Twitter logo

Red lipstick 101

Wearing red lipstick is one of those 'check it off the list' items for being a grown up, isn't it? So many women would love to embrace red lips (I promise not to go all fashion blogger on you here and start calling it 'a red lip'), but lack confidence in their appearance, the best lipstick shade, or the right application technique to avoid scarlet teeth and bleeding lip lines.

If you're one of the many, many women who would love to channel their inner 1940s move star (or their inner early 2000's Gwen Stefani, or whoever your red lipped icon of choice is) but feel you just can't quite get away with it, read on for everything you ever wanted to know about red lipstick.

Which shade?

Finding your best red is straightforward if you've had your colours analysed. You just need to pick a red that tones with one of the reds in your colour swatch wallet. It really is as simple as that - and you thought colour analysis was only going to make getting dressed easier! If you need a reminder of which reds work for each season, hop back to this post where it is discussed in more depth.

If you haven't had your colours analysed, you may have some inkling of whether you are warm or cool based on colours that you know work or don't work for you, but if you really want to nail your perfect red now is the time to hunt down your nearest colour analyst and book in for a session. If you're not quite ready to take the leap yet, why not try out our colour quiz for a quick and free insight into the kinds of colours that might work for you?

Establishing the type of red you can wear really is the most crucial step in finding the right red lipstick. Messing around with formulations, textures and application techniques is never going to achieve amazing things until you are putting the most flattering shade on your lips.

Am I too old?

In short, no. You might find, as you get older, that you need to be a little more careful about the lipstick formulations you use - very matt and therefore more drying lipsticks can be ageing, and ones that are too greasy can bleed out into fine lines around your mouth, but if you pick the right lipstick you can keep wearing it into your nineties, a la Iris Apfel.

In terms of getting the formulation right for your age, consider something with a slight sheen or shimmer (I'm not talking 1980s Rimmel heather shimmer here, just a few small reflective particles in the lipstick that make it look less flat), and a good moisturising formula. A good foundation primer around your lips, and even a lipstick primer if necessary, will make sure that your lipstick doesn't bleed out.

When it comes to colour, lipsticks at the darkest end of your palette can get a little severe as you age, so go for a slightly lighter one. Remember, it doesn't necessarily need to be softer, especially if you're a Winter or Spring, but just a bit lighter than your deepest darkest reds or burgundies.

What type of lipstick?

Lipstick formulation is largely a matter of choice, and you may find as your confidence increases that you're ready to try the next level of intensity.

  • Tinted lip balm - if you're terrified of any lip colour at all, this is the place to start. It wears off incredibly quickly, but gets you used to a little colour on your lips with the added bonus that you're stopping them flaking too.
  • Lip gloss - this can vary from almost completely transparent to fairly opaque, so make sure you test it before buying. Beware, they can be super sticky and don't last that long, but are a good introduction to slightly more colour.
  • Sheer lipstick - a little easier to wear than gloss, and generally with slightly more colour, although there are some very sheer options out there. Again, limited staying power, but a great way to get into a red without the commitment of an opaque colour.
  • Frosted/shimmer lipstick - these don't suit everyone's style, but a subtle shimmer can make for a less intimidating option than full matt red.
  • Matt lipstick - the real deal. Your lips need to be in good condition, as this is the most drying of all the lipstick options, but get the application right (see below for tips) and you can have perfect looking, non-shifting lipstick for more or less the whole day. The colour will be totally opaque, so go for a slightly softer colour rather than trying to apply less if you're nervous.

So how do I apply it?

For lip balms and glosses you can basically whack the colour on and go - it's so sheer that it won't last long, but any minor errors in application won't show either. Once you get into 'proper' lipstick, even a sheer one, you'll benefit from proper application. Here's how to get a professional lipstick finish every time:

  • Make sure your lips are in good condition. Get into the habit of nightly lip balm as part of your cleansing routine, as applying lip balm right before your lipstick will mean it slides off in about four seconds flat.
  • Start with a primer on the skin around your mouth. This is really only essential if you have lots of fine lines which will cause your lipstick to bleed, but even if you don't it will help keep everything perfectly in place.
  • Use a lip pencil to outline your lips. If you are still in beginner mode and using a gloss or a very sheer lipstick, go for a lipliner than closely matches your natural lip colour, or perhaps a fraction more red (in the appropriate cool/warm tone). If you are using a proper red lipstick, use a red lipliner to match. For real longevity, you can colour your lips in with the liner as well as line them, but this can be drying if your lips tend that way.
  • Apply one coat of lipstick - a brush is the professional way to do it, but as a dedicated red lipstick wearer I have found minimal difference in longevity, compared to the extra time it takes me to apply with a brush. Go with what works for you.
  • Using a decent quality tissue from a tissue box (not toilet roll, it will leave fibres stuck to your lipstick), blot your lips gently, by holding the tissue between your lips and pressing down on it with your lips.
  • Add a second coat of lipstick, blot and apply a third if you really want to be determined about it.
  • If you really want your lipstick to not budge, divide a tissue into a single ply layer, place it over your lips and dust with loose face powder over the tissue - some of the powder will go through the tissue and absorb any excess oil in your lipstick without removing any colour.
  • I am not a huge fan of lipstick top coats to prevent it wearing off, as I find they taste universally disgusting and often sting to boot, but if you are particularly paranoid, these can be worth a try.
  • Final and most important point! make your mouth into an O shape, insert a finger, close your lips around it and slowly draw your finger out. Any lipstick on the inside of your lips will be rubbed off by your finger, so it won't be deposited on your teeth the moment you speak.

And there you go! Perfect red lips, every time.