How to Choose and Apply Red Lipstick

Whoever said that being lippy was a bad thing didn't know the power of a good red lip

Credit: Catherine Tse

Understand the difference between cool, warm and neutral red lip products

The iconic red pout is as easy to create as swiping on some luscious lipstick. It’s the one makeup look that can instantly elevate your entire appearance. While the classic ruby red lip is an evening staple, a modern way of wearing it is to give it a more casual approach for daytime use.

But finding the right shade of red can be intimidating. The perfect shade can brighten the complexion whereas the wrong shade can make you look pale.

If you find the options intimidating, start with the basics: Do you need red with a cool, warm or neutral undertone? Then decide on the formula or texture: long-wearing, moisturising or gloss?

You’ll need to take your own skintone and lip pigmentation into consideration. For example, women who find that red lipsticks tend to turn bright pink (blue tones) on them should look at warmer toned red lipsticks (orange tones) for a little colour correction.

Buying Red Lipsticks

Always test out red lipsticks before buying. As a first and firm rule, never ever go by the name alone. One company’s scarlet will be another’s cranberry.

You’ll also want to check for texture and pigmentation. This is something else you simply can’t determine by looks or name alone. Whether in a bullet, tube or liquid format, any of them can be sheer or opaque, glossy or matte.

And don’t place too much importance on price. There are some really great drugstore products available that will perform brilliantly and offer great value, especially if you’re just starting to experiment with red lips.

Applying Red Lipsticks

Before applying a red lipstick, you’ll want to prep your lips by exfoliating and moisturising them. Exfoliation can be done easily by buffing them with a towel or cotton bud or using a dedicated lip exfoliator – any of these will do the job. Your lip moisturiser will need to be hydrating but not too slip-y, or else your lip product will slide right off. Live Clean’s ( ) organic Lovely Lips ($4.29) is ideal for this purpose, as it moisturises and protects, but leaves a perfect surface for the lipstick to adhere to.

For a modern red mouth, forget all the rules you’ve heard about applying red lipstick. Don’t worry about making an absolutely precise line, which can actually look old-fashioned. You can keep the edges soft to make this more wearable for everyday. If you feel you need a lipliner to prevent bleeding, dab or blot on some red lipstick first, then use your lipliner to buff in around the edges, using light, feathery strokes. Never ever draw a continuous line, which looks terribly harsh. You want your lipliner to melt into your lipstick. Then finish off by adding on more lipstick to ensure everything’s blended in seamlessly.

If you have a lot of redness around your mouth – the chin and nose area – you’ll want to conceal that. A red lip that’s surrounded by redness can look muddy and messy.

Different Ways to Wear Red Lipstick

Don’t be afraid to use your lipstick as a stain. Simply dab the lipstick lightly onto your lips to impart a tint of colour. This is a great way to get used to red lips if you find the colour intimidating, and is a brilliant way to quickly add colour when you’re out without a mirror.

To make your lipstick last longer, either use a stain or a long-lasting formula. If you don’t have either, you’ll need to work through a few steps to make your traditional lipstick last the night. Start by using a lip brush and apply the product in multiple, thin layers. Really work in the first layer, getting beyond the superficial top level and into the little creases and crevices. Blot lightly, then repeat with another application with the lip brush. After that you’ll have an excellent base which should last through hours of chatting and eating, and reapplication will be easy and manageable straight from the bullet.

Read on for recommendations (including swatches) of warm, cool and neutral red lipsticks.

Credit: Catherine Tse

Neutral Red Lipsticks

While neutral-toned red lipsticks will suit most skintones, they’re also the trickiest to find. But a classic red lip can brighten up the entire face, perking up any ashiness and warming up the face.

