When women say they’re afraid to try wearing bright lipstick, it’s never just about the lipstick. Somehow over the last few decades, incorporating a simple swipe of red or pink into your daily beauty routine became associated with a very special kind of confidence. Lipstick has a strange emotional power, and easing into wearing it can feel sort of like the first day of middle school, complete with fears of everyone gawking at your bright lips as you walk down the street or wondering if only certain women were born to pull off red lips (untrue!).
There’s an aspect of commitment phobia to the ritual — applying it can take extra time out of your morning, and once it’s on, it’s on, leaving you responsible for maintaining and touching up for the rest of the day. Another stress factor is its heavy consistency and its wide, not-so-user-friendly tubes that can land on your lips in large smudgy chunks. Add the fact that it won’t easily wipe off should you change your mind and could cake up a storm, and we’ve got the stuff of nightmares.
Still, at the end of the day, it’s just lipstick, and lest we forget, it’s meant to be fun. It has no magic powers of self-worth, no matter how much we like to think it might. It does, however, serve as a fun way to spice up a dull day or coordinate your face with your favorite pink dress — and it is for everyone, not just that impeccably chic it-girl you passed on your walk to work this morning (and don’t worry, not even she is perfect). I can promise you that while changing up your look may be terrifying to you, nobody is going to gape at your newly-brightened lips like you’re a zoo animal. If anyone finds themselves that obsessed with a little lip color, they’re the ones who’ve got the problem.
To ease yourself into a bold lip color routine, try out a few of these middle-of-the-road products that aren’t quite a traditional lipstick but provide enough bright color to experiment and ease your way into the real deal. Click through for a step-by-step guide, starting with subtle color for the most lipstick-shy among us and working up to the bravest, brightest shades out there.
Step one: Benefit’s Benebalm is a perfect beginner’s step into the world of lip color. This tinted moisturizer keeps your lips happy with just a hint of color, and easily wipes off without leaving a red-stained mess on your lips. Benebalm, $18
Bolder, Brighter Tinted Balm
Step two: Fresh’s beloved Sugar Lip Treatment offers shades that are brighter and longer-lasting than Benebalm for when you’re ready to dip your toes a bit deeper into the lip color pool. Sugar offers a moisturizing tint without the commitment of a thick matte color, and often lasts through long hours and eating without leaving streaks behind. Consider starting with the mini-sized tubes, as the smaller size offers more control in application for those nervous about making too much of a statement. If you’re ready to make a mark, try Passion, a bright red shade; go with Tulip for a cheerful pink; and opt for Petal if you’re looking something slightly more subtle. Fresh Sugar Lip Treatment, $22.50-$25
Step three: Benetint is another tried-and-true favorite and doubles as a cheek stain. On your lips, it provides a long-lasting red stain without too much color — a perfect mix for bright lip newbies. Blend it with Benebalm from Step 1 for bolder results! Benetint, $30
Colorful Lip Balm
Step 4: Clinique Chubby Sticks provide the same bright shades a matte lipstick might, but without the commitment. They slide on smoothly with no need for complicated primers or liners, and wipe off easily in the event that you change your mind or want to eat a sandwich without smudging the color all over your face. Chubby Sticks come in softer colors, but for the bold look we’re after today, try colors like Pudgy Peony, Super Strawberry, or Curvy Candy. Clinique Chubby Stick Moisturizing Lip Colour Balm, $17
Long-Lasting Colorful Lip Balm
Step 5: Once you’ve fallen in love with a bright-colored balm like the Chubby Stick, it’s time to move on to a more committal tube that provides longer-lasting color. Bare Escentuals’ Pop of Passion Lip Oil-Balm will leave rich traces of color on your lips long after the gloss smudges off. It has great moisturizing effects too! Go for bold pink-red shades like Candy Pop, Pink Passion, and Punch Pop. Bare Escentuals Pop of Passion Lip Oil-Balm, $16
Lipstick + Vaseline
Step 6: Now that you’re used to wearing color, try this trick to water down lipstick. When you come across a shade you love but that’s too thick and bold for your taste, dab the tube and apply a thin layer of the color to your lip with your fingertip. Gently pat on just enough to cover your lip, then apply a layer of Vaseline. The two products will blend to make a light gloss that won’t suffocate your lips in the same way applying from the tube would. Matte lipsticks (like Nars Schiap, pictured here) work great with this! Nars Semi Matte Lipstick in Schiap, $27
Dark Berry Tint
Step 7: You’ve warmed up to tints and stains, so now it’s time to combine the two with Lipstick Queen’s dark berry stain. It will leave your lips with a deep, rich hue without the heaviness of other formulas. The tube has all the look of a real lipstick without all the trouble! Lipstick Queen Hello Sailor, $25
Step 8: I’m convinced lip pencil is the holy grail of lip color: it allows you to line and shape your lip, offers a more controlled application than a thick lipstick tube, and if you’ve got the right brand, it stays on for hours more beautifully than any lipstick. Nars’ Satin Lip Pencil in Yu once held up for me through a whole work day, evening drinks, dinner, and a dessert date. By the end of the day, it definitely could’ve used a touch-up, but even then, it didn’t even look sloppy! It’s a much easier way to coat your lips in colors that border neon without fearing they’ll smudge all over your face or teeth. Different colors and brands consist of different formulas, but these colors by Nars stay put beautifully: Satin Lip Pencil in Yu (a bright pink), and the Velvet Matte Lip Pencils in Dragon Girl (a statement red), and 413 BLKR (a fuchsia-pink). Nars Lip Pencils, $26
Step 9: Too Faced’s Melted is the ultimate gift to lipstick phobes: it’s a long-wearing lipstick in gloss form. It’s a perfect way to get the lipstick look while having a much easier time with application, and is made with special lipstick-melting technology (who knew such a thing existed?) that sets it apart from your average liquid lipstick. Try a rich shade like Velvet (pictured here) to live on the lipstick edge. Too Faced Melted, $21
Brush-On Liquid Lipstick
Step 10: Lipstick Queen’s Vesuvius “erupts” with rich, long-lasting color as you turn the tube. It’s meant to be brushed on, making it a bit more difficult to apply than if it were in a gloss tube, but it provides long-lasting color that rivals any conventional lipstick. Try the brightest and bravest colors like Vesuvius Red, Vesuvius Fuchsia, and Vesuvian Coral. Lipstick Queen Vesuvius, $24
Step 11: Mac’s Pro Longwear Lip Creme (pictured here in the perfect-for-you cranberry shade Perpetual Flame) is a traditional lipstick in just about every way, but it offers – you guessed it – a creamier consistency and light formula that goes on smoothly. If you’ve mastered this, you’re surely ready to master any thick, bold lipstick that comes your way without feeling self-conscious — but then again, you were always ready! You just didn’t know it yet. Go forth, flaunt that bright red lipstick, and trust that you look like a rockstar. Mac Pro Longwear Lip Creme, $18
READ MORE: What Does Your Lipstick Shade Say About You?