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You can't get much more classic than red lipstick. After all, it's one of the (if not the number one) most traditional of all makeup products, having been worn by countless influential figures and characters throughout history. It's dynamic, bold, and confident; its power can't be overestimated. So, yes, we love red lipstick and the statement it makes—whatever that statement might be.
So while the answer to the question Should I wear red lipstick? is simple (hint: yes, always), picking the right shade isn't. That's because all red lipsticks aren't the same—not even close. Sure, there are a rare few that most people agree to be universally flattering, but the rest of the red lipstick market is vast and finicky. It helps to have a few suggestions before diving into the depths on your own.
Read on for a list of the best red lipsticks ever created, according to Byrdie editors.
Best Overall: Fenty Beauty Stunna Lip Paint
Fenty Beauty's Stunna Lip Paint is universally flattering—and for all skin tones, too. Byrdie contributing writer Maya Allen loves this product in Uncensored, a true blue-red color; it's a long-wearing formula that feels smooth and silky and lasts for 12 hours, and it complements her dark skin tone with red-orange undertones. "Stunna is my jam for obvious reasons: Rihanna," she says. "But even though my love for RiRi knows no bounds, I'm actually into how good this lipstick is. I like my reds bold and vivid, and this pigment delivers a crazy color payoff and stays on for hours. The doe-foot applicator makes outlining my lips easy, so I can skip liner when I'm in a rush."
What Our Testers Say
"After I finished applying Fenty Beauty’s Stunna Lip Paint, my lips were full of color (the shade I used was Uncuffed) with a subtle matte finish." — Khera Alexander, Product Tester
Best Long-Wearing: Smashbox Always on Matte Liquid Lipstick
Another favorite of Maya's, this liquid lipstick from Smashbox is a little bit deeper than the Stunna Lip Paint but just as striking in Bawse, a deep red shade that makes your lips look like velvet rose petals. It also has a similarly comfortable long-wear finish. "I love this Smashbox Liquid Lipstick for many reasons," she says. "For one, it looks good on women of all skin tones. It was love at first sight for me after one swipe. This fire-red hue turns around my mood in a matter of seconds—I feel untouchably badass every time I wear it. It's been by my side during job interviews and first dates and honestly has worked in my favor every time. I like to call it my MVP red."
Best Matte: Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revolution Lipstick
Editorial Director Faith Xue has a light to medium skin tone with a neutral undertone, which this Charlotte Tilbury lipstick (in Red Carpet Red) complements perfectly. "This, in my humble opinion, is the world's perfect red lipstick," she says. "The formula is a velvet-matte but doesn't feel drying at all. You can dab it on your lips for more of a lip stain effect (I tap it on my lips with my fingers), or you can apply it from the bullet for more color payoff. The shade itself is the perfect, universally flattering shade of red: not too warm and not too cool. I also love that it's low-maintenance—it's the kind of lipstick you can apply in the back of an Uber without worrying about it getting all over your face."
What Our Testers Say
"The formula feels very hydrating, which is often hard to find with matte finish lipsticks. My lips felt smooth and nourished for the rest of the day." — Ashley Rebecca, Product Tester
Best Drugstore: Maybelline New York Color Sensational Matte Finish Lipstick in Rich Ruby
"This is my go-to drugstore red. It's a true red with bluish undertones, and I love that one swipe of it instantly makes me feel more polished," says Faith of Maybelline's Color Sensational Matte Lipstick in Rich Ruby. "The texture is what really gets me though. It's a creamy matte formula that feels hydrating when you apply and doesn't dry out."
Best Hydrating: Sephora Collection Cream Lip Stain Liquid Lipstick
Byrdie contributing writer Erin Jahns swears by this cream stain from Sephora's in-house brand (in Always Red) for complimenting her light skin tone with neutral undertones. "Cracked and flaked red lips are never cute, and this is truly the only liquid lipstick that doesn't suck every ounce of hydration from my lips," she says. "Plus, it's just the truest and most classic shade of red—not too blue, not too orange. It's also the first red lipstick I ever owned, and I still love it and re-buy it."
Best Crayon: Hourglass Lip Stylo
Erin's also obsessed with this high-end lip crayon from Hourglass Cosmetics in Lover. "Since I have neutral undertones—not quite pink, not quite yellow—I'm lucky in that I can wear both blue- and orange-red lipsticks. And when I want the latter, I go with this one from Hourglass. Not only is the color bright and super-pigmented, but it's also extremely moisturizing thanks to ingredients such as jojoba, shea butter, mimosa, and sunflower."
