Everything you’ve always wanted to know about red lipstick but were afraid to ask

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Lauren Bacall, one of my ultimate red lipstick icons

I’m not quite sure how I got into red lipstick but sometime in the ’90s when I discovered make-up, I recall the first one I owned (but sadly not the name) – a rather drying Estée Lauder one in gold packaging. I’ve loved it ever since but am also aware that many people don’t know where to start or just think red is too bright or difficult to apply. I firmly believe that everyone can look amazing with red lipstick – it’s just a question of finding the right one. With this in mind, I’ve put together a step by step guide to help you take the plunge.

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Betty Draper in Mad Men

Which shade of red is right for me?

There are thousands of different shades of red out there and the choice can be overwhelming. But we can split them into different groups – blue/cool reds, warm/orange reds, dark reds and neutral reds. The general rule is the cooler your skin tone, the cooler the shade of red lipstick and vice versa for warm tones. Neutral reds are the easiest and the darker your skin, the darker you can go with your lipstick. That’s the theory behind it. In reality though, these rules are rather restrictive and boring. I’m super pale and love both cooler and orange reds. The best thing to do is to swatch some lipsticks on your hand at the drugstore and see if any look especially good against your skin. Or better still, get one of the assistants to apply it on your lips to see if you like it because there is almost always a difference between what you see in the tube and how it looks on your face. In the UK, assistants on counters at John Lewis will do this and I’ve heard Sephora offer this service too. There’s no obligation to buy and no risk then of wasting money on something that doesn’t look right.

The internet is a great tool as well – you can find practically every shade swatched and applied to give you a better idea of how it looks in real life – Temptalia is especially good for this and Makeup Alley has great and honest reviews. Remember though that your lips and skin tone will determine how a shade turns out. I generally find that most lipsticks go pink or orange on my lips and I can never get that ‘true pillarbox’ red.  This used to frustrate me but most Old Hollywood actresses wore pinky reds and it always looked great so I’ve decided to go with the flow. If I want a truer red, I simply go for a lovely ‘blood’ red in a darker shade.

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Dorothy Dandridge with her orange red lipstick

2. Which finish should I pick?

There are a huge number of lipsticks out there so it can be difficult knowing where to start. The sheerer the lipstick, the glossier and weaker the red pigment will be. Sheer reds are great for beginners who are afraid of too much colour. Then there are lipsticks with a satin finish which have a stronger colour but still have a shinier finish. These are the most moisturising so if you are concerned about dryness, they are your most comfortable option. But they are also the highest maintenance and you will probably need to reapply them throughout the day, especially after eating and drinking. This doesn’t really bother me but I know some people expect their lipstick to last all day.

If you have thin lips, glossy lipstick is your friend as it will make them look a bit fuller.

If long lasting, pigmented red lipstick is your goal, then matte is what you’re after. They used to be super drying but have improved so much over the years and often feel real nice on the lips. I know some people still dislike them though as they are less moisturising and can look harsh.

A good bet is to go for something semi-matte, like the Nars Audacious Range or the Estée Lauder Colour Envy. These have bold colours and feel very nice to wear with a bit more slip and shine but also last a long time as well.

Finally, I have to mention liquid lipsticks. These are popular as they’re easy to apply with a wand applicator, going on wet like a gloss and then drying to look like a normal lipstick. The finish you get can be satin or matte to check the label first.

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Lucille Ball proving that redheads can definitely wear red lippie

3. How do I prep my lips?

If you have full lips with zero dryness and flakiness, skip to the next question. Otherwise always use a really good lip balm beforehand so they feel soft. I like to exfoliate with a warm flannel after my morning cleanse and then apply my beloved Eight Hour Cream (but any good balm will do). Depending on how they look, I might then mix in a bit of lip scrub with balm. You can make your own or buy one. Honestly though, I refuse to pay over twenty quid for what is essentially a little pot of scented sugar so prefer to but an inexpensive pot of granulated sugar so prefer to use a mint one from Lush which is pretty cheap. It’s a good idea to blot your lips with a tissue before applying lipstick to remove any traces of lip products, otherwise your lipstick will have a tendency to slide off.

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Gene Tierney in Leave Her to Heaven

4. How should I apply it?

My first point of call would be a video tutorial. Mary Greenwell and Lisa Eldridge do excellent ones. An essential tool to have is a lip pencil as this will stop the lipstick feathering and bleeding.It also makes it possible to reshape your lips if they’re a bit uneven (most people’s are) or you have one lip much thinner than that other. My favourite brands for lip pencils are Barry M, MAC and Charlotte Tilbury. You can either buy one in a neutral shade which will go with all lipsticks or get one that matches the colour of your lipstick. The Body Shop also does a great invisible liner which prevents bleeding but obviously you can’t resize your lip line with it.

Some people like to use a lip brush, others like me prefer to apply lipstick straight from the bullet but it all comes down to personal preference. A brush can be useful to get used to applying it and reach those tricky corners. It also makes lipstick last longer. The main thing is to go slowly and not rush. A cotton wool bud dipped in eye make-up remover and also concealer can help correct any mistakes.

