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The CF Guide to Flawless Red Lips for Every Skintone


Red lipstick
Photo credit

As we all know, bold red lips have never gone out of style. No matter what the year or season, a red lip is always classic, chic, and fun. But with all the different shades, undertones, and textures, it’s easy to get lost in a sea of red and come out with a shade that doesn’t look quite right.

While red lips may seem a little intimidating, everyone (yes, that means you) can rock this look. So if you’ve never been able to find the right red or never thought you could pull it off, read on for our guide to the best red lipstick shades for every skintone.

Cool-toned Reds

Anne hathaway red lips
Anne Hathaway | Elle

Cool-toned reds are blue-based reds that tend to look slightly pink. These shades of red look best on girls that have cool, rosy undertones, meaning skin tones like porcelain and ivory, rose-beige, and medium beige (think Evan Rachel Wood, Megan Fox, and Sandra Bullock).

Blue-based reds are great for rosy-skinned ladies, since they work harmoniously with cool-toned skin. If you have yellow undertones, however,  you can still rock a blue-based red  – just know that it will really pop out against your skin and look super dramatic. A huge benefit of blue-toned reds is that they make your teeth look super white.

For a great cool-toned red, try Revlon’s ColorStay Ultimate Suede Lipstick in Trendsetter, a super matte, long-wearing formula. Maybelline Color Sensational Lipstick in Very Cherry is another great option, as is the splurge-worthy Rouge Dior Lipstick in Favori Red.

Warm-toned Reds

Karlie kloss red lips
Karlie Kloss | Elle

Warm-toned reds are yellow-based reds that tend to look slightly orange. These shades of red look best on skin with yellow undertones like sand beige, golden medium, or olive skin (think Kim Kardashian, Penelope Cruz, and Zoe Saldana).

Since yellow-toned skin can sometimes look sallow, a warm, orangey red gives the skin a pop of radiance and is perfect for days when you feel your skin looks dull. Steer clear of warm-toned reds if you have cool undertones, however, as these shades can clash with your skin and over-emphasize its natural redness.

MAC Lipstick in Lady Danger is a great yellow-based red that is super long-lasting and really brightens up the skin. NARS Lipstick in Heat Wave, is a wonderful warm red that looks especially good on blondes. NYX Lipstick in Eros is a fab budget-friendly pick.

Neutral Reds

Rose byrne red lips
Rose Byrne | Elle

Shades of red that aren’t 100% cool or warm are considered neutral. These shades can work with many different skin tones and can look different on everyone. Neutral reds are also considered “true reds” because they don’t look pink or orange.

For a classic red lip à la Dita Von Teese, try MAC’s Ruby Woo. Another neutral shade that looks orange-red on warm skin and pinkish-red on cool skin is Revlon’s Super Lustrous Lipstick in Fire & Ice. (This classic shade has been around since 1952 and was a favorite of Elizabeth Taylor.) We also love CoverGirl’s Lip Perfection Lipstick in Hot, which again looks more orange on warm skin and more pink on cool skin tones.

Deep Reds

Dania ramirez red lips
Dania Ramirez | Elle

Deep plum and wine reds are huge this season, but regardless of their trendiness, they always look good on dark skin tones. Rich, deep reds and burgundy shades often look the most natural on deep skin tones as brighter lip colors sometimes look too harsh.

If you have rich and warm mahogany tones in your skin (think Gabrielle Union and Kelly Rowland), try darker, brick-red shades with warm undertones, such as NARS Fire Down Below and CoverGirl Lip Perfection lipstick in Burn.

Girls with cool, espresso tones in their skin (think Viola Davis and Jennifer Hudson) should go for plummy wine shades of red, such as Kat Von D’s Painted Love lipstick in Rosary and MAC’s lipstick in Hang-Up.

Final Advice for Rocking the Red Lip

  • For tips on how to apply the perfect red lip, check out our video tutorial.
  • Red lips aren’t just for special occasions! For an effortlessly chic look, try a red lip during the day with a casual ensemble.
  • Try drugstore brands first, especially if you’re new to red lips – no need to shell out big bucks for something you won’t wear often.
  • Like we always say, keep the rest of your makeup understated when wearing a red lip.
  • Smile big and wear your red lips with confidence! 

What do you think?

Have you been known to rock a red lip? Do you have a favorite red lipstick? Any advice or suggestions we left out? Let us know in the comments below!

Posted on on December 11, 2012 / Filed Under: Beauty & Hair / Tags: , , ,

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19 Responses to “The CF Guide to Flawless Red Lips for Every Skintone”

  1. 1
    December 11th, 2012 at 1:34 pm

    I have pale olive (yellow undertones) skin, and so far my best red is Revlon’s old classic Cherries in the Snow; a cool-toned red. So yes, it’s totally do-able!

  2. 2
    December 11th, 2012 at 2:20 pm

    Unfortunately, I have braces for couple years now. But their time will be soon over and then I will rock red lips all the time! I can’t wait for that like year or longer.
    Red lips are just fabulous. :)

  3. 3
    December 11th, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    My absolute favorite red lipstick (I have tanned olive skin): NYX Soft Matte lip cream in Amsterdam!

