How to Pick Your Perfect Shade of Red Lipstick

by Jessica Pigza

Red lipstick can be an intimidating color but wearing the right red lipstick can be empowering! And with Valentine’s Day coming up, it’s the perfect finishing touch to any outfit! Before we dive into how to choose your perfect shade let’s go over a few ground rules for who can wear red lipstick….ANYONE can! That’s right, red lipstick is for everyone, every age, every style, every ‘type’ of woman out there.

You can reserve it for a special evening out or you can wear it every day. Maybe you felt like putting it on with no plans to leave the house because you just like the way it makes you feel. All of those are perfectly fine. There’s no right or wrong. It’s all about doing what makes you feel great and don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. Plus did you know red is a neutral?!?! It goes with everything and everyone. Now that you’ve dropped any preconceived notions that red lipstick just isn’t for you, let’s get started picking your perfect shade.

While it’s fair to say red is a neutral, all red lipsticks are not created equal. Just like red nail polish, there’s a reason cosmetic companies don’t stick to just one shade, they make many which also explains why picking one can feel like an overwhelming task. While I can’t pick the perfect red lipstick for you I can help make suggestions and explain why complexion and undertones play such a big role in this decision. Now if you’ve already got a good grasp on your complexion and undertone you can feel free to skip down to the Seeing Red section.

Complexion and Undertone

When you look at your skin there are two different forces at work. The first is your complexion which is your overall skin coloring. Are you fair? Tan? Olive? Or dark complected? Then the second is what is the undertone of your skin. This is the color that comes from underneath your skin.

Your undertone is usually categorized as being cool, warm, or neutral. A cool undertone is generally associated with skin that has hints of blue, pink, or a reddish complexion. A warm undertone is more peachy, golden, or yellow while a neutral undertone shows little signs of any other color other than your own natural skin complexion or it can be a combination of warm and cool. If you feel even more lost than when you started reading this it’s okay. The more I learn about color and complexion, warm vs cool the more fascinated I become yet confused at the same time. There’s just SO much to color! However since we’re only dealing with red lipstick, I can try and keep things simple.

What’s your complexion?

While complexion and undertone intertwine with each other we’re going to first start off by determining your complexion. This one is fairly easy and chances are, it’s something you already know. There are primarily six different complexion types. They are:

  • Type I: Light Skin – Always burns and never tans.
  • Type II: Fair Skin – Usually burns, then tans.
  • Type III: Medium Skin – May burn, but tans well.
  • Type IV: Olive Skin – Rarely burns and tans well.
  • Type V: Tan Brown Skin – Very rarely burns and tans well.
  • Type VI: Black Brown Skin – Never burns and tans very well.

What category do you fall into? There is a chance that you may fall in between two categories and that’s okay. Try to choose the one that fits you best. I’ve been told I have olive skin all my life but now that I’m older I’m finding that I tend to burn a little more making me more of a medium skin tone. Now that you’ve determined what your complexion is let’s move on to your undertone. Are you warm? Cool? Or neutral? This one can be a little more confusing and there are a few ways you can figure this one out.

Five Ways to determine your undertone

1. What color are your veins

This is where you look at your veins to determine their color. The wrist is an easy place to start but if you can see veins by your face that can give you an even more precise determination. If your veins look blue or purple you’re a cool undertone. If they appear green, you have a warm undertone and if it’s a mix of the two then you have a neutral undertone.

2. The White tee test

For this test put on a pure white tee or even hold up a piece of white paper to your face. Are you pink and rosy or do you look yellow? Are you glowing or do you look washed out? If you look yellow or washed out then chances are you’re a warm tone and chances are you also tend to gravitate towards off-white. But if you look rosy and glowing then you lead towards the cool tones. If you can rock both white and off-white without feeling washed out then you’re a neutral.

3. Your skin in the sun

Do you tan easily or do you burn? Maybe you burn then tan. How your skin reacts to the sun can also help you determine your undertone. If you tan easily you may be a warm but if you burn then chances are you’re a cool tone. If you burn then tan you’re probably a neutral.

4. Gold Vs. Silver Jewelry

What jewelry metal looks better against your skin? Gold or Silver? Gold jewelry tends to look more flattering on warm skin tones while silver jewelry tends to flatter cool tones. If both flatter your skin tone then chances are you’re a neutral.

5. Hair and eye color

Your undertone can also be determined by your natural hair and eye color. Cool tones tend to have blonde, black or brown hair with green, blue, or grey eyes. Warm tones tend to have red, brown, strawberry blonde or black hair with brown or hazel eyes.

