It's no easy task finding the perfect lipstick shade—one that suits the subtleties of skin tone, serves a variety of occasions, and has a pleasant formula. We're always in pursuit of a classic red, must-have nude, and flattering pink, and yet, pulling up to a beauty counter often feels like we're looking into a sea of bullets that all appear the same. Lucky for us, celebrity makeup artist James Kaliardos has done all the work for us and edited the laundry list of lipstick shades down to the only four you really need. In his collaboration with MAC Cosmetics, his quartet of lipsticks are some of the most standout pieces. His decades of industry knowledge informed every curated shade to make up an edit of the four essential shades he's used most throughout his career. "The four lipsticks have fulfilled 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 everyone needs and shop our picks.
A Pure Blood Red
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," Kaliardos says, who worked with MAC to develop this blueish mid-tone red that complements a range of skin tones.
A "Lippy" Pink
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-colored' lipstick shade for my mother, only to be 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. "Almandine's subtle, almost lip-skin color helps you look groomed and expensive!" he added.
A Deep Reddish Brown
A brown-toned 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 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 real life—I dab onto darker skin tones to brighten and apply it fully to lighter skins for a bright lift."