Dark Lips are Gothy Beauty at Its Best

They’re not just for Halloween.

Olivia Rodrigo in dark lipstick


Once the leaves start to change (or let’s be honest—even before you see a hint of red or yellow), it’s time to break out the fall makeup. Opting for a darker lip for fall is a classic, but this time we’re talking dark dark. Yes, as in black lipstick, or close to it with burgundies and deep reds, and it’s not just because the Hocus Pocus sequel is finally here.

“With the booming popularity of Y2K and 90’s fashion trends on the runway and in the media, I think we all knew this was coming. And I love it!” says Carol Park, a Los Angeles-based makeup artist and Milani partner. “The grunge/gothy look is a significant part of that era so it only makes sense for it to really have its moment too. I also think more people are wanting to try something different and express their individuality with makeup and fashion since being all cooped up during the peak of Covid. This trend is a great excuse to do that.”

Where You've Seen It

For most of us, it seems like the trend was sparked not that long ago. “It became popular in the 90’s with movies like The Craft or on celebrities like Drew Barrymore or Gwen Stefani,” says Urban Decay's Global Makeup Artist, Steve Kassajikian. But that wasn’t the look’s first foray into recent pop culture. “The first time I became aware of the dark gothy lip trend was in the New Romantics era, which started in the UK in the late 1970’s,” says KVD Beauty Global Veritas Ambassador Sandra Saenz. “I’ve definitely seen it continue to grow in popularity ever since.” 

Drew Barrymore wearing dark lipstick in the '90s


But to really get to the roots of it, we have to go way back. “When it comes to dark lipstick in general, it has been around for a very long time, like thousands of years ago,” Park says. “I read that the first record of men and women wearing black lipstick was in Egypt during 4000 BC.”

Who Can Wear Dark Lipstick?

Don’t let the gothy vibes intimidate you—the look can be universal. “You don’t have to identify as ‘goth’ to participate in this trend; it’s meant for everyone!” Saenz says. “What I like about this trend is that it pushes boundaries in terms of experimenting with new makeup looks. For instance, instead of choosing your go-to nude or red shade, reach for a dark burgundy or plum to switch up your look.”

As proof that the look is gaining traction in the broader market besides on October 31, Milani’s dark lipsticks have become some of the brand’s best-sellers. The black shade “Leather” ($8) is ranked third within the Amore Satin Matte portfolio (despite 42% of its sales happening in the months of September and October), and the 2022 non-Halloween average monthly sales up are up 59% vs. 2021.

“In the past, this look has been about a few brave souls rocking it to sort of rebel against ‘normal’ beauty trends, so I’m excited to see it becoming more mainstream, across all walks of life,” Park says. “I personally always have loved the grungy/gothy makeup look. The lived-in imperfectly perfect smoked out eyes and matte, rich dark-colored lips have always been such a vibe for me.”

How to Find the Best Dark Lipstick Shade for You

“When it comes to finding a dark color flattering to your skin tone, a good starting point is to assess your skin tone so that you can choose a lipstick that delivers a contrast best suited for your complexion,” Saenz says. 

Just like any other shade, it’s all about the undertones. Not sure what yours are? Check out the color of your veins. “If the color comes through as blue or purple, it typically means you have a cooler undertone; greenish hue means warm; purple or light green means neutral,” Park says. “Or you could be a combination of undertones. Finding a lipstick color that has a similar hue to your undertone and avoiding hues that are opposite colors in the color wheel to your undertone is the easiest way to finding a lipstick shade that is most flattering for you.”

A universal dark lipstick takes out the guesswork; Park’s go-to is NARS lipstick in Heroine Red ($26), a satin black orchid color. She also recommends Fenty Beauty Stunna Lip Paint in Underdawg ($26), a deep burgundy that compliments cool/neutral undertones, as well as Milani Cosmetics Color Fetish Matte Lipsticks in Sensual (Espresso Brown) and Desire (chocolate brown) ($9.99) for warm/olive undertones.

Those with light skin tones wanting to try out a darker shade will do well with KVD Beauty’s Everlasting Hyperlight Liquid Lipstick in Midnight Phlox ($22), according to Saenz, which is a dark, burgundy plum with brown/red undertones. Kassajikian suggests fair to light skin tones choose dark shades with a blue undertone like the Urban Decay Vice Lip Bond in shades Raw Footage or Unbreakable ($25). 

“For medium skin tones, I love the KVD Beauty Epic Kiss Nourishing Vegan Butter Lipstick in Bluepink ($22) because it’s a buildable blue tint that’s outside of most people's comfort zone, but is absolutely gorgeous when paired with a subtle eye look,” Saenz says. Kassajikian recommends medium to deep skin tones choose dark shades with a warmer undertone like the Urban Decay Vice Lip Bond ($25) in shades Law of Attraction or Once Strangers. Saenz’s favorites for dark/deep tones is the KVD Beauty Everlasting Hyperlight Liquid Lipstick in Dark Wisteria ($22), a bold, purple-blackberry shade.

How to Apply Dark Lipstick

The catch with these moody hues is that the texture of your lips really shows up, so you’ll want to prep and perfect your pucker before applying. This will also help the color last longer. “First, I highly recommend exfoliating your lips,” Park says. “A product I have been loving is the Dr. Paw Paw Scrub & Nourish Duo ($8) that is a 2-in-1 lip scrub and balm. Second, hydrate and moisturize those lips! I recommend using something rich like the Aquaphor Healing Ointment ($20) to really lock in moisture and soothe your lips after exfoliating them. Be sure to blot off most of the product after a couple of minutes. The final step is to prime. This is optional but highly recommended, especially for a darker-colored lipstick. I like using the MAC Prep & Prime Lip Primer ($21) or you can use the Burt’s Bees Beeswax Lip Balm ($10)—this matte lip balm will do the trick.”

Once you’re ready to apply the lipstick, Kassajikian recommends using a lip liner close to the lipstick color to provide a sharp outline, then apply the lipstick starting from the cupid’s bow. “For precision, use a brush rather than applying the lipstick directly on the lips,” he says. “If needed, clean up the edges using a concealer with a small flat brush.”

Don’t be afraid to play with the look and make it your own. For example, Saenz says you can use two colors together to create more dimension on the lips when applying dark lipsticks—she uses KVD Beauty’s Everlasting Hyperlight Liquid Lipstick in Midnight Phlox ($22) on the outer perimeter and Moth Orchid ($22) in the center to create the appearance of fuller lips. She adds, “Another cool trend that I’m seeing lately is a black lip, such as the KVD Beauty Everlasting Hyperlight Liquid Lipstick shade in Black Briar ($22), with a touch of gloss in the center. A hint of shine makes the look very editorial and cool for fall.”

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