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How To Pull Off The Perfect Red Lip

Without looking washed out, or like a clown

By Anna Saunders

A red lip can make a woman seem powerful, polished, sexy and sultry, but if you’re pale or tired, it can also make you look like you’ve recently emerged from a morgue.

Partly, it’s about finding the right shade of red for your skin tone, says our beauty editor Lucy Adams. “I honestly think it’s trial and error – perhaps easy for me to say when new colours are landing on my desk every day,” she adds. As a rule, Lucy says red lipsticks can be divided into two camps – blue-based reds (like plum or deep red) and orange-based red (which are more pink, coral and fire engine red). Pick from the wrong “family” of reds, and – no matter how much you like a particular red lip on someone else – you’ll look washed out.

Adding warmth to your complexion is also important to avoid that Morticia-like mask effect. Lucy suggests applying bronzer and highlighter “to the points on your face where the sun would naturally reflect”.

And in the spirit of investigation – and also because frankly we’re always on the hunt for great beauty tips – we asked five women who wear a great red lip to tell us exactly how they do it.



Candice Lake, photographer 

“Most make-up artists use a brush to apply colour, but I use the actual lipstick because I like to work quickly! But if I know I’ll be out all night, I’ll first cover my lip with a light foundation and then fill in the whole lip with a red lip liner, because it does not move. That’s definitely a tip I learned from make-up artists. Then to finish, I add a little shimmer to my top lip, just below my nose, to accentuate my lips – it really works.

“Also, to ensure you never get lipstick on your teeth, use this tip from my mum: Put your (clean!) index finger in your mouth and then pull it out like a lollipop.  Any excess lipstick goes on your finger and you won’t get any on your teeth.

“My go-to products are Tom Ford True Coral and MAC’s Ruby Woo. MAC does the best reds. I love how a red lip completes a look. As soon as a lick of red goes on, I feel ‘done’.”


Holly Ringland, author

“To find your best red, experiment with differing shades until you discover one that matches your skin tone in the way you love most. For example, I love reds with an orange base, versus reds that have a blue base, because of how much more they pop on my skin. No one else gets to tell you which red looks best on you. Choose the way, the shade, and the how you wear your red lipstick based on what brings the most joy to you. Right now, I love Sportsgirl’s Almost Famous.

“I used to have a postcard on the cork board in my writing office, which was inspired by Leo Reisman’s 1927 hit, Red Lips Kiss My Blues Away; I kept it in my line of sight until it faded beyond recognition. It comes to mind because it sums up for me why I wear red lipstick, and how it makes me feel: at the heart of all I am, there is always a bright red fire burning in my centre. And every time I put on my red lipstick, I’m wearing a little flame. For courage. For love. For joy. For colour. For life. (Since the Reisman postcard I’ve also kept these two gems pinned where I can read them: “If you’re sad, add more lipstick and attack,” by Coco Chanel. And maybe my favourite, “Pour yourself a drink, put on your lipstick, and pull yourself together.” That’s Elizabeth Taylor.)


Bec Harding, model

“A red lip makes me feel quite confident and sexy. I don’t do it very often so it’s really fun to put on a lip colour and almost play a character.

This is L’Oreal Matt Rouge Lip Ink in [the shade] ‘I Don’t’  and the reason I really love it is that it’s matte, so there’s no chance or risk of it getting on my teeth! I’m the clumsiest person on earth. Often I like it as a full colour but sometimes I’ll dab some off with a tissue so it’s more of a stain, which looks a bit more undone. I find that a deeper red suits me when I’m pale, and with a tan [I choose] more of a coral red.”

I have super dry lips, so I’m really conscious of that. I use By Terry Balme De Rose. It’s a really moisturising lip balm and it’s not too shiny, so I can put it on directly underneath.”


Khadija Gbla, human rights activist and cultural consultant

“I love wearing a red lip – there’s so much nuance in the way each tone of red projects a different emotion. I wear a bold red when I want to exude confidence – say, when I’m presenting or walking into a meeting. My go-to product is Mac Ruby Woo. This kind of red makes me feel powerful, strong and sexy; dark berry, though, feels sultry. I might wear a pink shade on a date. I’m lucky – every colour looks good on dark skin.

“I exfoliate my lips every day, otherwise they get dry and flaky. Sometimes I use a homemade exfoliant of honey and sugar, or I’ll just brush them with my toothbrush. Then I apply Mac Prep and Prime lip, which is a really moisturising base, followed by lipliner to stop any bleeding. Then I use a brush to apply the lipstick because it means I can shape the colour. Concealer round my lips, in the same shade as my foundation, gives a bold look.”


Lisa Hamilton of See, Want, Shop

“It took me a long time to find the right red – it’s a bit of trial and error – but once you find one, you can just pop it on and go. A red lip is quite a quick way of getting ready. I don’t do much with an eye [with it]. I just put on some bronzer.

“I like matching the colour with something I’m wearing – like a red in a floral dress. Otherwise black and white always works with a red lip. This red is NARS Powermatte Lip Paint in Cherry Bomb [sadly, no longer available]. I also like Guerlain Rouge No. 25 which comes with a little mirror [on the case], which is great because when I have a bright lip I’m constantly thinking about it, so you can check it or apply using the little mirror.”  


BY Anna Saunders

Anna is the co-founder of PRIMER. She owns approximately 10 red lipsticks that have been used once.

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