Top 5: Red Lipsticks (how to choose your red lipstick)

Choosing the right red lipstick is about as fun as cleaning the toilets. Seriously.  I want to cry when I go to the store and try to figure out which red lipstick is going to look best on me! BUT, after many trials on clients (poor gals had to be my guinea pigs- hey, someone has to do it!)  I don’t have it narrowed down to a science, but I think I have some pointers that will make choosing the right red lipstick less of a chore ;)

It’s not necessarily the color, but how bright or intense it is….

If you do a google search for “picking the right red lipstick”, you’ll come up with 318,000 results.  You know what each of those articles have to say?  Something totally different.  Everyone has a different answer! So how’s a girl to figure this out??

What I’ve figured out, is it’s not just the actual color- whether it be orange-red, blue-red, or true red, but how bright that color is against the skin.   Orange reds tend to be brighter as orange is an eye catching color (think fire or Carrot Top’s Hair– um… ew!)

If you have fair skin, orange-reds are going to pop quite a bit more as brighter colors are more noticeable on paler skin.  This doesn’t mean if you have pale skin, you can’t make it work- it just means, it’s going to pop more.  Darker skin beauties have an easier time pulling off the orange-reds since dark skin can handle brighter colors-  there’s less of a contrast.  BUT, darker skin also looks beautiful in blue reds- it just doesn’t pop as much as the orange reds.  Make sense?

OK, here’s why picking the correct lipstick is so. dang. hard. Things such as hair and eye color can also affect how a lipstick looks, plus what eye makeup you wear can throw off the color as well….

Here is a picture of Penelope Cruz pulling off an orange-red lipstick, as she is a bit darker and has warm undertones to her skin:

Contrary to what most articles say (fair skin should only wear blue-red lipsticks), here’s an example of Mischa Barton pulling off an orange red lipstick:

This lipstick really pops against Mischa’s fair skin, but she pulls off this color by wearing some darker eye makeup to balance out the bright lips as well as having her hair up in an elegant style.  (I doubt if Mischa wore no eye makeup and had her hair down, that she would still be able to pull this lipstick off)

Here, Beyonce is pulling off a gorgeous true red that pops against her skin as it’s not too dark or too orange.

Marlena’s Tip: To pull off a brighter lip, you need to wear a good 2 coats of mascara (or falsies) and some darker liner to balance it out.  You definitely don’t want anything too dramatic on the eyes as it’s overdone, but you need some eye makeup so the lips aren’t screaming “look at me! look at me!”

And yes, you CAN wear eyeshadow with red lips- it just needs to be neutral colors or not too bright or dramatic…

Here’s some examples of lipsticks too intense in color for their skin:

They all have fair skin and are wearing cool toned (blue-red) lipsticks, BUT one important factor…. the color is too intense for their fair skin.  Plus, their eye makeup is so minimal that their lips are screaming for all the attention, making the face look out of balance.

With all that being said, here is my top 5 lipsticks that I believe almost anyone can pull off- simply because they aren’t too orange, too blue, or too intense in color..

5.     MAC Viva Glam I

(Picture courtesy of:

Description: Intense brownish blue-red
Price: $14.50
Where to Buy: . MAC .. Amazon


4.   NYX Round Lipstick – “Snow White”

(Picture courtesy of:  Taryn of Tough Love/Makeup Geek)

Description: True Red
Price: $3.89
Where to Buy: Makeup Geek Store

3.    Revlon Matte – “Really Red”

Description: True Hollywood Red
Where to Buy: Amazon .. eBay


2.    Makeup Geek Lipstick – “Elegant”

Description: Deep Rosey Red

Price: $7.99

Where to Buy: Makeup Geek Store

1.   NARS Velvet Matte Lip Pencil – “Forbidden Red”

(Picture courtesy of:  Makeup and Beauty Blog)

Description: Brick Red
Price: $24
Where to Buy: . AmazonSephoraeBay


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CEO of Makeup Geek and Makeup Educator


Comments are now closed on this article.

