies who knew how to rock a red lip.  When we think of classic looks, we also often think of the styling of the 1940s and 1950s which also heavily featured a rich red lip inspired by the looks of French women—ladies always, always celebrated for their style.  Red, it seems, is the symbol color of all things beautiful and powerful.

Which is what makes it scary.  Red is an awfully intense color to put on one’s pout.  Red’s the color of stop signs after all!  If you put red on it you’re going to draw attention to it. Red is also not a color one thinks about in shades and tones.  If you ask someone to describe red to them you will often get a description like “blood red” or “candy apple red”.  You don’t often hear “crimson” or “tomato”.  Think red and you think dark, lush, and cool.  If you happen to be a fair-skinned girl with warm, gingery hair the idea of anything “dark, lush, and cool” on your lips makes you want to cry because those cool tones will clash and you’ll look, well, crazy.  Red goes from being glam to being out of reach.  But here’s the beauty of things: it doesn’t have to be.  I have two great beauty truths that I swear and live by.  The first is that your skin is your best makeup and the second is that red lipstick is for everyone.  EVERYONE.

Credit: bbeautilicious.com

Credit: bbeautilicious.com

The art of finding a red lipstick that fits you comes down to four things to consider: tone, tolerance, type, and time.


When people look for a red lipstick they usually go straight into looking at the shades of lipstick colors.  While fun and informative, this is the first mistake people make.  The absolute first thing a person should do is consider their own skintone and hair color.  You need to know if you have a warm or golden toned complexion, a more neutral one, or a pink or rosy tone.  This goes along with understanding if you are very fair skinned, more fair, more medium, or more dark.  A general rule of thumb is that if you have a warmer skintone regardless of the shade of your skin you want a warmer red—more an orange-red or a coral-red.  If you have a pink or rosy tone, you want a cool red, like blue-red or purple-red.  If you’re neutral, think more like brick or chili reds.   The type of red a lipstick is is usually pretty easy to determine, too.  When looked at under direct light (or horrible fluorescent light in a department store) you can see the “orange,” “blue,” or “brown” quality in the color when you swatch it on your hand.  I always suggest you swatch a color on your hand or forearm when possible so you can see those base tones clearly.  However, some lipsticks you can see them just by looking at the product in the tube.


Once you know what tone works for you the next question to ask yourself is just how bright/bold do you want your red to be.  I call this tolerance because you are looking at finding out how much color your features (and your preferences) can tolerate.  A good sixty percent of this step is rooted in your personal preferences.  I, for one, do not like super-bold reds on myself.  It’s a style preference that goes along with my lifestyle choices in general.  The other forty percent, though, is based on your actual features.  You want to think about how the red will change your face.  If you have thin lips (or feel like your lips are thin) you will want to avoid bright applications of red—blot your lipstick carefully to lighten up a bit for example.  If you have fuller lips?  Slap on an extra coat of red.  You also want to take the rest of your makeup into account.  If you’re wearing a lot of colorful eyeshadow you might want to go for a sheer wash of red or another color altogether while if your look is more neutral you might want to pack on the color.  Now, this is different than balancing your look.  Personally, I think the idea of only getting to have one dramatic item on your face is silly and dated.  One of the sexiest and most put-together looks I can think of is a smoky eye with a red lip, but if you’re doing a smoky dark blue eye and trying to rock a tomato red lip at the same time you’re probably going to overwhelm your features due to clashing


So you’ve figured out that you’re a neutral-toned, medium-skinned beauty who wants a statement red.  Fantastic!  Or you’re a rosy-toned fair girl who just wants a bit of classic color.  Wonderful!  This is where you decide what kind of lip product you’re going to be using to achieve your look.  There are hundreds of types of lip color products out there, but they generally fall down to glosses, stains, and different lipstick finishes (such as creamy, matte, and frosted.)  My first rule of thumb here is if you find a frosted red, avoid it like the plague.  It’s going to look weird.  My second is to consider your overall look.  Glosses are always very dramatic when dealing with the color red.  In nearly any other shade a gloss is casual and easy, but red make sit more high-end and high-maintenance.  If you want every shred of attention paid to your mouth and you don’t mind that you will need a lot of touchups, go for a gloss.  Glosses are very fancy in red.  They also have a distinct advantage in that they tend to be easier to apply because they require a bit less precision—all the light reflecting from them hides imperfection in application.  If you want some drama without all the attention, don’t want a lot of touch-ups, and are okay with more precision, go for a matte lipstick or a stain.  They draw attention,  but are more edgy.  And if you are just looking for a classy, but not too fussy option, go with a creamy, regular lipstick.  You can never, ever go wrong with this type of lip and if you find yourself needing to bump it up at any point a creamy lipstick takes a gloss very, very well.


