Finding the Perfect Red Lipstick: It CAN Be Done. Yes, Even By You.

8 years ago

Ever since my unfortunate run-in with a muddy matte stay-on "Raisin" lipstick in the early '90s, I've gravitated primarily toward glosses. The past few years, however, I've been finding myself trying to work lipstick back into my routine, specifically, a true red lipstick. I both blame and thank "Mad Men" for this.

Incorporating lipstick -- after being a gloss-only girl for years -- is an adjustment, and finding the perfect shade of red is a true challenge. I'm happy to say, though, that I've found a few that work for me, and with them, some tips that will help you find one, too.

Step 1. Go to a place where you can actually try on the lipstick.

Yes, this means shunning Rite-Aid, and heading off to Sephora or a department store, and  having to interact with aggressive makeup people. However, lipstick (especially red) can be unforgiving, and there's really no way to tell how the color will work on you if you don't actually try it on. (And if you're anything like me, even if you buy a color at the drugstore and HATE IT TO DEATH, you'll inevitably lose the receipt, and not return it.) Plus, interacting with the beauty experts may yield some helpful tips. Such as...

Step 2(a): Try out potential shades not on your hand, but the inside of your wrist; and Step 2b: Try a bunch there at the same time.

This area is apparently a more true test of your skin tone, explained one helpful expert at Sephora, and you'll generally be able to tell if the red works with your skin, or will be too garish. He further suggested swiping on three or four potential options at a time. The winner, he promised me, will jump out at you.

Step 3: Trust in the Sephora Mystical Genius, Share Fruits of Your Exhaustive Search.

He was right, you know. The winner did jump out at me. I tested it on my actual lips (after having him sanitize the hell out of it), and it was just what I was after: Red  that was RED, but didn't scream "truckstop hooker" (which is, by the way, exactly what I told him I wanted. No joke.)

(Whoa. That photo was about four haircuts ago, and my daughter is nearing two, but focus on the lipstick.)

I've since made two more red purchases there, using his techniques, and they haven't failed me yet. No matter your skin tone, I promise, they'll work for you, too.

Step 4: Divulge your finds, in the hope that they'll be flattering for other people, too.

The results of my exhaustive (and over a year long) search are as follows:

Shu Uemura Rouge Unlimited Lipstick in RD 165 ($23)

(This universally flattering red with a "warm undertone" made Allure's "Best of Beauty" List.)

Nars Shanghai Express ($24)

(This "warm brick red" was my first true red lipstick find, and is the one I'm wearing in the picture, above.)


Chanel Rouge Coco Hydrating Creme Lipcolour in #22 Paris ($30)

(My newest acquisition, I fell in love with it after seeing it on Sandra Bullock at the Academy Awards. It has INSANE STAYING POWER, and doubles as a fantastic blush, if you'd like to mentally rationalize the price in half.)

Now, I haven't yet tried this lipstick in Sheer Red, but a friend recently mentioned the shade as the perfect start for someone who wants to dip a wee ittty bitty baby toe into the world of red lipstick, so for 99 cents, I feel like it's worth a mention. Also worth a mention? This blog, My Perfect Red. I stumbled across it when I was looking for a link to one of the above lipsticks, and was immediately captivated by her search (and detailed reviews, complete with pictures) devoted to finding the perfect red lipstick. She even has a full linked list on the main page for quick searching, if you were curious about a particular brand/color.


This is admittedly kind of hard, since it requires a kind of mental shift, and an overhaul of the rest of your look when you do wear it, but I've tried to slowly start wear it to other places aside from black tie affairs and, uh, when I'm doing stuff like this (that's the Chanel in action there, by the way). Easy places to start are date nights (your significant other is basically contractually obligated to tell you how nice you look in such context), the movies (no one can see your face, yet you're out in public. It counts!) and the supermarket (because really, who the hell cares there?).

In my next post, I'll cover how to do the rest of your face when wearing a red lip. Good luck hunting, and if you have any red lipstick tricks or shade recommendations, by all means, share them here!


Metalia also blogs here.

Photo credits:,,

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