The perfect shade of nude lipstick shouldn’t be next-to-impossible to find, and it definitely shouldn’t require you buying a dozen different shades, going home, trying them on, finding that you now look dead, sick, and pale, thinking about the money you just wasted, and promptly punching a wall. Not that that’s happened to me a BILLION times before, or anything. (Ever had that problem? No? Just me? Cool.)
But seriously, how do the J.Los of the world do it? How do these magical people rock nude, semi-matte lips for years and still totally slay, while I can’t find one damn lipstick that works for my average skin tone? Turns out, it’s not just me—nude lipsticks are tricky for everyone to figure out, according to 100-percent of the people I’ve asked in the office. So I decided to dispel the mystical cloud surrounding them by going to the experts for their best advice.
“Nude lipsticks should be the softest version of your own lip color,” says makeup artist Ashleigh Ciucci. “So to pick the best nude for your skin tone, just find the shade that most closely matches your natural lips, since that matchy-matchy look is actually what creates a nude effect.” Uh, what? Mind blown. “Your lips are one of the most pigmented and pink-toned spots on your face, so if you try to cancel out the color with a lipstick that’s too light for your skin tone you’ll actually wipe your face of its natural pigments, which can make you look sick,” she says.
Cool, so the biggest mistake people make with nude lipsticks (a.k.a. choosing a shade that matches your face, rather than a shade that matches your lips) was what I had done for years. Awesome. But what about the formula itself? Should you choose matte, glossy, opaque, or sheer? “Oh, man—a nude matte is the worst; it requires a ton of work and effort,” says Ciucci, immediately dispelling any uncertainty. “A creamy, semi-glossy texture is going to be the most forgiving, and it’s also look more flesh-toned and realistic.”
Just because creamy textures are “easier,” though, doesn’t mean that nude lipsticks are for the lazy. Since light colors show every flake and ripple on your skin, you need to exfoliate the hell out of your lips (try Fresh Sugar Lip Polish), first, before applying your lipstick. Ideally, you’ll even use matching nude lip liner, first, to help soften the contrast between lip and face. “I actually like to apply the lipstick first and then go back with the lip liner and clean up the edges,” says Ciucci. And because you’re muting your lips, you’ll need to draw attention to another part of your face, whether that be through an insanely awesome smokey eye, or bold-as-hell brows. Otherwise, yeah, you’ll look like the Crypt keeper.
Bet you didn’t know that wearing nude lipstick required a dissertation, but hey: We care about the state of your face. So now that you’re armed with the best nude lipsticks that won’t make you look like death, you can all channel your inner J.Lo for the rest of your glorious life. Scroll down to see our favorite nude lipsticks for your skin tone, along with tips on how to wear them.