Best True Red: Elizabeth Arden Red Door Red Lipstick
This lipstick is a brand classic and one that's well-loved by Byrdie senior editor Lindsey Metrus, thanks to the way it flatters her fair skin tone with pink undertones. It's a crisp true red inspired by the brand's namesake, Elizabeth Arden, who in 1912 walked up and down 5th Avenue in New York City handing out red lipstick to all of the suffragettes as a symbol of solidarity. "I love this deep shade of red with blue undertones for the fact that it's super creamy, non-drying, and makes my teeth look whiter," says Lindsey. "Plus, I love that 100% of proceeds go to UN Women, a fund for female empowerment. I like to tap this one on and pat it into my lips with my finger like a stain. Doing so makes it last longer, too."
Best Berry Red: Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revolution Lipstick
Another Charlotte Tilbury matte lipstick, this shade (The Queen) looks brighter in the bullet than it applies on the lips. What looks like a bright pink-red color transforms into a sophisticated berry shade. Plus, you can rest assured knowing that it has the same non-drying formula and highly pigmented finish as Tilbury's other matte lipsticks. As Lindsey puts it, "Charlotte Tilbury is the queen of lipstick. Her unique bullet shape helps me to intricately trace my lips without the dreaded smudge along my lip line. It's also got incredible staying power, and again, like the Elizabeth Arden lipstick, it has blue undertones for more radiant pearly whites."
Best Orange Red: NARS Lipstick
Senior editor Hallie Gould has a fair skin tone with blue undertones and has found the perfect match in Nars' lipstick. "When it's warm out, I opt for Heat Wave—an orange-red matte lipstick I can't live without. It's a more summery, tropical version of my usual go-to," she says. "The shade is incredibly flattering, brightens up my entire face, and allows for an almost entirely undetectable fade. Reapplying is never a must, which makes life all the easier to enjoy."
Best Pencil: NARS Velvet Matte Lipstick Pencil
"This is perfect blue-red shade, and trust me—I've done the research," says Hallie of Nars Velvet Matte Lipstick Pencil in Mysterious Red. "It's slightly darker than fire engine but a true, gorgeous, velvety red that envelops your lips in the most classic of ways. I have gotten more compliments on it than I can count. The formula is matte but not entirely drying (sometimes I'll apply a bit of balm on top to keep things moisturized if I want it to stay especially long-wear), and because it's a pencil, it's really easy to apply precisely. Is there anything more incredible than an immaculately applied red lip? In my world, the answer to that is no."
Best Skincare Benefits: Tatcha Kyoto Red Lipstick
Tatcha's luxurious Kyoto Red Lipstick was inspired by the same brilliant shade that geishas have worn on their lips for centuries. It's a bright, striking color that is thought to bring happiness, protection, and good luck (who doesn't want that?). Plus, it treats your lips while you wear it thanks to an anti-aging blend of rice bran, green tea, and red algae extract. Byrdie contributing writer Amanda Montell swears by it for complementing her fair skin tone with yellow undertones.
Best Lacquer: Dior Addict Lacquer Stick
Unlike the sheer, balmy texture of the brand's original Lip Glow, Dior's lacquer lipstick delivers a high-shine finish and full-coverage color in one swipe. Each shade (like Party Red, this perfect orange-red color), was inspired by a different L.A. hot spot, which is why the brand describes these lippies as "Paris meets L.A."
What to look for in a red lipstick
Whether you're after a liquid matte or a patent leather gloss, ingredients like hyaluronic acid, shea butter, coconut oil, glycerin, lanolin, and beeswax (among many others) help hydrate your lips, resulting in a more comfortable wear and a boost in moisture.
There are no hard and fast rules on what lipstick shade you should reach for, but choosing a hue that goes with your undertones can be extremely flattering. Warm skin tones play well with red shades with hints of orange or yellow, while cool skin tones are flattered by true, blue-based reds. Complexions with neutral undertones have more versatility and can veer in either direction. Not sure where your undertone falls? Check out this guide.
Your finish of choice
Keep in mind that the texture you choose could change the way the hue reads on your lips. Matte shades tend to have a more intense color payoff, whereas glosses, stains, and balms are more subtle and can be built to your desired level of drama.
Do I need to wear lip liner with red lipstick?
If you want to, but it isn't mandatory. While a lip liner will create a more precise lip shape, you can feel free to go without it if you're after a different effect. A lip liner in the same color family as your red lipstick will create a more blended, tone-on-tone finish, while a darker red lip liner will create a bold, contrasting appearance.
Should I prep my lips before using red lipstick?
Saturated, matte formulas of red lipstick may emphasize any dryness or flakiness, so it's always a good idea to prep your pout with a gentle lip scrub, followed by a thin layer of lip balm to lock in moisture. Find out how to properly exfoliate your lips (and how to make a DIY lip scrub) here.
How can I make my red lipstick last longer?
Before you apply your hue, try filling in your lips completely with lip liner. This helps to extend the lipstick's staying power, while also creating a more opaque color payoff. Additionally, applying a very light layer of translucent (not tinted) face powder can also help, but will produce a shine-free finish. Make sure to use a light hand in tandem with a small brush to dab the formula in place.