How to Wear Brown Lipstick: the 90's Trend is Back

stylish young woman with neutral tone makeup

Dahyembi Joi / 500px / Getty Images

Can you hear that? The '90s are knocking, and they’re here to deliver a very special beauty trend from the past: brown lipstick. We may have tried to leave dark brown, matte lipstick looks behind in our teens, but this trend has been thrown into the beauty arena once more thanks to the catwalks, Instagram, and celebrities alike.

And there’s a reason it's at the forefront of beauty (and the top of our makeup bags) once more—brown is one of those elusive universally flattering shades that suit every single skin tone it's applied to. To learn how to pull off wearing brown lipstick, we turned to experts Lisa Potter-Dixon and Hannah Martin.

Meet the Expert

  • Lisa Potter-Dixon is a makeup artist and author of 3 bestselling books.
  • Hannah Martin is a celebrity makeup artist who has created looks for the British royal family.

According to Potter-Dixon, the reason brown lipstick is so universally flattering is simple: “Browns are an earth tone. They tend to suit everyone as they warm up the look of the complexion," she says. We're ready to dive back into this '90s trend and we're sure you are, too. Keep scrolling to discover how to make brown lipstick work for you.

How to Find the Right Shade of Brown

Getting this trend right lies in the careful selection of your shade. "The danger with brown lipstick is if you go too close to your skin tone, you may look washed out," explains Potter-Dixon, whose simple rules are as follows: 

Darker skin tones: Ensuring there's a contrast between your skin tone and lipstick is important to get this look right, so pale brown, coffee, or tan tones will look great.

Olive skin tones: The warmth already present in the skin will allow you to go for dark or vampy chocolate shades.

Light-medium skin tones: Opt for something with a red or orange undertone, like shades of terra-cotta and burnt red.

Fair skin tones: Choose a taupe-like tone to flatter cool undertones in the skin.

As for the lipstick finish, Martin's words of advice are this: "If you're going for a strong brown color then a matte finish is preferable, not least to ensure it looks good but to make sure it stays on the lips and doesn’t transfer," she says. If your chosen brown is a little lighter, those look great in moist, glossy finishes. You'll be happy to know we've already compiled all the best lip gloss looks for you.

How to Apply Brown Lipstick Like a Pro

Haphazard application won't work here, you'll need to factor in a couple of extra minutes to apply more than your usual swipe and go. Use a concealer on your lips. Knocking back your natural lip color will help the brown on top stand out. We love Benefit's Boi-ing Airbrush Concealer ($29). 

Exfoliate your lips before putting on brown lipstick for a smoother application.

"For extra-long wear, outline and fill in the entire lip with a lip pencil first," adds Martin. "Then lay your lip color on top using either a lip brush, or for the most intense pigment, apply straight from the bullet." A bit scared? Apply more of a wash of color using your fingertips to pat the lipstick on. 

How to Complete Your Brown Lipstick Look

Paying careful attention to the rest of your makeup look will help frame the brown lipstick. "It's advisable that you pair brown lipstick with other warm neutrals so you don’t look too washed out," recommends Martin. So opt for pinky-brown blushers and soft, caramel-toned eye shadows. 

"Brown-based colors can also make the face look a little flat, so you might need to add shape and dimension," she adds. "Pair your look with eyeliner at least the same color or a shade darker than the brown lip color you choose." If you've chosen a matte lip color, Potter-Dixon suggests contrasting textures and trying a slick of clear gloss on the eyelids to give brown lipstick a modern twist.  

Best Brown Lipsticks

Iman lipstick
Iman Luxury Moisturizing Lipstick in Rebel $13.00

We love this affordable brown lipstick. The creamy formula makes for easy application and doesn't dry out lips.

Fenty lipstick
FENTY BEAUTY by Rihanna Mattemoiselle Plush Matte Lipstick in PMS $26.00

The ultra-slim lipstick takes up zero room in our purses. The shade PMS has a lightweight feel but gives a ton of color pay off.

Brown lipstick So 90s
Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revolution in So 90s $34.00

This lipstick has an angled-tip similar to a lip brush for a precise, flawless application, which is essential when wearing brown lipstick.

Mac double fudge lipstick
MAC Matte Lipstick in Double Fudge $19.00

While some matte lipsticks drag during application, this one applies silky smooth. It's a great color to wear when looking for an opaque finish.

Bobbi Brown brown lipstick
Bobbi Brown Crushed Lip Color in Telluride $29.00

What's great about this formula is that it feels like a lip balm on your lips. The color is buildable, so you can go for a sheer or a more pigmented lip depending on your preference.

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