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How To Choose Your Best Red Lip

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A bold red lip is a lifestyle. There’s a good reason that this dramatic, confidence-boosting shade has been a beauty icon for decades. But with so many dazzling red lipsticks out there, how do you know which one will flatter you most? Use these tips to find the right shade for any occasion and wear it like the bada** you are.

Find your undertone

The first step to finding the perfect red is understanding your lipstick’s destination — your face. Skin comes in a wide range of shades, but the smaller set of undertones can influence how makeup looks on you. Undertones refer to a color family that your skin brings out, whether you have fair or deep skin. Think of it almost like having a faint color filter under your skin. Your natural pigmentation, collagen levels, skin translucence, and even compounds in what you eat can help determine your undertone.

The three primary undertones are:

  • Cool. Blues, purples, and pinks are prominent hues in cool skin undertones. A little confusingly, strong red or ruddy tones in your skin are also often “cool” signs, possibly because of high skin translucence.
  • Warm. Think of a range of yellows, from peachy yellow to golden, olive, and ochre shades.
  • Neutral. If every test comes up inconclusive and you’re hunting for an undertone to no avail, good news! You might be neutral, meaning typical undertone factors may be balanced rather than leaning warm or cool. Your skin tone will likely be a flattering canvas for a wide range of shades.

Skin undertone tests

There are a few ways to go about finding your skin undertone:

  • Look at your wrist. Fair-skinned people can most easily look at the color of their veins on the inside of their wrists. Blue or purple veins mean a cool skin tone. Green (aka blue plus yellow) means warm. If you see a combination of colors, you’re probably neutral.
  • Try on some clothes. Do blue-tinted shades make you look your most vibrant? Are warm gold and coral tones your best color? If you look good in everything, lucky neutral strikes again. Note: This is about your most flattering colors, not your favorites, so asking a friend to weigh in honestly can help.
  • Contrast with bright white. People with deeper skin may have trouble doing the wrist vein test. Try sitting in front of a white wall or even wrapping in a white towel, and see if you notice bluish, orangey-red, or yellow hints in your skin.

Red lipsticks for every skin tone

Now that you’ve got your undertone, time to check out which lipsticks will complement your skin the best:

  • Cool. Blue or purple-tinted reds harmonize with those colors in your skin. Cool red lipsticks often get compared to cherry, berries, ruby, and scarlet. Ruby Woo by MAC Cosmetics is a beauty fave in cool reds.
  • Warm. Warm red lipsticks can have a hint of orangey-red or a brown undertone. These shades will play against your skin’s warm peachy or yellow tones. (Teeth can be yellow too, though, so brush well or go for red-brown undertones if a shade doesn’t work with your smile.) Lipsticks that mention coral, terra cotta, brick, or chili are likely warm-toned. Dior 999 is a classic fire engine red that can pull slightly orange in the undertone.
  • Neutral. You can rock a lot of shades, but it’s still worth choosing carefully. Take note of whether brighter or deeper reds look best against your skin. Keep your outfit in mind, too — you don’t need to get matchy-matchy, but you may look more put together if your clothes and lipstick fall in a similar spot on the warm-cool spectrum. Uncensored from Fenty Beauty by Rihanna is a great, universally flattering red.

Choose the right formula

Besides finding the perfect shade, selecting the right formula makes a difference in how your red lip will look.

Matte formulas are a great choice for long-lasting wear and crisp, defined lines. They’re ideal for formal occasions and can give off a retro old Hollywood vibe. Matte lipsticks can take some extra prep work and are prone to drying out the lips, so they may not be as comfortable for all-day wear. That said, matte is the go-to for a precise, eye-catching pop of color.

Glossy formulas can make your lips look fuller, thanks to their light-capturing shine. You also don’t need to worry as much about perfect outline definition. A glossy lip can give you a relaxed, dewy look. The downsides, though, are that sticky gloss can transfer and needs reapplication, and it’s hard to get the crisp lip shape that you can with matte.

Cream or velvet formulas combine color and comfort. These are the yoga pants of lipstick formulas — sleek and flattering but comfy. Creamy formulas are more hydrating, so your lips won’t get flaky or dry. These formulas can also smear onto your coffee cup (or teeth), so check a mirror after eating.

Kiss red lip troubles goodbye

A red lip means drama. Most of the time, it’s good drama — red lips are beloved by Hollywood starlets and French women elevating a basic ensemble with a swipe of scarlet. But sometimes red lip drama comes in the form of bleeding application or lackluster staying power. Here are easy fixes to keep your pout looking fresh.

  • Lipstick that dries out the lips. Healthy lips are your most important base. Gently exfoliate with a lip scrub or a damp washcloth. Use hydrating balm to prep (let it absorb before applying lipstick) and use it at night to keep the lips hydrated and happy.
  • Lipstick that bleeds or feathers. Following the above step for healthy hydration will already help since cracked lips make lipstick feather more easily. A little primer or concealer around your lips can create a barrier to prevent lipstick from bleeding. Lip pencils can also add crisper definition.
  • Lipstick that smudges when applying. Don’t swipe along your lipline! That beautiful bold red can leave a stubborn blotch and mess up your outline. Instead, push the smudge in toward the center of your lip and touch up the skin with a tiny dot of concealer. 
  • Lipstick that doesn’t stay on the inner lip. Proper prep will help lock in color. For extra staying power, dust on a bit of translucent setting powder to soak up oils and hold your color. Instead of swiping another coat on top, dab and twist the lipstick, so the color gets in every tiny crease instead of just gliding over.

A bold red lip is a beauty staple that anyone can pull off — with a bit of understanding of which red is perfect for you. With the correct shade, formula, and application technique, you’ll be ready to feel powerful and turn heads all day.