How to Pick the Best Red Lipstick for Your Skin Tone

woman wearing red lipstick

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Red lipstick is like the little black dress of the makeup world. It's versatile, essential, and best of all, can be worn by anyone to add an element of sophistication to any look, day or night. That said, when looking at the mounds of red lipsticks available on the market, it can be a pretty intimidating sight. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to choosing a red lipstick for your skin tone, but being equipped with some basic guidelines can help you narrow down your choices.

We called on celebrity makeup artist Latisha Nicole Rankin to learn how to find the best red lipstick for all skin tones. With a little perseverance (and a lot of swatching), we're confident you'll find your go-to red below.

Meet the Expert

Latisha Nicole Rankin is a celebrity makeup artist who has worked with Jordin Sparks, Tracey Edmonds, Angela Simmons, and Paula Abdul.

Keep scrolling for some expert tips on finding the best red lipstick shade for your skin tone.

How to Find the Right Shade of Red

Kerry Washington
David Livingston / Getty Images

A good red lipstick can make a bold statement. But with so many variations in skin tones and undertones, some trial and error is needed to find the right shade. Keep these tips in mind when shopping for your perfect red.

  • Experiment, swatch, and try on various shades of red to see what you feel best in.
  • Found a red that's too bright or dark for your liking? Hold off on tossing it, as it can bring some depth to a too-light red. Or, you can also make a deep red lighter by layering on a gold lipgloss on top.
  • Know that a lipstick’s texture (cream, matte, or gloss) could have an effect on the way the shade looks on your lips.
  • If you aren't ready to commit to bold red lipstick, ease into the shade with a sheer formula, or try a lip stain to gradually incorporate the color into your look.

The Best Red Shades For Deep Skin

Lupita Nyong'o
Ben A. Pruchnie/Stringer / Getty Images

Dark skin can handle more intense color like deep reds and reds with blue undertones. Go for wines, berries, and brick reds—they're the perfect complement to your deeper shade. We're fans of Bite Beauty's Power Move Creamy Matte Lip Crayon ($24) in Red Velvet as well as Kjaer Weis's Lipstick ($32) in Adore.

The Best Red Shades For Olive Skin

Kim Kardashian West
Venturelli / Getty Images

Olive skin looks best in yellow or orange-based reds (think: coral and poppy). Fuchsia and anything else with a cooler undertone can dull out your complexion. For a fiery shade, pick up Charlotte Tilbury's Hot Lips 2 ($37) in Red Hot Susan or Maybelline Color Sensational The Mattes Lipstick ($8) in Rich Ruby.

The Best Red Shades For Medium Skin

Shay Mitchell
JB Lacroix / Getty Images

If you have medium skin tone, you have more versatility when it comes to picking a red lipstick. Both cool and warm reds will complement you, but keep in mind corals can make your skin appear dull especially if your undertone is cool. Try Wet n Wild's Mega Last High-Shine Lip Color ($3) in Fire-Fighting or Becca Cosmetics Ultimate Lipstick Love ($24) in Rouge.

When using a high-shine lipstick, ensure a smooth result by gently exfoliating your lips pre-application. And, to tone down any excess shine, try dusting some setting powder on top to slightly mattify.

The Best Red Shades For Light Skin

Gwen Stefani
David Becker / Getty Images

People with light skin tones can wear a bright red for a bold pop of color against their fair skin, but they tend to look better in cool reds or berry reds with blue undertones (think: cranberry). Try Pat McGrath Labs Mattetrance Lipstick ($38) in Elson or Jane Iredale's Triple Luxe Long Lasting Naturally Moist Lipstick ($35) in Gwen.

The Best Red Shades For Fair Skin

Nicole Kidman
Frazer Harrison / Getty Images

The best red lipstick for fair skin is one that'll complement the natural pink flush tone your skin already has. Look for cool-hued reds that use blue and purple as a base (versus orange) for a flattering finish. Best part about cool reds? They can also make your teeth appear whiter. Try MAC's Powder Kiss Lipstick ($19) in Werk, Werk, Werk or Glossier Generation G ($18) in Zip.

The Best Red Shades For All Skin Tones

Gabrielle Union
JB Lacroix / Getty Images

In the world of reds, there are a few that are universally flattering. Rankin's favorite? MAC's Retro Matte Lipstick ($19) in Ruby Woo. "It truly looks great on every complexion, as the blue undertones in this lipstick are just right," she says. "Oftentimes, other cosmetic companies add too much yellow or orange into their red lipsticks causing the lipstick to appear very bright on some skin tones. Ruby Woo is a perfect, universal red that anyone can proudly wear regardless of skin tone."

For a wallet-friendly option, try Maybelline's Color Sensational Made for All Lipstick collection ($6 each)—this shade selection is made to flatter skin tones on all ends of the spectrum.

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