  1. Bobbi Brown, Lip Color: 10 Red. A mid-toned, easy-to-wear classic red, from the queen of natural-looking makeup herself. $28, available at Holt Renfrew and Sephora.
  2. Clinique, High Impact Lip Color: 12 Red-y to Wear. A bright fire-engine red that looks just as gorgeous when blotted down. $19, available at Clinique counters across Canada.
  3. Marc Jacobs, Lovemarc Lip Gel: 134 Showstopper. An innovative gel-texture gives this a lightweight feel and beautiful, glossy coverage. Extremely comfortable to wear with a fantastic magnetic cap. $36, exclusive to Sephora.
  4. MAC, Russian Red. This is a classic both in terms of colour and product, your perfect no-fail, go-to neutral red. Matte formula, so apply lip balm first. $18, available at MAC counters and stand-alone stores.
  5. Sephora, Rouge Shine: No. 34 Royal Wedding. A bright, easy-to-wear cherry red with good slip. $15, available at Sephora.
  6. Smashbox, Be Legendary Lipstick: Legendary. An accessible mid-tone red with great staying power. $23, available in drug stores and Sephora.
  7. Tom Ford, Scarlet Rouge. A rich, sanguine red in a luxuriously opaque yet comfortable and creamy formula. $55, available at Holt Renfrew.

Credit: Catherine Tse

Warm Red Lipsticks

Warm-toned red lipsticks are orange-based and are well-suited for people with yellow or olive undertones. They can range from bright fiery tomato to warm tropical coral and really help warm up the complexion.

  1. Hourglass, Opaque Rouge: Raven. This liquid formula delivers a long-lasting fiery, matte red. The wand applicator is nimble enough to proficiently handle detailed work around the edges. (For a slightly less bright option, try Raven in lipstick format.) $33, available at Sephora.
  2. Lancome, Rouge in Love: Be My Date! A smooth and feather-light formula that fades evenly and leaves a candy apple stain. $30, available at Lancome counters across Canada.
  3. LUSH, Liquid Lipstick: Ambition. A liquid formula that is impressively pigmented. It can be applied lightly as a stain or full-on for dramatic, opaque coverage. You can even use this on your cheeks. $18.95, available online and in-store at LUSH.
  4. Maybelline, ColorSensational LipColor: 625 Are you Red-y. An easy-to-wear colour with good slip and coverage. $9.99, available at drug stores.
  5. MAC, Lady Danger. A matte formula that delivers a hot tomato red. Can be drying, but stains beautifully. $18, available at MAC counters and stand-alone stores.
  6. Make Up For Ever, Aqua Rouge: 8 Iconic Red. A luscious, long-lasting bright red. Best applied on bare lips, as it can wear unevenly over lip balm. $29, available in drug stores including Sephora.
  7. Paul & Joe, 303 Silk Stockings. A warm vermillion red with creamy, satin finish, encased in Paul & Joe’s ultra-feminine and covetable packaging.  $20 for refill, $7 for case, available at B-Glowing.
  8. Shu Uemura, Rouge Unlimited: RD 160. A silky-smooth texture that delivers a soft, slightly coral-y red. $36, available at Holt Renfrew.
  9. Smashbox, Be Legendary Lipstick: Mandarin.  An accessible, electric orange-red that’s creamy and comfortable on the lips yet lightweight. $23, available in drug stores and Sephora.

Credit: Catherine Tse

Cool Red Lipsticks

Cool-toned lipsticks sit especially well with skintones that have pink undertones but can also work with most colourings depending on the shade. These lipsticks are blue-based and enter into the berry, wine and burgundy spectrum of red. With more yellowy skintones they can really help lift sallowness and bring a brightness to the face. They have the added benefit of making teeth look whiter and brighter.

