Red lipstick (whether it’s actually a lipstick or a stain or a paint or a crayon) can turn around a bad day; it’s a dash of colour that suggests confidence and fun and possibility. It’s so easy and quick — much easier and quicker than applying a smoky eye, for example — but it looks considered and sophisticated. It’s a nifty weapon in the fight against drudgery, a magic trick that can transform your face — and entire look — instantly.
Once you find the shade that works for you (I personally love the casual orange-ness of First Light) you may want to wear it for years, until it becomes almost associated with you. That’s the beauty of red lipstick — it’s mass-produced and ubiquitous (I discovered my favoured shade on another woman’s Instagram page) — but strangely, it feels like your thing every time you wear it. But how do you find the right shade for you? We spoke to ten stylish women — each of whom is a connoisseur of the red lip — to get their thoughts on the best staying power, the best applicators, the best formulas, and the best shades.
Best Red Lipsticks
A classic of the genre, Ruby Woo is, according to author and columnist Elizabeth Uviebinené, a red lipstick that “suits everyone.” “I loved it when I was 18 and now I’m 28, it still gives me that same feeling when I wear it,” she says. “It’s the ultimate red: confident and bold.” Author and entrepreneur Gynelle Leon praises its perfect colour, too, as well as its “buttery smooth” feel. She has one quibble, however: “I find it is prone to smudge easily.”
Russian Red was the first red lipstick author and comedian Shon Faye ever bought and she remains loyal to the shade. “Russian Red is versatile enough that it can be super glam when done with a slight smoky eye but can also work in the office with subtler makeup,” she says.
This one has more coral in it than the other MAC reds on this list. Writer and podcaster Hattie Crisell says it brightens her face — “which makes it a bit of a saviour when I’m tired or hungover.” “I get complimented on it every time I wear it,” she admits. “Even if I’m feeling so lacklustre that I can’t be bothered to put on any other makeup at all, Lady Danger on its own is impactful, and looks like I’ve deliberately done ‘a thing’.” She praises its staying power but acknowledges that she is “someone who doesn’t mind if lipstick gets a bit faded and blurry.”
One of the most expensive lipsticks on the market is also one of the most luxurious-feeling. “It glides on like a buttery dream!” says Strategist contributor and editor Bre Graham. “It leaves your lips in a better state than before as it’s so moisturising.” She loves this bright red with blue undertones — “it suits my freckled face” — and also praises its scent and packaging: “My handbag feels instantly super chic containing anything by Tom Ford.”
Nature writer Anita Sethi (a trilogy with Bloomsbury is forthcoming) is a big fan of a bold red lip. It’s part of her brand, in the same way as writing is. “I wear Max Factor Ruby Tuesday,” she says. “I discovered it ages ago and love the shade.” At £8.99, “it’s also relatively cost-effective for everyday wear,” she points out.
Best Red Lip Paints, Liquid Lipsticks and Stains
Three of the women we spoke to recommended this product as a favourite. Novelist Sharlene Teo, admits that she has “spent approximately 5 percent of [her] adult life thinking about lipstick formulations”, and this deep red is, she says, “serious business”. Shon Faye recommends that Stunna be applied with a lip brush to avoid mess — “but once it’s on, it’s perfect for dates and drinks” she says. Fashion stylist and designer Lottie Dionn prefers to use the wand: “The lip paint is so weightless and I love the fact that the wand has precision because I have full lips and it helps a lot.” Its staying power is legendary and this is shade that suits all complexions.
Two of the women we spoke to love this lip stain, buying it when abroad or asking friends who live near a Sephora to buy it for them. Gynelle Leon says this is her “number-one go-to”, noting that it doesn’t dry out or rub off. Journalist and editor Gena-mour Barrett, who also runs a lipstick-themed Instagram account says it’s “a great and affordable cool-tone red that rivals my favourite liquid lipstick formulas like Anastasia Beverly Hills and Too Faced.” Make a friend who lives abroad and can hook you up, she advises. “If you have a connect ex-U.K. that can send this to you, it is well worth it,” she advises. You can also shop via the French Sephora store, but there is a ten euro shipping charge.
Bre Graham says that this formula is “both sandwich- and sweat-proof: I once went all night on just one layer of this”. “It applies like a liquid lipstick,” she explains, “and is a little sticky until it sets but once it does — it ain’t going anywhere.” The shape of the brush makes it easy to apply — Graham claims she can do it in the dark — and a little goes a long way.
“If you’re looking for a lipstick that doesn’t budge, even under a mask, this is it,” says fashion and beauty writer Frankie Graddon. “The liquid formula dries to a velvety matte finish, which stays put all day without drying out your lips.” Poppy Days is a cheerful orange red and the price tag is pretty cheerful, too. “For under £10, you won’t find better,” says Graddon.
Lottie Dionn credits this red lipstick with getting her into red lipstick: “This was one of the first reds that I actually liked on me!” She particularly relies on it on days when she doesn’t want to wear a full face of makeup. “I just add this to my lips and it brightens my face,” she says. It’s long-lasting — “if you eat and drink it hardly comes off” — which means it’s good value for money. “I’ve had my bottle for some time and it’s still full,” says Dionn.
Gena-mour Barrett calls this “the perfect deep burgundy red for darker skin tones.” Despite it costing £20 (not extortionate but not cheap, either), Barrett finds herself buying it again and again. “The colour is so unique, I can’t find anything better for when I want a vamp lip,” she says. The formula is “one of the best liquid lipstick formulas on the U.K. market for under £20” so all in all, it’s an excellent buy.
This is an excellent “retro blue-tone red, especially on darker skin tones” according to Gena-mour Barrett. It’s also matte without being drying and it has great staying power. Best of all, it costs less than a fiver. What’s the catch? It’s not currently sold in the U.K., but we spotted it on Milky Beauty, which offers free international shipping.
Best Red Lip Pencils and Crayons
If your lips dry out in autumn and winter, but you still want to create a bold red lip, then Frankie Graddon has your back. “Sisley’s tinted balm combines the rich pigment of a lipstick with the moisturising qualities of a balm,” she says. Apply it straight from the twist-up pencil (which never needs to be sharpened), building up layers depending on how bold you want the colour to be. “It gives a juicy non-sticky gloss and makes lips feel supple and plumped,” according to Graddon.
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