Seeing Red

Okay, now that you’ve hopefully figured out what complexion and undertone category you fall into let’s get to the good stuff, what to look for in your perfect red lipstick. Red lipstick is not just red lipstick, just like your skin it’s not just about what you see on the surface, but what the undertone of the red is. Is it a blue base or an orange base? Then there’s what is called a universal red but we’ll get to those a little later. Below I’ve taken each skin complexion and broken down what to look for along with some examples.

1. Fair and light Complexions

Fair and light complexions tend to be on the cool side so stick with reds that have a blue or purple base like raspberry and cranberry hues. This will complement the natural pink tones of your skin. Don’t be afraid to try a bright red for a fun pop of color against your skin.

NARS Lipstick, Inappropriate Red

Pixi MatteLast Liquid Lipstick in Real Red

Jane Iredale Triple Luxe Long Lasting Naturally Moist Lipstick, Gwen

Dose of Color Matte Liquid Lipstick in Merlot

More Light/Fair Complexion Options

2. Medium Complexions

Medium complexions are pretty versatile when it comes to the shades of red that compliment their skin tone. They can opt for both cool reds with a blue base as well as warm reds with a yellow or orange base. However, since this skin type will tan quite easily it’s best to change out your red lipstick depending on the seasons. In summer, when skin is more likely to have a golden tan, opt for a red that is warm based, and in winter when the tan has faded some, opt for a red with a cool blue undertone. If you tend to lead towards a cool medium, steer clear of coral-based reds as they will make your complexion look dull.

Milani Amore Matte Lip Crème in Striking

Pat McGrath Labs MatteTrance™ Lipstick in Obsessed! 211

Charlotte Tilbury K.I.S.S.I.N.G Lipstick, Love Bite

NYX Professional Makeup Matte Lipstick, Pure Red

More Medium Complexion Options

3. Olive Complexions

Olive skin complexions look best in yellow and orange based reds like corals and poppy and more earthy reds like rust and brick. Avoid cooler reds with blue bases as they will dull your complexion.

Revlon Super Lustrous Lipstick, Fire and Ice

ColourPop Lippie Stix, Who Run This

Charlotte Tilbury Hot Lips Lipstick 2, Red Hot Susan

NARS Velvet Matte Lip Pencil, Dragon Girl

More Olive Complexion Options

4. Tan Brown and Black Brown Complexions

While a tan brown skin tone tends to have a yellow undertone versus a black brown complexion, both skin tones make it easy to play with darker pigments. Try opting for a true red to warm up your complexion and create a brighter look. Darker complexions can easily handle a variety of deep shades of red. Try wines, berries, and dark cherry as well as candy apple reds to make your skin glow!

Yves Saint Laurent Tatouage Couture Liquid Matte Lip Stain, 8 Black Red Code

Lancôme L’Absolu Rouge Ruby Cream Lipstick, 01 Bad Blood Ruby

Mented Cosmetics Velvet Red Matte Lipstick in Red and Butter

Yves Saint Laurent Rock ‘N Shine Volupte Lipstick, Rock ‘N Red

More Dark Complexion Options

5. Universal Reds

A universal red lipstick is one that has equal parts blue and orange undertone making it look great on pretty much any complexion and undertone. It’s what’s called a true red and tends to be a little brighter and bolder making it a perfect choice for your upcoming Valentine’s Day.

MAC Matte Lipstick in Ruby Woo

Fenty Beauty by Rihanna Stunna Lip Paint Longwear Fluid Lip Color in Uncensored

Maybelline New York Color Sensational Made for All Lipstick, 382 Red For Me

Sephora Collection Cream Lip Stain Liquid Lipstick in 01 Always Red

Rouge Dior Refillable Lipstick, 999 Satin Red

More Universal Red Options

Trial and Error

Yes, I know that was a lot but remember to also be patient. I only barely scratched the surface on the many shades of red available. If you find a shade you like but you’re not sure if it will work, check out the color description. Many lipsticks will have a description sharing if they are more of a blue or orange undertone or if they lend themselves to being warm, cool, or even a pure red. If you can’t find the details you’re looking for don’t be afraid to reach out to the manufacturer.

Armed with this hopefully beneficial knowledge you may be able to find your perfect shade on the first try or it could take you a few tries. Don’t give up! You will find a shade you love! But in an effort to not waste money on lipsticks you’ll never wear, double-check the retailer’s return policy. Many retailers will allow you to return lipstick colors that weren’t a heck yes! Lastly, if you have a perfect shade of red and you love the way it looks but it doesn’t necessarily follow the suggestions above, go with your gut and stick with what you love. In the end, it’s all about how you feel when you wear it and I want every Pretty to feel fabulous!

Your turn! Are you a red lipstick pro or a newbie? Did your favorite shade make the list? If not let us know what your go-to shade is in the comments!