It’s Your First Time: A Beginner’s Guide to Wearing Lip Color

Shannon Farrell

As lipstick fanatics, we’re often mind-blown when women insist that they don’t think they can pull of wearing colorful lipstick. So many of our friends have said, “I wish I could look good wearing lipstick. I’ve tried it, but it just doesn’t look right on me.”

The truth, ladies, is that any woman can wear lipstick. The key to rocking a bold lip color is finding the right shade for your skin tone, and after that, it’s all about how you wear it. (It’s all about confidence!) To help you first-timers who might be skittish about trying lip color, here’s a guide to help you graduate from rookie to expert. 

Lipstick for your skin tone

Beginner: A Gloss

As a lipstick virgin, you may be nervous to jump right in the hay. Instead, start with a lip gloss or even a tinted balm. While these may not add that much color to your lips, it will get you accustomed to the feeling of having product (and color!) on your pout. Lipstick can feel like a chore sometimes with all that reapplying throughout the day—lip gloss is the lazy girl’s option. When the product smudges off, there’s no stain left behind. Reapply for that instant shine or wait until you head out the door — the choice is up to you!

Colors to Try Based on Your Skin Tone
Fair: For paler skin tones, you want to add just a dab of color, like a light pink, to avoid looking washed out. We love Bobbi Brown High Shimmer Lip Gloss in Pastel ($24,

Medium: Add a darker fleshy tone look for medium or olive skin with Becca Ultimate Colour Gloss in Autumn Punch ($24,

Dark: Go darker or add a soft pink, like Yves Saint Laurent Rouge Pur Couture Vernis Á Lévres Glossy Stain in Rose Fourreau ($34,

Intermediate: Natural-Looking Color

Once you’ve mastered gloss, step it up with a natural-looking lip color. Now you’re experimenting with the consistency and color saturation of a lipstick without a bold or bright color to intimidate you. Unlike glosses that are usually moisturizing, a lipstick can dry out your lips within hours. The key is to hydrate before application with a lip conditioner like shea butter-infused Caudalíe Lip Conditioner ($12, Plus, it’ll smooth the lips for even application. For longer-lasting color (because who wants to reapply, right?), use a lip primer like Becca’s Lip Priming Perfector ($24, A lip liner like the Merle Norman Clear Lip Pencil ($14, available Nov. 1 at also doubles as a primer — make sure to coat the entire lip with the pencil.

When searching for a natural-looking — yet enhancing — shade, Kerry Cole, the BECCA Style Director recommends testing out a few shades first. “The inside tip of your finger tip is closest to your natural lip color. So rather than swiping shades on the back of your hand, start by testing shades on your finger.”

Colors to Try Based on Your Skin Tone
Fair: Add subtle warmth to skin with a soft nude pink like MAC Lipstick in Angel ($15,

Medium: Corals look great on medium and olive skin tones because they have the same warm undertones. Bite Beauty Lush Lip Tint in Tangelo ($24, is a tint so the pigment isn’t very bold.

Dark: A pretty berry like Dior Rouge Dior in Twill ($34, is just a shade darker than natural lips.

Advanced: Rich Reds

Once you’ve mastered subtle color, the feel of the product and reapplication, the next step is a richer, bolder hue. While vibrant oranges and purples are all over the glossies and runways, we suggest a classic red. Unlike other highly pigmented colors, it works on everyone (promise!). With the right shade and a few application tricks, you’ll be a lipstick-wearing pro at last!

When applying darker shades, Cole suggests exfoliating your lips first. “When brushing your teeth, lightly brush your lips too. This will remove any dead skin, ensuring your darker shades will glide on smoothly and evenly over the lips.”

With bold lipstick, you want the rest of the face to be as bare or natural-looking as possible. Swap out your smoky eye for a subtle taupe shadow on days when you’re rocking a berry pout. Another fun switch-up: pair matte skin with a shiny bold lip or vice versa, dewy skin with a matte lip. The options are endless when you add color!

Colors to Try Based on Your Skin Tone
Fair: For a pure, classic look on porcelain skin, try a classic red like Topshop Lips in Rio Rio ($16,

Medium: Because medium skin tones have that warmth, an orange-red like Nars Lipstick in Heat Wave ($26, looks great.

Dark: Darker skin tones can pull off any red, so why not go a bit bolder with a berry red like Marc Jacobs Beauty Lovemarc Lip Gel in Seduce Me ($30,

“If you’ve picked a color and are still not 100 percent sold, dust a little translucent powder over your lips to mute down the color,” says Cole. “You can also sweep a champagne color shadow over your lips to give them a shimmering finish.”

Next up: purple, orange, blue … now that’s just crazy, right?

Read more: 10 Things Every Woman Needs in Her Makeup Wardrobe

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