Red lipstick is a makeup kit essential. With roots dating back to Ancient Egypt — Cleopatra herself was known to flaunt a red lip — the crimson shade is as relevant today as it was back then. And while other lipstick colors have captured our fleeting interest —nude, purple, pink— red will always have our hearts.
But let’s be honest: Red lipstick has many faces. Blue undertones, brown undertones, classic red, coral, mulberry, and cherry — the color options are endless. And finishes? Between the glosses, mattes, satins, creams and stains our heads are literally spinning with a merry-go-round of gorgeous red lippies. However, for the sake of keeping your makeup arsenal in check, we decided to break it down for you. First, see our tips for how to properly prep your lips for the red-lipstick life. Then, check out our picks for the best red lipsticks, ever.
Lip Care 101
The key to successfully pulling off this bold look is in the prep and technique. Here, four easy steps to rockin’ a red lip.
Step #1: Exfoliate
Dry, dehydrated lips are a no bueno for a bold lip. Dryness can lead to flaking, bleeding and uneven color. Keep your lips healthy and flake-free by using a lip exfoliant or scrub daily to slough away dead skin and ensure the surface is smooth and supple. Try The Body Shop Lip Scuff or a homemade scrub of brown sugar and coconut oil. Warning: Make sure you exfoliate gently. Don’t overdo it or you could cause some serious irritation that will put your lips in a worse condition than they were at the start. Using your finger or the stick, make small gentle circle motions over your lips (moving from one side to the other) for about half a minute then rinse off with a warm washcloth and water. Do this once a day and you’ll be in good shape.
Step #2: Moisturize
After you’ve exfoliated, immediately pump your lips with moisture to keep them soft. Keep a lip balm in your purse, desk and car so you can reapply throughout your day (in between application sessions of your red lippie). Try a potent formula like Kiehl’s Lip Balm #1 or Maybelline Baby Lips Moisturizing Lip Balm. If you’re prone to dryness and/or get dehydrated quickly, go for the big guns and slather on some coconut oil or almond oil on the lips after scrubbing them. Similar to the technique you used for exfoliating, use a soft, massaging motion (in a circular pattern) to stimulate circulation in the lips and allow for better absorption of the oil. Do this for a minute and then remove excess oil by dabbing the lips with a tissue.
Step #3: Prime and Line
Just like your face and eyes, lips require adequate prep to ensure color doesn’t bleed or fade. Start with a solid primer that will allow your color to last longer and truly pop. You can use a lip-priming formula like NYX Lip Primer or, in a pinch, a concealer will work fine, too. Put a few dots along your top and bottom lip, then blend them in with your finger, going overtop of your lips and along your outer lip line.
Lip liner is always a non-negotiable with red lips, as it serves as an invisible fence for your color. It helps keep your red shade on your lips and not on the rest of your mouth area. So line the lips well with a shade that complements your lip color, then smudge the color across your lips as well— this helps prime them even more. After applying your lipstick, retrace the edge of your lips once more to cover your tracks.
Step #4: Pick the RIGHT Red
While we fully encourage you to wear whatever red shade makes you feel the fiercest, there are certain shades that are proven to flatter specific skin tones. Educate yourself by, first, finding your right skin tone and, second, figuring the right red to flatter your tone. Use this guide to find out which lipstick shades work best for you.
A quick and dirty guide to picking the right red lippie goes as follows:
Fair skin tones: Complement your cooler-toned skin with a red that has a blue or purple undertone. A cherry or classic red are a good way to go.
Medium/olive skin tones: This skin tone is ideal since you can wear a wide range of shades. We say go bold by opting for an oxblood shade or reddish-coral.
Warm/deeper skin tones: Work with the warm, red tones of your face by opting for an equally deep red shade. A brick-red or deep crimson will pop against your dark skin tone.
This orangey-red lipstick is perfect for the babe who likes a warmer red lip. The consistency is creamy, and its staying power is impressive. For a truly flawless finish we recommend the matching lip liner. Luckily, Maybelline has a convenient lip kit so you can grab them as a pair.
Having trouble choosing just one red? NYX has a palette for that. This lip cream palette features six color coordinated shades ranging from blue-red to a deep crimson. You can wear them on their own or mix and match for a truly customizable shade.
The staying power of this lipstick is seriously impressive. We’ve done virtually everything with it on — from brushing our teeth to going to the gym. This blue-red (and slightly fuschia) shade is beautiful when applied and looks on great on a variety of skin tones.
For starters, we love the Liquid Suede formula. It’s super comfortable, completely opaque and wears well throughout the day. It comes in 24 fun shades, but Kitten Heels has definitely stolen our hearts. The bright red shade is slightly orange — particularly on olive and deep skin tones — and at $10, it is definitely one of the best red lipsticks money can buy.
You’ll be tempted to grab this lippie for the packaging alone — that’s how pretty this lipstick is. Created in partnership with iconic fashion house Balmain, this collection features 12 shades that range from comfortable, statement mattes to daring shimmery hues. Domination is one of our favorites, a true red lipstick that is comfortable and chic.
For the past few years, matte lipstick has reigned supreme, but shiny lips are definitely making a splashy comeback. This glossy, high-shine lipstick is ultra-moisturizing and feels amazing on your lips. Pro-tip! Use a lip liner underneath for truly popping color.
While we’re obsessed with bold, bright shades, we can’t resist a deep, vampy lip either. This creamy, matte lip from Maybelline is everything you’ve ever wanted in a lippie. This brown based red is perfect for those days you want to draw extra attention to your lips and at $9.99 a tube, it really doesn’t get any better than this.
This deep, brick red shade is pigmented, creamy and the staying power is pretty great. There’s a little surprise in the top (spoiler: It’s a lip primer), and at only $7 a tube you can grab one in every shade.
About the Author:Tembe Denton-Hurst hails from Brooklyn, NY, but if you ask her, the answer will be much more complicated. She's passionate about YouTube, storytelling and swatching everything she can get her hands on. When the assistant beauty editor isn't brainstorming crazy ideas for makeup.com, she's lurking on Reddit, spending time with her cats Stella and Dakota or asking obvious questions.