This is such a great post Marlena! I’ve been looking for the perfect red lipstick for my complexion and it’s been difficult! Your post gave me some good ideas though, thank you!!! :)

So I have another annoying problem…maybe you can help. So I sweat a lot. Genetically, it is just how I am..great. To make it better I sweat a lot on my face, especially right above my mouth. This always makes my makeup cakey. I use primer and minimal makeup so that there is not so much to cake up, but I do have acne there so I need some makeup in that area. This basically messes up my makeup for the rest of the day….it’s so annoying. I have tried liquid makeup and powder and both are problems because of the sweat. AND IT”S ONLY WINTER…imagine me in summer. Any suggestions for what makeup to use or any other thoughts? Thanks so much!!!!!!

I’m thinking your best bet to keep the makeup staying put is the Model in a Bottle setting spray, but I don’t recommend using it all the time as it may be too harsh esp with the acne…

I know you weren’t asking me, but I sweat a lot too and have really oily skin which causes my makeup to shift around. I’ve been using a liquid makeup by Clinique called Superfit Makeup. It’s not too expensive and it gives good coverage but is lightweight. It’s supposed to be sweat and humidity resistant. Maybe it’s worth a try, it works great for me. Good luck!

Ooh — thank you, thank you, thank you for this article! Just in time for holiday gatherings!!! And selecting a red lipstick is finally starting to make sense!!!

thankyou for this as i was asking about red lipsticks on the forum the other day :) i went to MAC the other day and bought their “cockney” lipstick its a lovely shade of red and looks quite good on me if i do say so myself lol.

This is such a great article, thanks for this. Also from the swatches at the end you can kind of see that some of the NYX colors are dupes for the high end brands.

Hey! Thanks for your recommendations on red lips! I love MAC’s Viva Glam cyndi and I’m looking for deep colors. Which ones to choose? I’m an NC44 and warm toned so will Russian Red or Ruby Woo fit?

Great post! I actually did my top 5 fave red post last week :D I adore red lipsticks, they’re always my go-to. I have light beige skin (about NW25 in MAC) so most reds work on me, from orange red to blue red to even brown reds.

while i love your website & articles….i think you may have just insulted all your red-head readers with the ‘um-ew’… :-)


Oh no! I didn’t mean to insult red heads- I’m actually currently one at the moment :) (Dyed it a deep plum red)… Was just joking about carrot top ;)

Hi Marlena, I really love your site!! Love this article too!! Would you be able to give me your opinion on a red lipstick that would suit red hair, pale skin and blue eyes?? I love the colours you photographed in your article, but have no clue what would go with my colouring.. thanks so much!!!!!

Hi Marlena! I’ve struggled for a long time trying to find a good red lipcolor as well, and I finally found one that works on my extremely pale/pink complexion. I have stawberry blonde hair and hazel/green eyes as well. The product is Korres Liquid Lipstick in Red, and I love it. Just a swipe of chapstick and one coat of this product is fantastic. Shiny but not too glossy, beautiful red pigmentation. At first I was terrified of the wand and feathering issues but once it’s on it stays put. After the glossiness is gone the pigment remains so I just put more chapstick on top. You should check it out on your next trip to Sephora!

All the best,


hi my name is josie and im not that dark but not that light my skin has a sorta honey look to it then its sorta fades can u give me tips on which red i should use!! i have pictures of my face on facebook take alook and let me know thanks your awesome!!

I just totally disagree with you about the “too intense lipcolor” in quite pale (NW 20) and i can pull of any color and i love my dark lipstick. I am always wearing colors like dark deed or smoked purple by mac.

hi, ur ma top makeup guru, ur amazing to be honest u improved my makeup skills, can i ask one favour, can u do more of arabic and dramatic looks,? ur wow

The Kat Von D red lipstick that just came out is awesome as well. Its a orange-pinkish red lipstick and it stays on long. Its 18 bucks and comes in a really cute packaging.

