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How to Pick the Best Red Lipstick for Your Skin Tone, According to Makeup Artists

Red lipstick is like the little black dress of the makeup world. But with so many shades available, it can be hard to pick a favorite. What's more, it can be nearly impossible to pick a red lipstick that complements your skin tone, if you're not sure how to go about it.

"As a general rule, stick with the same shade undertone in the reds as one's skin undertone, cool with cool and warm with warm," says Kirsten Kjaer Weis, makeup artist and brand founder of Kjaer Weis. And while you can and should wear any color that makes you feel your best, being equipped with some basic guidelines can help you narrow down your choices if you are trying to suit your skin tone.

We called on Weis and celebrity makeup artist Latisha Nicole Rankin to learn how to find the best red lipstick for all skin tones.

Meet the Expert

  • Latisha Nicole Rankin is a celebrity makeup artist who has worked with Jordin Sparks, Tracey Edmonds, Angela Simmons, and Paula Abdul.
  • Kirsten Kjaer Weis is a makeup artist and the founder of Kjaer Weis.

How to Find the Right Shade of Red

A good red lipstick can make a bold statement. But with so many variations in skin tones and undertones, some trial and error is needed to find the right shade. Keep these tips in mind when shopping for your perfect red.

  • Experiment, swatch, and try on various shades of red to see what you feel best in.
  • Found a red that's too bright or dark for your liking? Hold off on tossing it, as it can bring some depth to a too-light red. Or, you can also make a deep red lighter by layering a gold lipgloss on top.
  • Know that a lipstick’s texture (cream, matte, or gloss) could have an effect on the way the shade looks on your lips.
  • If you aren't ready to commit to bold red lipstick, ease into the shade with a sheer formula, or try a lip stain to gradually incorporate the color into your look.

The Best Red Shades For Deep Skin

Ben A. Pruchnie/Stringer / Getty Images

"Deep skin tones can carry pretty much all reds, warm and cool undertones," says Weis, who says that her brand's Weis also says that her brand's shades of Amour Rouge ($30), a bright orange'y red as well as Authentic ($30), a deep, slightly cooler undertone red, "both complement deeper skin beautifully."

Reach for wines, berries, and brick reds for your deeper shade of skin. We're fans of NARS Velvet Matte Lip Pencil ($27) in Cruella as well as Kjaer Weis's Lipstick ($30) in Adore.

The Best Red Shades For Olive Skin

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Weis recommends warmer undertones for olive skin, as cooler undertones can become a bit pasty. Think yellow or orange-based reds like coral and poppy. While fuchsia and anything else with a cooler undertone can dull out your complexion, pinks can still work with olive skin. Our picks are Kjaer Weis Lipstick ($30) in Empower; Maybelline's Color Sensational The Mattes Lipstick ($10) in Rich Ruby; and for a fiery shade, Charlotte Tilbury's Hot Lips 2 ($38) in Red Hot Susan.

The Best Red Shades For Medium Skin

JB Lacroix / Getty Images

If you have medium skin tone, you have more versatility when it comes to picking a red lipstick. Both cool and warm reds will complement you, but keep in mind corals can make your skin appear dull, especially if your undertone is cool. "Medium skin tones typically have a warm/golden undertone, so I recommend warmer-toned lipsticks," says Weis.

Try Wet n Wild's Mega Last High-Shine Lip Color ($3) in Fire-Fighting or Kjaer Weis Lipstick ($30) in Sucre, a deep, warm, Hollywood red.

Byrdie Tip

When using a high-shine lipstick, ensure a smooth result by gently exfoliating your lips pre-application. And, to tone down any excess shine, try dusting some setting powder on top to slightly mattify.

The Best Red Shades For Light Skin

David Becker / Getty Images

"Undertone for the light skin tone is important here; if neutral to warm, go for warmer undertones," says Weis as people with light skin tones can wear a bright red for a bold pop of color against their fair skin. However, this skin tone tends to look better in cool reds or berry reds with blue undertones (think: cranberry).