  1. Annabelle, Twistup Retractable Lipstick Crayon: Red Carpet. Feels and functions like a lipstick-lipliner hybrid, with excellent coverage and superb maneuverability around the edges. Colours are opaque while offering good slip and longevity. $9,95, available in drug stores across Canada.
  2. Aveda, Smoothing Lip Color: 918 Redwood. A deep, dark rich red that’s perfect for winter months. Wears beautifully, leaving a berry-stained mouth. $22.50, limited edition for Holiday 2013 available at Aveda salons across Canada.
  3. Becca, Ultimate Matte Colour: Amelia. A wearable poppy-pink-red that’s brightening. Matte formula but easy to apply with good slip. $28, available at Sephora.
  4. Cargo, Essential Lip Color: Paris. A pink-red with a thick formula that’s still very comfortable on the lips. Waxy texture, in the best sense. $25, available at London Drugs.
  5. Hourglass, Femme Rouge: Icon. A rich, sophisticated, deeply opaque red with strong blue undertones. Creamy formula that wears beautifully. $35, available at Sephora.
  6. Lise Watier, Rouge Fondant Supreme: Marilyn. Lots of slip and shine, almost like a stick gloss. Incredibly easy to apply and would look good on almost anyone. $24, available in drug stores across Canada.
  7. Maybelline, New York SuperStay 14H: Continuous Cranberry. The longest lasting formula of all these lipsticks. It performs impressively and well above its price point, giving rich opaque colour while remaining comfortable on the lips. $9.99, available in drug stores across Canada.
  8. Shu Uemura, Rouge Unlimited: RD 185. Provides opaque coverage but is so easy to apply it almost feels like a gloss. Gorgeous formulation with a holiday-perfect, burgundy-tinged red colour. $36, available at Holt Renfrew.
  9. Tom Ford, Cherry Lush. A classic cool red that really brightens up the complexion. Luscious, creamy formula in an elegant, luxe case. $55, available at Holt Renfrew.

Credit: Catherine Tse

Gateway Red Lip Products

These red lip products are almost universally flattering. They aren’t as opaque as the other recommended lipsticks and will blend in well with your own skintone and  lips’ natural pigmentation. They’re easy to apply and more forgiving of a casual approach, so they’re great for holidays when you want a more throwaway look or for young girls who are just getting into makeup.

  1. Becca, Beach Tint: Papaya. This lip and cheek stain is a cult classic for good reasons. This is a very warm red, providing a lovely, healthy flush of colour. It’s a tiny tube that contains a very pigmented cream, so you need to blend quickly. $30, available at Sephora.
  2. Clinique, Butter Shine: 432 Cranberry Cream. A lovely rich berry colour that can be layered for more coverage. A great everyday red with nourishing properties.  $19, available at Clinique counters across Canada.
  3. Estée Lauder, Pure Color High Intensity Lip Lacquer: Hot Cherry. Applied full-strength, it has the opacity of a liquid lipstick. Gorgeous pigmentation in a bright cherry red colour that’s easy to sheer out. A very grown-up gloss. $26, available at Estée Lauder counters across Canada.
  4. Fresh, Sugar Tinted Lip Treatment: Cherry. This is the newest colour to join the lineup of Fresh’s tinted lip balms. Not as much colour payoff as Passion or Coral, but more than Petal and Honey. Mini version is shown above, as part of the holiday trio set, $28. Full size, $22.50. Available at Sephora.
  5. Lise Watier, Haute Couleur: Rouge Catwalk. Provides great glossy colour without a sticky finish. Includes a mirror on one side of the tube and an LED light that turns on every time the gloss is opened, making night time application easy. $21, available in drug stores across Canada.
  6. LUSH, Lip Tint: A Million Kisses. An impressively pigmented lip tint that delivers a luscious colour that can easily be built up. Pat it on for a perfect, just-ate-berries look. $9.25, available online and in-store at LUSH.
  7. Maybelline, Color Sensational Elixir: 020 Signature Scarlet. This is a liquid lip balm, new on the market. It provides great pigmentation, hydration and a glossy finish. $10.99, available in drug stores across Canada.
  8. Revlon, Lip Butter: Candy Apple. An easy-to-apply formula with a slick texture and mid-level pigmentation, giving lips a rosy, flushed look. $9.59, available in drug stores across Canada.