  4. 4
    December 11th, 2012 at 4:47 pm

    these girls are all brunettes… i’m a natural blonde, I have very fair skin and really light hair. no matter what I try, I can’t rock the red lip… any suggestions?

  5. 5
    December 11th, 2012 at 5:03 pm

    African American women wear red too… would have liked to see some up here.

  6. 6
    December 11th, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    Danielle: The section on Deep Reds has examples of different shades of red for African American women.

  7. 7
    December 11th, 2012 at 5:19 pm

    Therese: What are the undertones in your skin?

  8. 8
    December 11th, 2012 at 7:30 pm

    Great post, Marissa! I definitely want to check out the cool-tone reds you suggested. I have very fair skin with cool undertones and my favorite red is Jungle Red from NARS, so that’s another good red to try as well!

    Even though you suggested it for warmer skintones, I love Heat Wave from NARS on my cool skin. It definitely stands out, but in a good way! :)

  9. 9
    December 11th, 2012 at 8:55 pm

    I have very pale, porcelain freckled skin, and ginger hair. I’ve been on the hunt for a perfect red lip for red heads forever, but just haven’t had any luck! Any suggestions?

  10. 10
    December 11th, 2012 at 9:17 pm

    What about girls with “indian skin tone”, I’m not quite olive or really all that dark. Could you give me some pointers?

  11. 11
    December 11th, 2012 at 9:45 pm

    @Anka: I too have braces and as I’m not completely fond of lipsticks, mostly because I haven’t found any good lipsticks that I like (looking into Mac and Lime Crime soon), I always look at lip gloss. I found a red lip gloss that I like. It’s the Legalize LA lip gloss from American Apparel. It’s bright and easy to apply. It’s a bit sticky, but that’s a quality easy to look past.
    Good luck on finding a lipstick you like! And good luck when your braces come off! :)

  12. 12
    December 12th, 2012 at 1:00 am

    Hi! I’m blonde, blue-eyed, not dark but not terribly pale, either. Every shade of red lipstick I’ve tried ends up looking hot pink! Not that there’s anything wrong with hot pink, but not when I’m going for red! Does anyone know what the deal is and what tone would work for me? I think my skin has rosy undertones but I’m not really sure.

  13. 13
    December 12th, 2012 at 1:38 am

    Nice article but it’s not really multiculturally friendly at all.

    There are 3 Caucasian people-targeted section and one not even really African-American section. Not to mention that not only Caucasian people have lighter skin tones but there is not particular section targeted at other races. And I realize that the skin tone descriptions for each section are more race general but the pictures for each section are kind of … off-putting. I would’ve loved to see more diverse models!

  14. 14
    December 12th, 2012 at 2:33 am

    Mello: I’m sorry you feel that my article is not multicultural-friendly.

    I formatted the article in a way that describes the undertones of various reds and which skin undertones they match with. That being said, no matter what your skin tone you can find the right shade of red based on your skin’s undertones, which provides a rough guide to which reds will look best on you. For example, I put a picture of Karlie Kloss under warm undertones and as a Hispanic woman with warm undertones, the tips from that section still apply to me despite the fact that we do not have the same skin color at all.

    As far as pictures go, it was disappointingly difficult for me to find many pictures of women of color in red lips, especially from sources I was allowed to take pictures from.

  15. 15
    December 12th, 2012 at 2:42 am

    Morgaine: One of my best friends is a ginger and rocks an amazing warm-toned red. Her freckles add warmth to her pale skin, which is what makes yellow-based reds work. I think it also depends on your hair color; a warm-based red would clash less with orange-y red hair than with auburn hair. Google some pictures of Emma Stone or Joan Holloway from Mad Men for inspiration!

  16. 16
    December 25th, 2012 at 7:44 pm

    best red lipstick to try is IL MAKIAGE flamingo red, no one has a red color so perfect.

  17. 17
    September 24th, 2013 at 6:56 am

    I went to paris gallery and was so happy to find my perfect red… not too bright, not too red, not too intense. Just right. Wearable all day long. Daily. What ever the occasion. It was Shiseido’s red deluxe P7. It looked so awesome I never wanted to take it off. And then the sales girl went to check for a fresh piece. And returned to say that it had been discontinued. I was so upset. Ive been trying to find another lipstick that looks like the P7 and am unable to. Could I have suggestions? My skin is light wheatish with warm undertones. (Veins look green from behind my wrist) brick colors look great on me and estee Lauder’ s copper coral except that it is too loud for daily wear. Any suggestions?

  18. 18
    July 31st, 2014 at 7:16 am

    I was going through some of Cfs old post looking for the sneaker wedge n stumbled on this lipstick article.
    I have a light tan Indian/Asian skin color. My absolute favourite is A raspberry red matte shade by INGLOT. Was a little pricey costing Qatari Riyals 80, but totally with it.
    Another lipstick which I wear almost everytime is Envy by Tarte Lipsurgence, it moisturises the lips well although envy’s a duller deep shade.

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