Try Pat McGrath Labs Mattetrance Lipstick ($39) in Elson 013 or Jane Iredale's Triple Luxe Long Lasting Naturally Moist Lipstick ($35) in Gwen.

The Best Red Shades For Fair Skin

Frazer Harrison / Getty Images

The best red lipstick for fair skin is one that'll complement the natural pink flush tone your skin already has. The same goes for undertone here as well. "If the undertone is neutral/cool, stick with cooler undertones for lips," says Weis. Look for cool-hued reds that use blue and purple as a base (versus orange) for a flattering finish. Best part about cool reds? They can also make your teeth appear whiter.

Try MAC's Powder Kiss Lipstick ($26) in Werk, Werk, Werk or Glossier Generation G ($18) in Zip.

The Best Red Shades For All Skin Tones

JB Lacroix / Getty Images

In the world of reds, there are a few that are universally flattering. Rankin's favorite? MAC's Retro Matte Lipstick ($23) in Ruby Woo. "It truly looks great on every complexion, as the blue undertones in this lipstick are just right," she says. "Oftentimes, other cosmetic companies add too much yellow or orange into their red lipsticks causing the lipstick to appear very bright on some skin tones. Ruby Woo is a perfect, universal red that anyone can proudly wear regardless of skin tone."

For a wallet-friendly option, try Maybelline's Color Sensational Made for All Lipstick collection ($5 each)—this shade selection is made to flatter skin tones on all ends of the spectrum.

The power of a red lip

There’s a reason why people describe wearing your best red lipstick as a statement. A red lip speaks for you before you’ve even opened your mouth. It’s confident, it’s glamorous, it’s seductive, it’s shouty, it’s attention-grabbing. It can be just one of these, or an empowering amalgamation of all.

Yet, despite its potential, many of us shy away from red lipstick. It has an unfair reputation for being difficult and demanding, with application, maintenance and shade matching to master. But what if we told you that there are formulas that let you enjoy a drink without fears of a smeared pout, and a shade to suit everyone?

How to find the best red lipstick shade for you

A red lipstick has long been considered a beauty staple. Done right, it’s as failsafe as a brilliantly fitting pair of jeans or a trusted trench coat. The key to finding a keeper is down to the shade you choose, as what gives one person’s face life and vibrancy can quickly leave another looking sallow and lacklustre. A good red lipstick will enhance your complexion, as well as features like your eyes and hair.

When searching for a shade, considering your skin’s undertones is a sensible place to start. Complexions sit within three categories: warm, cool and neutral. As a general rule, those with warm undertones tend to have more yellowness to their skin, and those with cool tend to have more of a pink hue. Not sure which one you are? This is where an old styling trick comes in handy: the jewellery test.

Hold a piece of silver jewellery against your skin, followed by a piece of gold jewellery. One should make your skin look more vibrant than the other, complementing your colouring. If it’s silver, then your skin is cool toned, and if it’s gold, then your skin is warm toned. Can’t choose between the two? You’re lucky enough to have a neutral complexion, meaning you can wear pretty much any shade of red.

Of course, skin tone only serves as a guide, and the best red is one that makes you feel amazing. If you’re nervous about trialling a red lip for the first time, start with a subtle wash of colour, working up to something more pigmented as your confidence grows.

The best red lipstick by skin tone

The best place to find the right red lip for you? Match2Me, Trinny London’s personalised cheatsheet of personalised shades. Simply input your eye colour, hair colour and skin tone and it does the hard work for you, showing you exactly which shades work for you.

For red lips at a glance, we’ve broken it down by skin tone below:

If you have deep skin…

Intense reds will really pop against a darker skin tone, allowing your lipstick to take centre stage. True, vibrant and pillarbox reds fit the brief. Deeper skin tones also suit more sultry shades of red, especially those with a hint of berry to them.

How to Pick the Best Red Lipstick for Your Skin Tone, According to Makeup Artists

How to wear red lipstick


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