Red lips are having a serious moment right now, and anyone who’s a red lipstick devotee (as I decidedly am) will understand why. To paraphrase Gwyneth Paltrow, a kick-ass red lipstick gives you a confidence boost like nothing else.
And science shows that red lips also get you noticed: A study at the University of Manchester found that men stared longer at women who wore red lipstick (7.3 seconds) than they did at women who wore pink lipstick (6.7 seconds). Bare lips clocked the least attention, at 2.2 seconds.
The thing that makes today’s reds different, in my humble option, is the texture. Rich, opaque and matte with a capital ‘M.’ Think Miley Cyrus or Rihanna or Dita von Teese—color that’s rich, saturated and decidedly not for makeup-phobes.
“I just started wearing matte red and I love it so much more than shine,” says New York City fashion stylist Adriana Pellegrini. “It refines any look and it gives me that little extra boost of confidence. It makes me feel like I’m in a technicolor film!”
Makeup pros concur: “Red lips are always a staple, and right now the most modern way to wear red is to keep the texture matte,” says New York City makeup artist Josephine Keo.
Now, the trick when you’re doing a lip this intense is to keep the rest of your makeup balanced. Picture Miley, Rihanna or Dita—compared to their lipstick, the rest of their makeup is fairly understated.
“You’re making a statement with the matte red lips, so it’s best to keep the rest of your face super clean,” says Keo. “The less eyeshadow and blush, the better. Accentuate your eyes with two or three coats of mascara, and if you have light-to-medium skin, apply a bit of bronzer brushed along your temples and cheeks. If you have dark skin, use a little highlighter at your cheekbones.”
As far as choosing the right shade of red for your skintone, I know we’ve all heard the “cool reds look better on blah blah blah” and “warm reds look better on blah blah blah.” Of course there’s merit to that advice, but personally I think it’s all about the look you want to rock. And it can be kind of fun to switch up tones from a cool vixen-y red to a cheerful coral-red, depending on how you’re feeling.
If you’re new to reds, though, and you’d feel better with a little professional advice, Keo offers these tips: “Fair or light skintones looks great with the bright hues of red, especially colors that have hints of orange to them. Bronze and medium skintones can play with the entire red spectrum, but their ideal picks would be true reds that have a tiny bit of pink mixed in—think cherries! Olive and dark skintones look amazing in dark reds, like burgundy or wine colors.”
Red-y to go matte? Check out some fabulous reds below.
Best for: “But-I-hate-how-lipstick-feels” types
Quite a few beauty industry insiders I know worship at the altar of NARS, so I was psyched to try one of their cult-favorite matte pencils. It didn’t disappoint. A snap to apply, amazing color payoff and a beautiful matte finish. What most impressed me, though, was how this felt on my lips—which is to say like nothing. If you’re someone who gets bugged out about the feel of lipstick, give this a shot. Once it’s on, you won’t even know it’s there. One word of caution: It can transfer a bit, so follow George Bluth Sr.’s mantra from Arrested Development: No touching! Otherwise you might inadvertently brush your fingers against your lips, push your bangs out of your eyes, and end up with a streak of Cruella on your forehead. (Not that I did that.)
Best for: Anyone who needs Energizer Bunny-level lasting color
A friend from Brazil originally told me about this shade, and if I may culturally stereotype for a moment, Brazilians know sexy. Once I colored in my lips with this Sharpie-esque marker, I was instantly hooked. The shade is a gorgeously vibrant Flamenco-dancer red and it LASTS. (All caps entirely warranted.) Stains are touted to survive through hell and high water, and I can report that this withstood a fairly greasy pepperoni pizza and two glasses of wine and was STILL going strong the next morning. One tiny caveat: If your lips are on the dry side, you may want to top this with a gloss. Just as pretty, and the staying power isn’t diminished one bit.
Best for: Anyone who wants to go matte but is paranoid about dryness
Calling your product Cashmere Lip Cream is setting the bar pretty high, and I’m pleased to report this lived up to its name. It has a distinctly cashmere-like feel on your lips (i.e. super-soft and luxurious) and a vaguely fruity scent that reminded me of the Strawberry Shortcake toys I had as a kid. Somehow it manages to be matte yet moisturizing at the same time, so if you’re worried a traditional matte lipstick will leave your lips feeling dry, check this out. You do need to take your time and apply carefully (I had the best results when I traced the edges of my lips and then filled in the middle), and make sure to blot afterward. I didn’t blot the first time and ended up with some color on my teeth, but on my second test-run (post-blotting), everything stayed right where it should.
Best for: Lipstick purists (and Technicolor dreamers)
Know that line in Breakfast at Tiffany’s when Holly Golightly gets her breakup letter and says, “A girl can’t read that sort of thing without her lipstick on”? This is the kind of lipstick she was talking about. A deep, vampy, cool red that just screams confidence. It has a lovely matte finish that doesn’t feel the least bit drying and a tiny hint of peppermint (nothing too overpowering). And the tube… seriously, we need to take a second and just talk about the fancy gold tube. It’s over-the-top in the best possible way—like something an old-school screen siren would whip out of her bag at an awards ceremony. Like any lipstick, it’s not going to last indefinitely; you’ll need to re-apply after eating. But with a case this pretty, who minds?
Best for: Weekend wear (and anyone who needs to baby-step into matte red)
The sheerest of the bunch, this slim little lipstick is in a class by itself. It feels superlight (the formula is wax-free) and gives lips a wash of pretty candy-apple red. Unlike a lot of sheer lipstick formulas that go on shiny, this definitely falls more in the matte arena—think the finish of a lip stain. It’s the perfect choice if you want to get in on the whole matte-red-lips trend but aren’t ready for a Miley-esque level of color saturation yet. Bonus: It kept lips nicely hydrated and didn’t smudge all over everything (one cappuccino + zero lipstick rings on mug = winner).
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