The last thing to consider when selecting your red lip is how much time you have to devote to wearing the color.  Red is a more time-intense color than any other because it can require more careful application and some additional measures to make sure it stays where you put it.  Red lipstick, more than any other color, creeps.  It shifts off your lips and feathers out, it wears off unevenly, and it can end up on your teeth.  How much work do you want to put into your lip?  If you’re time-crunched you want to pick something that has ease-of-use, like a sheer-color product or that you can apply with your fingers  (balms of any sort are great for this.)  If you have a lot of time, stains  and more traditional lipsticks are going to be your friends because they have a few more steps and need more attention.

Once you have your tone, your tolerance, your type, and your time sorted out you will have found a great new red friend.  Congratulations!  I know, it takes a lot of thinking to get there, but it’s worth it.  Now that you have your new red you will want to keep in mind just some general tips for keeping it a harmonious relationship.

  • Never, ever use red lip liner.  Unless a company has manufactured a liner in the exact shade of the lipstick you’re going to end up clashing horribly—and even if they have matched the color the difference in formula between a liner and your lipcolor can still cause color variation.  If you need liner to define your lip shape or correct it try using a small, precision brush with your lipstick.  You can use that to create your own liner.  It saves you a few bucks, too!
  • When applying a red lipstick (and honestly, this goes for any bold color) use a brush.  This will let you apply with evenness and precision.  You will also use a bit less lipstick, which is always good.
  • To keep your lipstick in place, line the outside of your lips in concealer (that matches your skintone.)  This sounds crazy, but it really helps because it creates a barrier for the lipstick.  You can do this with a thin concealer brush dipped in any concealer, but pencil concealers are fantastic for this (my favorite is Shiseido.)
  • Blot your lips, but not with toilet paper or tissue.  This tip really is meant for lipstick as opposed to gloss (who wants to blot a gloss?) but it’s one that works for any color lipstick.  Toilet paper or tissues can leave lint on your lips which the color will bunch up around.  That’s not a pretty look.  Instead, try blotting with a clean, dry coffee filter.  There’s no lint, the filters are thin and don’t absorb too much color, and they leave your lips looking great.
  • If you change your hair color you might have to change your red lipstick.  This is one that I just learned myself and is why this article is a week later than I expected.  My natural look is copper-auburn hair with green eyes and neutral-based very fair skin.  I would never expect to wear a warm or orange red like that, though when I dyed my hair a cool black, I did stray into blue-red territory.  When I dyed my hair gold and caramel blonde last week I didn’t think about what that would do to my overall coloring.  Much to my surprise I went from a brown to cool red straight into warm/orange red territory.  I had no idea!  If you make a big change in color families with your hair you need to make sure your red still works.  The same goes for switching from winter pale to summer tan, too.
  • If all else fails, try MAC’s Viva Glam I.  If it takes too much time or effort to go through all the tangles of finding your signature red you can always cheat and try a classic.  Not too brown or orange or blue, this red seems to flatter everyone who wears it and the formula can go on sheer (apply with your fingertips) or bold (lots of layers!)  This red was the very first red that worked for me and even with my new hair it still makes me happy.  It’s everything that red is supposed to be: classic, classy, and timeless.

Please comment if you have questions or suggestions!  I’d love to hear your ideas on the perfect red. Next time I’ll be talking about beauty subscription services and gift with purchase programs.

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  1. The Significance (and Science) of Wearing Red Lipstick | The Hudsucker - March 7, 2016

    […] now we all know how to master a bold, red lip, but did you know there’s a proven science behind sporting the rich and bright shade? It’s […]

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