Maybe you’re scared of red lipstick. Maybe you’re devoted to it: the make-up ‘signature’ friends know you for. But as make-up statements go there is nothing more classic – and nothing that oozes confidence – like rocking a red lip. For some women – think Betty Jackson – it’s become a signature, like their personal handwriting.
But unlike the judicious, understated application of nudes and neutrals, red lipstick requires not just courage – but skill. So: here’s everything I ever learned about red lips, from the pros, about how a pop of scarlet, crimson or cherry can enhance your looks…
Figure out if you’re a ‘warm’ red or a ‘cool’ red. Rule of thumb: orange-reds, or those heading towards coral, are kinder to olive complexions or anyone who tans easily. Paler skins (i.e. cooler complexions), as well as black skins, are generally better with blue-toned or pinky-reds. If you’re uncertain whether you’re warm or cool, you’ve two options: visit a make-up counter (where consultants can usually tell at a glance), or do the peach/rose test (um, you’ll need a peach and a mid-pink rose, to do this). It was make-up dynamo Sharon Doswett who shared this secret with me: ‘Look into the mirror – then hold up the fruit. If you’re a “warm”, you’ll look better with that peach next to your cheek. If you’re a “cool”, the pink rose will “lift” your face.’ (Unless you’re one of those rare and fortunate creatures – which, it turns out, I happen to be – for whom both ‘warm’ and ‘cool’ colours are equally complexion-perkifying.) Once you know your warms from your cools, as Sharon demonstrated to me vividly in person, it’s easy to take a short-cut to the right red… (NB Do beware of orange-red lipsticks if your teeth are stained, as orange emphasises the discolouration…)
Try reds on for size before you buy. Although there is nothing quite like putting a red lipstick onto your very own pout to see how well it will flatter you, in reality you’ll only be able to try on a couple of shades before the pigments in the lipsticks ‘tint’ your own lips. After that, even when you remove one of the lipsticks and start again, the colour you see in the mirror is no longer ‘true’. So: how can you eliminate shades that aren’t going work, before you waste your money? Two tips. ‘The skin on the body that is closest to the natural shade of your lips is on the pads of your fingers,’ explains my make-up genius friend Mary Greenwell. ‘So try lipsticks out on those finger-pads, to get a good idea of sheerness/matteness and texture.’ (Do give hands a good wipe with the amazing Renouve antibacterial gel, first.) Alternatively, try this brilliant trick from Gillian Dempsey: ‘Before you try lipstick on your lips, use it to draw a life-size, upside-down pair of lips on the back of your hand, with the cupid’s bow nearest the thumb. Stand two foot back from a mirror and hold your hand up to your face – and you can tell, instantly, whether the colour ‘lifts’ your face or makes it look drab. If it looks flattering then go ahead and try it on your lips.’ (You might need to squint a bit, but it really does give a great clue.)
Adjust your eye to a new shade. John Gustafson suggests acclimatising yourself to a new red lipstick: first day, add a layer of your new shade over your existing shade, using a lip brush to blend. On the second day, add two layers of your new shade, again, blending carefully. On the third day, discontinue your original shade – and your eye should have adjusted perfectly to the new look. This really does work! Alternatively, my trick with a new red lipstick is to mix it with a little gloss or balm to sheer the texture out and create a stain.
To ensure red lipstick goes the distance, apply a primer first. The secret of smooth, longer-lasting lipstick is – once again – down to preparing the surface. Blend concealer over the lips – or even a slightly shimmery version, which will slightly accent the cupid’s bow, helping to make lips look fuller. Then use lip brush to apply the lipcolour itself. Jenny Jordan then applies lip liner over lipstick, ‘so the edge doesn’t look too hard, and so that it all fades together. That way you’re never left with an obvious edge when your lipstick wears off.’ Importantly, you really do not want an obvious, pillar-box red rim to your mouth when your lippy’s faded – so always choose a nude liner, no matter what shade you’re wearing on top.
Some of my favourite red lip tips, meanwhile, come from Poppy King – a.k.a. The Lipstick Queen – who first launched a signature red lipstick range in Australia when she was 18.
- When wearing red lipstick, minimize your eye make up so that the red lips are the statement.
- To remove flaky, dry skin on the lips exfoliate the lips with a spare toothbrush by gently massaging over lips.
- If you are worried about lipstick bleeding apply some under eye concealer around the edge of the lips before applying the lipstick.
- To stop lipstick getting on your teeth, pucker lips and pull your index finger through. The excess lipstick that gets on your teeth will come off on your finger.
- Dab some of the same color lipstick on your cheeks after doing your lips: it really brings the whole look together.
So: if you’ve never tried a red lipstick and seen what it can do for your look, how it can brighten your face – or day…? My advice is to give red lipstick a go. It’s not a tattoo. It’s not hang-gliding or S&M or tightrope-walking: it’s only make-up – and at the end of the day (or immediately, come to that), you can wash it off and go back to your tame nudes. Then at worst you can hold your head up proudly and say that you’ve tried it. And at best…? Maybe your new red lipstick will be the start of a whole new you…