The 4 Lipstick Shades Every Woman Should Own, According to a Top Makeup Artist

Updated 04/15/19
brunette woman with black eyeliner and dark red lipstick
Imaxtree

Finding the perfect lipstick shade is no easy task—especially to suit the subtleties of skin tone, serve a variety of occasions, and work with every possible beauty look. We're always in pursuit of the most flattering classic red, must-have nude, and ladylike pink, and yet when we head to any makeup counter, we're inundated with an endless lineup of choices with such subtlety of shade the human eye can hardly decipher the difference.

Lucky for any lipstick wearer, a top makeup artist did all the work for us and edited the laundry list of lipstick shades down to the only four you really need. We recently sat down with legendary makeup artist James Kaliardos to discuss the biggest beauty trend of 2017 and his new collaboration with MAC. While creating his collection, his decades of industry knowledge informed every curated shade. Some of the standout pieces in the set are his quartet of lipsticks—Kaliardos's edit of the four essential shades he's used most throughout his impressive career. "The four lips have fulfilled most all requests for red carpet and shoots," he says. "They are my go-to colors to create a chic or strong look."

Keep scrolling to see the four lipstick shades every woman needs and shop our picks.

A Pure Blood Red

drawing of red lipstick on lips
Ellie Benuska

Nothing is more classic than a red lip. "I was obsessed to make a color red that was dark but pure, like blood, and that would work on all skin tones and not pop as some reds do on dark skins," Kaliardos says, who worked with MAC to develop this blueish mid-tone red that complements a range of skin tones.

A "Lippy" Pink

drawing of pink lipstick on lips
Ellie Benuska

A natural shade of lipstick is a must-have in any beauty arsenal. "When I was a boy, I searched the department stores for a 'lip' lip color for my mother—exasperated that no one made one!" Kaliardos says. "Then MAC came along and changed it all with its Spice lip pencil in the early '90s. It just finished any look, from minimal to smoky eye."

For his own collection, Kaliardos found a flattering shade that would look natural with both light and dark skin tones. Even if you're opting for a no-makeup makeup look, this understated finish helps to elevate your appearance. "Almondine's subtle almost lip-skin color helps you look groomed and expensive!" he added.

A Deep Reddish Brown

reddish brown lipstick on lips
Ellie Benuska

A dark red never fails to bring drama to a look. The shade Kaliardos developed for his MAC collection is straight from the '90s New York fashion scene. "My best friend with whom I had a theater company, Kathryn Gracey, wore MAC's brown lipstick Paramount in the '90s, and it always faded to a great stain after going out on the town!" he says. "I updated it with a splash of wine reminiscent of our post-show nights, so you can dab it on or wear it full dark for more punch."

A Light Peach

a light peach lipstick on lips drawing
Haobin Ye

A subdued coral or peach shade brings life to a lip with natural subtlety. "Whenever I'd do a beige lip with Richard Avedon, he'd make me add a bit of peach to add life and not look so dead," Kaliardos says. "It really works in photos and life! I dab onto darker skin tones to brighten and apply it fully to lighter skins for a bright lift."

Semi Matte Lipstick
Nars Semi Matte Lipstick in Jungle Red $28
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James Kaliardos for MAC Lipstick in Bloodstone $17
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Zelens Red Extreme Velvet Lipstick $48
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Charlotte Tilbury Hot Lips Lipstick in Kidman's Kiss $34
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James Kaliardos for MAC Lipstick in Almondine $17
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Christian Louboutin Beauty Silky Satin Lip Colour in Loubeach $90
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Velvet Rope Lipstick
Lipstick Queen Velvet Rope Lipstick in Black Tie $50
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James Kaliardos for MAC Lipstick in Jasper $17
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Givenchy Beauty Rouge Interdit Satin in No. 8 Elegant Rouge $33
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Kevyn Aucoin Expert Lip Color in Micavel $35
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James Kaliardos for MAC Lipstick in Coral Bliss $17
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Hourglass Girl Lip Stylo in Explorer $32
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