A Red Lip for Everyone – Choosing a Red Lipstick

Anyone can wear a red lip.  Thin lips, full lips, pale skin, dark skin, warm undertone, cool undertone, blue eyes, brown eyes — anyone can wear a red lip. Read more to find out how to choose the best red lip for you or your client.

In makeup, there are these “rules,” that you’re supposed to follow.  I, personally, think that rules are kind of stuffy and you can do whatever you want – it’s just makeup; BUT there is some truth in color choices and how they affect your general look.  Some colors will wash you out, will make you look a little sickly, or will appear garish on one skin tone but not on another.  Choosing a red lipstick shade can be tricky unless you have a solid understanding of color theory and are able to identify the undertone of the skin you’re trying to compliment, be it yours or your client’s.  Here are some basic recommendations for the most flattering shade.

Tip:  Always put your foundation on first before you determine the skin’s undertone.  This is because you may use a foundation to correct an overly pink skin tone or warm up an ashen tone, or even neutralize sallowness by adding pink to the skin.  For this reason, you’ll want to get the foundation on before you determine which shade of red will look the best.

Let’s get some terminology down, first.

Texture is also important to choosing a red lipstick.  It can have a major impact on the wear, comfort, and intensity of the look.

 Choosing a Red Based on Your Skin Tone:

The general guideline is that cool-toned skin will look best in cool or blue-based reds and skin with warm tones will look best in orange-based reds.  There are exceptions and none of these “rules” are fixed.

Cool-Toned Skin

Skin that has a cool undertone typically has a lot of pink in it (unless it is deep skin, then it can have strong blue or violet tones in it).  Rather than sticking solely with the notion that cool reds look best on cool skin, let’s factor in the depth and intensity of the shade as well as the rest of the makeup in the look.

Fair:  Fair cool-toned skin does, in my opinion, work best with cool reds.  If your client is very fair with strong pink undertones, a warm red may look garish or generally “off.”  Now, if the eye makeup is heavy, it can actually balance out a warm red for a very dramatic overall look.  Also, consider the texture of the red lipstick and how that will affect the look.  True red lipsticks (neutral reds) will work on this skin tone, as well.

Medium:  Medium cool-toned skin can wear both warm and cool reds with relative ease, depending on how intense the pink is in their skin.  Neutral red lipstick will also compliment this skin tone.

Deep:  In my experience, the majority of deep-toned clients I’ve worked on have had a warm complexion with heavy yellow or red tones in their skin.  There are, though, some ethnicities that have a distinct dark, yet cool-toned complexion and for these beauties, a deepened (dark) cool, neutral, or warm red lipstick will work well.  If you put bright red lipstick on a very dark skin tone, it can begin to look unnatural — like stick-on lips.  If that’s what you’re going for, an editorial kind of ultra-drama, then you can achieve that with any intense red lipstick.

Warm-Toned Skin

Fair:  Very fair warm-toned clients can wear any red lipstick, be it cool, neutral, or warm, depending on the look you’re trying to achieve.  If you’re going for vampy, choose a deep cool-toned or neutral red lipstick.  Pinup?  Mid-toned true reds will help you achieve that.  Are the eyes nearly naked?  Shoot for a medium to low-intensity red so that the lips don’t create an unbalanced face.

Medium:  The medium warm-toned client can wear just about any red lipstick.  Cool raspberry, true fire-engine red, or hot tomato red will all suit this skin tone so long as the rest of the makeup allows for it.  If you’re seeking an elegant and sophisticated evening look with a delicate black winged liner and soft contouring through the crease, choose a red lipstick that rounds out this look like a neutral red in a satin finish.  High-gloss will give it an editorial feel, matte will give you a pinup vibe.

Deep:  Warm, deep complexions can handle red lipstick in any tone, but the depth may need to be adjusted to maintain a flattering and realistic look.  This is where our darker brick red lipsticks come in, too.  Like I said before, ultra bright hues on deep skin can look cartoonish unless you’re going for something editorial.


Amber has fair, cool-toned skin. Which lipstick do you think is most flattering on her?

Kristine’s skin is fair to medium with strong yellow undertones. Which red lipstick do you think is most flattering for her?

Lauren has a medium warm-toned complexion. Which red lipstick do you find most flattering for her?

Which lipstick do you find most flattering on Dima’s warm, fair to medium skin?

Which lipstick do you find most flattering on Jerry’s warm, fair to medium skin?

Lassi’s skin has a medium cool-toned complexion. Which red lipstick to you find most flattering on her?

Bella has deep, warm-toned skin. Of these three lipsticks, which do you like best on her?


6 thoughts on “A Red Lip for Everyone – Choosing a Red Lipstick

    • It really does depend on the individual’s skin tone, specifically. If someone is very fair and very cool toned, a warm, orange-based red typically looks strange on them. On the other hand, if they are more of a medium, cool-toned skin tone, they can probably pull off a warmer red. The texture of the red and the intensity of the tone in the lipstick also factors in. When in doubt, choose a neutral, true red because that tends to read well on most skin tones. :-)

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