As iconic as it is elusive, the perfect red lip offers an adventurous lesson in understanding personal style. “It’s like buying a red pair of shoes: you wouldn’t wear them all the time, and do you choose the low burgundy flats or the Christian Louboutin candy apple spikes?” explains Vancouver-based Caitlin Callahan, a senior artist with M.A.C Cosmetics. “So it’s really saying something when you choose to wear a red lip, and then you have to decide what you’re going to say.”

Find the perfect red lip shade: Where to start

One woman’s bright crimson lip is her best friend’s subtle rouge complement—in other words, one shade creates vastly contrasting looks on different skin tones. “I think we would talk about personal style,” says Callahan about the initial deciding factor. “Do you want something really bright and flashy and fun, or do you want something a little more understated? And then we would look at skin tone.” Her red lip litmus test? “When you mirror your skin tone, it’s going to be more subtle; when you go opposite of it, it’s much more of a contrast.”

Just to prove the uniquely transformative power of each shade, Callahan explains that a tomato-orange hue—bright and OTT, to some— would be a more subtle choice for woman with a warm brown-gold skin tone than a fuchsia-based, cooler pink-red.

SLIDESHOW: The 10 best lipsticks for COOL SKIN TONES

Find the perfect red lip shade: Determining your skin tone

While there are few hard and fast rules, generally speaking, those with cool tones have blue, grey or green eyes and blond, black or ash-brown hair, says Lucky Bromhead, a celebrity makeup artist based in Toronto. “If you have hazel, brown or black eyes and brown, black, auburn, or
red hair, chances are you are a warmer skin tone.”

SLIDESHOW: The 10 best lipsticks for WARM SKIN TONES

Or step outside—florescent or other lighting affects how you see the colouring of your skin—and examine the veins in the underside of your arm near the wrist: blue veins being a cool undertone and more greenish veins signal a warmer one. Bromhead also advises holding up a white sheet of paper next to a make-up free face. “If you see golden or yellow tones, you have a cool skin tone. A warm undertone will look more pinkish, red, or rosy,” she says. “If you are still at a loss, ask an artist behind a makeup counter to help guide you.”


For more tips on how to find the perfect red lipstick – and make it last!- read on to the next page…

Paul-Smith-redlipscanvas.jpgFind the perfect red lip shade: Complementing lip shades with your skin

So how do you select your best red lip shade? “Warm reds have an orange undertone, and they tend to be brighter and have more pop,” explains Bromhead. “Cool reds have a blue undertone and have a strong impact that ranges from bright—think Dita Von Teese or Madonna—to deeper, burgundy-red hues.”

For those with a fair complexion, Callahan recommends a M.A.C red shade with, creamy cooler undertones. “It’s less of a contrast than something orange, but beautiful on a blonde.” For an olive skin tone? “Lady Danger,” she says instinctively about M.A.C.’s vibrant orange-red shade.

And forget swiping the lipstick on the back of your hand—for the most accurate read, you must actually wear the shade on your lips. “The best lighting is the rear view mirror of your car—you get that daylight reflected back at you,” says Callahan.

Beauty essentials: Top 6 lip & cheek duos

Find the perfect red lip shade: Going against the grain

Red lips are a statement, and like any well put-together look, they require both effort and maintenance. This means using a lip liner beforehand and carrying around a compact for quick touch-ups on the go. “If you are new to red lips, matching the liner exactly will be an easier way to achieve your look and is more mistake-proof,” says Bromhead. “However, teaming a blue-red lip liner with an orange-red lipstick can give a gorgeous result if you are adept at blending,” she adds, citing the ombré lip trend seen at Jason Wu this spring.

Get the look: Dries Van Noten’s PINK LIPS

But the first rule about getting the red lip look: there are no rules. “I want people to know that they’re not stuck in a hole of ‘this is my shade, this is what I wear’, but they’ll know if it’s glittering on them when they look in the mirror,” says Callahan. “It’s such a personal choice.”

Read more:
The 10 best red lipsticks for warm skin tones
The 10 best red lipsticks for cool skin tones
Beauty classics: 10 essential red lipsticks

Spring’s best lips