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The Beginners’ Guide To Mastering Red Lipstick


red lipstick

Red lipstick is amazing. It looks good on everyone. It is classic, ladylike, sophisticated and bold. But damn, it’s hard to apply sometimes.

Perfecting the red lip takes time. First there’s a matter of finding the right shade for your complexion and undertones, something that makes your skin look brighter and your teeth look whiter. Then there’s the matter of finding the shade that’s exactly what you want – do you want a true red? A deep red? A subtle red? A cool-toned red? An orange/red?

Once you find the right shade, the fun is just getting started. There are few things that look worse than red lipstick over chapped, flaky lips, and a smudged red mouth isn’t any better. So let’s look at the finer points of getting started with the red lip.


Phase 1: I suggest taking baby steps. Instead of going straight for the very pigmented matte red lipstick, start with a tint or a red-toned gloss. Benefit’s ‘Benetint‘ is a great way to start. It’s a super subtle tint that can be built up for a more saturated look. While it can be a bit drying, it is a great way to slowly move into red lip territory.

Phase 2: Once you’re ready to go red, start doing some research. Ask someone at a cosmetics counter what kind of undertones you have in your skin and look up the best shades for those tones. Then start looking for pictures of celebrities whose complexions are similar to yours. Once you find someone who is rocking the sort of red you’d like to wear, take that picture to a makeup store and ask for some shade suggestions. It’s sort of like coloring your hair.

Phase 3: Once you have a few shade suggestions, try one and walk around while wearing it for a while. See if you feel comfortable in it and if you like the way it looks.

Phase 4: Choose your favorite shade, buy it and then prep the perfect red lip: this requires exfoliating and moisturizing your lips, then taking time over application and removing any smudges with a q-tip dubbed in makeup remover.


Phase 5: Repeat the steps to the perfect red lip every time you want that precise, elegant look. I also like to have a more foolproof lipstick on hand (try Tarte’s Lipsurgence crayons – they’re wonderful when you want a less intense, easier red lip that doesn’t require much prep. Stash this in your purse for times you just need bit of color.

Phase 6: Build your collection. It seems like a waste to buy a bunch of red lipsticks, but if you love the look then why not? I love having one lipstick for a really formal, polished look; a fun orange-y red, a reddish tint and a really low maintenance red crayon (like the Tarte shade I mentioned). Soon enough you’ll be a red lip savant #Classy.

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I'm a Chicago-based writer and graduate of the Medill School of Journalism who has written for sites like,,,,, Racked, Thrillist and The Huffington Post.