Thank you for including the Revlon lipstick! As a mother of four on a small income it’s awesome to know there is a inexpensive way to try something new. :)

I love red lipstick. My fiancé bought me some for Christmas, along with a red lip liner, an eyeshadow quad, eyeliner, viva la juicy perfume, and the Bobbi Brown Makeup Manual. I guess I’m lucky. I have a man who spoils me. ^^

Great picks Marlena!!

I just went this past weekend and purchased the MAC Russian Red and I am on love. I am medium skin tone and this color looks awesome. I received so many compliments. I strongly recommend this lispstick.

I have one red lipstick and thats russian red! I am blonde, blue eyes and kinda pale… This red just works wonders!

it is so funny to think but i have never in my life worn red lipstick. needless to say i don’t own one. i have every shade of pink however and i must say that you have truly inspired me! I will go and get the MAC Du-bonnet because I love the color and I am dying to try it out! Thank you so much!

I bought my MAC Russian Red and I’m in love again with REDS!!! Thanks Marlena and the MUG team you are all truly inspiring <3

how would I know if a red lipstick is red orange or blue-red? I am a Filipino and I am guessing I have warm undertone (forgive me, I am ignorant when it comes to makeup terms). Would the Stila be alright for me? Oh another issue is every time I try on some lipstick, it makes my lips really dry, so the question is, with the top 5 you recommended, do they have the same effect or not? Thanks!

Tom Ford’s new lip collection has THE BEST red I’ve ever tried in my life. Goes great with many skin tones. It runs about $45, but it’s worth it.

Hi Marlena,
Sorry for my questions if they seem stupids, bu how to see ar buying red lipsticks if ther are blue-red? How to recognize them? It’s with pink reflect on the skin on the swatches? And do you think that this shade is better for people with fair skin?

I love red lipstick. I have many tubes of this shade. My favorite is the old school Revlon Red. Just a terrific red on me. I hadn’t worn it in years. A friend picked up some polishes for me at Target when they had a sale. She picked up some Revlon lipsticks also. I squealed when I saw Revlon Red, I had to try it on. She let me keep it.


Marlena, thank you so much for this post. I’ve been looking to try red lips for the first time and wasn’t sure which red was best for me bit this helped SO much.

I just had one question. I saw you addressed fait skin but what are your thoughts on gals with freckles and choosing red? Same rules apply?

<3 your blog

Hi Marlene.. I have had a hard time finding the perfect red lipstick im a warm color but i also have light colored hair(died) its like a light brownd w/ carmel & blonde highlights and i have drk browns eyes. Im thinking of dying my hair completely caramel. So either way i was wondering if you could help me find my perfect shade or is it just a no no with my hair color etc?

This is awesome Marlena… I’ve been wrecking my brain trying to find the best red for my skin tone (olive/medium). But this post definitely helped with that! I am in LOVE with Rihanna’s red lip on her “LOUD” album cover and the picture of the swatches made it a little easier to find which color could best pull that look off. :)

Thanks! You’re my MU Hero!



Hi Marlena, i was wondering if you could help me. I’m having a lot of trouble finding a good red color for me. I have olive/medium skin tone, hazel brownish eyes, reddish brown hair, and a very round face. i can’t seem to find something that looks quite right. I’ve always wanted like a Hollywood glamour type red but i don’t know if that would look good on me.
Please help.

I have yellow undertones and I am still trying to find that perfect red! Help!!!! I don’t know what color would look good on me! Thank you!!!!!

Try MAC’s Fresh Morroccan or Dare You
Look for a lipstick that has yellow or gold undertone. Blue undertones will make you look “dead”, and will work against your skin tone.

Hey! Great post Marlena! I was wondering what was color you would use for MAC’s studio finish concealer. I think I’m about your skintone and think that it would be a good starting point! I was also wondering what you think would be the easiest red lipstick to pull off (based on the undertone, the finish, etc.). Thanks!