Everyone has that one lip colour — that one shade that first got you into lipstick at all, or the first lipstick that made you feel like yourself before you knew who you wanted to be. It could be a classic red or a wild, rambunctious pink, but after a while, many of us start gravitate to neutral colours instead of the ones that express our bold, spirited awesomeness.
Many times, the problem is with finding playful shades that are bright without being too showy, and the key to finding the right balance is picking nuanced colours that play well with your natural skin tone. If you’re a bit confused by the vast shade selection out there, here are some of the big colour groups you should chase most often for a vibrant yet elegant lip colour. So if you’re looking for your next lippie obsession, you’ve come to the right place.
Fuchsia pinks convey youth and vitality, but classic fuchsias (like NARS’s Michiyo) can be difficult to wear because they’re rarely infused with the muted rosy shades that we see when we’re naturally flushed (e.g. after a run). So what happens is that the lipstick often looks great on first application, but it can start to take over your face once your natural colour comes out and your skin may look pale next to the saturation of your lip colour.
Either way, if you’re a fan of vibrant pinks, be sure to pick something that works with your skin tone even if it doesn’t match your natural flush. STELLAR’s Infinite Lipstick in Astral Punch 02 ($26) throws in a universal coral to undercut the overall rush of pink for an intermediate shade that matches both yellow and pink undertones equally well.
Orange-reds are usually easy for most people to wear because they mix peach, yellow and red with both cool and warm tones that are more or less flattering across the board. The problem usually lies with straddling the line between orange and red: too orange and the look turns overly editorial, too red and it starts to look just like every other vampy red you ever picked up.
The key here is a lip colour that balances the saturation of the orange with either a matte finish or a dash of dusty red, so that once the product dries down, it can actually work with the rest of your face instead of sticking out like it was decked in paint and gloss. NARS Powermatte Lip Pigment in Light My Fire ($34) has both a dash of deep red and a matte finish; the end result is a velvety lip that looks dignified and fades to a red-grapefruit-type shade which is infinitely more versatile than the technicolor brightness of more typical blood-orange shades.
More often than not, berry tones are formulated in muted, deep colours that convey understated chic: think plums and deep grape shades that get moderated by brown or mauve into wearable daytime shades. And while they often look great on many skin tones, brown-mauve-berry shades usually fade into deep nudes that don’t really do anything to elevate your look.
Berry shades are highly underrated because many people think that magentas are “too much,” but a berry colour with a pink base is always striking. The pink mimics the natural flush of your lips while the berry creates harmony with the red of your natural colouring. Hourglass Confession Ultra Slim High Intensity Refillable Lipstick in I Always ($42) might look way too pink, but it dries down to a gorgeous raspberry shade that looks good on most skin tones and especially on olive/brown complexions.
Orange and tangerine lip colours are really all about personal choice: if you’re not intuitively interested in an orange lip colour, it’s highly unlikely that a recommendation is going to change your mind, because this is the family of colours that requires a big personality to pull off.
Light peach shades are easy and versatile, but saturated oranges are tricky because they tend to wash out the pale-skinned and look a bit pasty on dark and deep complexions. MAC’s Matte Lipstick in Darling Clementine ($22) is a great complement to most skin tones since it has cherry-peach undertones and not the yellow-red base of most orange lipsticks.
Vampy red has been a trump card in beauty circles for years, but it can be hard to find a red that uplifts and energizes your face instead of creating a harsh border around your lips. A true red is the ideal goal, but a plush, energetic red takes time to find, especially if your skin tone isn’t one vampy colours are usually tailored for.
For an easy fix, push aside the plum-reds for reds and go for cherry or tomato hues. Shiseido’s Rouge Rouge Lipstick in Poppy ($45) is an ideal fit for most skin types because while it may seem orange-red as opposed to classically rouge, each additional layer of the lipstick starts to build on the red and mute out the yellow, so by the time you do your third touch up of the day, your lips are a striking, blue-toned red as opposed to a barely pink-red composite.