I like to blot with a tissue then reapply and blot again. Licking your teeth and then popping your finger in your mouth and taking it out again (sounds weird, I know) will prevent lipstick getting on your teeth.

Some of my favourite lipsticks

Sheer reds

Revlon Colorburst Lip Butter in Candy Apple £7.99 – a great starter red,

Lipstick Queen Saint Red £22 – just 10% pigment and a beautiful colour

Unfortunately I’ve run out of these so can’t photograph them but you can’t really go wrong with either.

Satin finish

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L-r: Revlon Fire and Ice, YSL Rouge Pur Couture in L’Orange and Le Rouge, Pixi Classic Red, Bobbi Brown Lip Luxe in Retro Red and Your Majesty, Charlotte Tilbury K.I.S.S.I.N.G in So Marilyn and Love Bite

Revlon Super Lustrous Lipstick in Fire and Ice £7.99 – Revlon make amazing lipsticks for a great price. This was one of my first reds, a classic 1950s shade that oozes Old Hollywood glamour. It’s very bright but really stunning.

YSL Rouge Pur Couture in Le Rouge (01) and Orange Indie (55), £26 – a cool toned, pinky red and an orange red in beautiful packaging. Stunning colours and it smells wonderful too.

Max Factor Color Elixir Lipstick in Ruby Tuesday, £7.99 – a fabulous, pinky red.

Pixi Mattelustre lipstick, £14 – I know these are labelled red but they can be worn glossy or blotted for a matte finish. Fantastic range of colours – classic red and coral red are my favourites.

Bobbi Brown Lip Luxe, £25 – I used to find the regular Bobbi lipsticks rather drying but these are wonderful. Easy to apply, a glossy finish but highly pigmented and they last like a dream. There are so many great shades to choose from – Retro Red and Your Majesty (a dark wine) have pride of place in my collection.

Charlotte Tilbury K.I.S.S.I.N.G in So Marilyn, £23, a gorgeous neutral red (Love Bite is a lovely shade too)

Semi-matte

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Nars Audacious Lipsticks in Rita, Carmen, Annabella and Lana

Nars Audacious Lipsticks, £24 – a huge range of colours to suit everyone. I love Lana, a terrific orange-red, Annabelle, a bright, neutral red and Rita, a cooler, classic red.

Estée Lauder Color Envy, £25 – Vengeful Red and Impassioned are just amazing but you can’t really go wrong with any of the shades

Matte

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Back row: MAC Lady Danger, Russian Red and Ruby Woo, L’Oréal Blake’s Red, Revlon Really Red, Maybelline Siren in Scarlett and Divine Wine, Charlotte Tilbury Red Carpet Red. L-r Bourjois Hot Pepper and Grand Cru. Nars matte pencils in Dragon Girl, Mysterious Red and Cruella

Nars Velvet Matte Lip Pencils, £20 – I love everything about these, except that fact that they’re so popular, certain shades are really tricky to get hold of. A lipstick with all the convenience of a pencil so you don’t need a separate lipliner. They are a bit smaller than lipsticks though and you lose quite a bit through sharpening so keep them in the fridge beforehand. Dragon Girl (pinky red), Mysterious Red (medium blue-based red), Cruella (gorgeous dark red, maybe my favourite) and Red Square (orange red) are cult classics.

Maybelline Color Sensational Mattes, £6.99 – great lipsticks at a great price. These last well and are not drying. I really love Siren in Scarlett, a bright red, and Divine Wine, a dark, browny red.

L’Oréal Color Riche Collection Reds, £6.99 – four different shades to suit all skin tones. Blake’s Red is my absolute favourite – a stunning, cool red which makes me think of Old Hollywood. The only thing that might put you off is the rather cloying whiff of sweetened Parma violets which these smell of at first. I’m prepared to put up with it because the colour is so lovely.

Bourjois Rouge Edition Velvet lipsticks, £8.99 – some of the best matte lipsticks out there. These apply liquid and dry to a soft, velvety matte finish which lasts and lasts and never feels drying. I always get compliments when I wear Hot Pepper or Grand Cru.

MAC Matte lipsticks in Russian Red, Lady Danger and Ruby Woo, £15.50 – you can’t really go wrong with a MAC lippie and there are absolutely loads to choose from in all finishes. These three are the most famous though and surely need no introduction. Russian Red is a stunning dark red, as worn by Madonna on her Blonde Ambition tour in the 1980s, Lady Danger is a knockout orange red and Ruby Woo is the perfect forties shade. The first two are so comfortable to wear you’ll forget they’re even matte. Ruby Woo is a retro matte so very dry and pigmented and probably not the best for beginners. But lovers of a red lip will definitely need it.

Revlon Super Lustrous Matte lipstick, £7.49 – a terrific neutral red that goes on like a dream and is really pigmented. It was also used on the series Mad Men.

Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revolution lipstick in Red Carpet Red, £23 – as beautiful as it sounds, this is a luxurious dark red with a squared off bullet making application a cinch.

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3 thoughts on “Everything you’ve always wanted to know about red lipstick but were afraid to ask

  1. Que de bons conseils et de belles photos, merci Emily 🙂
    Mon rouge à lèvre préféré pour les grandes occasions : Russian Red (M•A•C).
    Happy sunday!

    Like

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