How to Pull Off Dark Lipstick Like a Pro

Wendy Rodewald
How to wear dark lipstick

Photo: Luca Cannonieri/

Dark lipstick becomes so omnipresent every fall that it’s hard to call it a trend; it’s more of a seasonal staple, like a leather jacket or a new pair of jeans. We’ve always been just a bit too chicken to embrace the look in all its gothic glory, but with new, wearable versions taking center stage (witness the gorgeous burnt red shade from Bottega Veneta’s fall/winter 2013-2014 runway show, above), we’re finally ready to make an attempt. You, too?

To help you navigate the latest crop of plums, berries, bricks and browns hitting beauty counters now, we tapped Make Up For Ever Managing Educator Jessie Powers for her tips on how to sport a dark lip and own it this fall.

Know your limits.
“If you have really thin lips, I don’t recommend a dark lipstick,” Powers says. “Dark colors minimize whereas light colors are going to volumize.” A dark shade on already thin lips will make them look thinner, and that can make a face look older, since lips typically lose volume as we age. “If you have naturally voluminous lips or regular lips, go for it.”

Keep it balanced.
According to Powers, “The key to doing a dark lip color is making sure the rest of your makeup is really in harmony with that lip. Keep it fairly minimal on the rest of your face.”

Using a similar shade on your lids or cheeks can help your lip color harmonize with the rest of your makeup. If you’re wearing a plum-colored lipstick, a purple eye shadow can help tie the look together. Another idea: blend a dab of your lip color onto your cheeks to create a monochromatic flush.

Choose a shade that complements your skin tone.
As with any makeup color, your complexion determines what will look good on you. “Dark can be more purple or more berry or more brick,” Powers says. “You can warm it up or cool it down according to your taste.” If you know you look better in cool shades, opt for a blue-based, berry color. If your complexion is warm, choose a hue that veers toward brown.

Use a lip liner.
“Lip liner is an absolute must with dark lips,” Powers explains. “Any saturated color, if it’s not even around the edges, it looks crazy.” Use a pencil to perfect your shape; the waxes in the pencil will also help prevent color bleeding.

Still wary? Try a muted take.
“A berry stain will be an easier way for you to try it out,” Powers says. “It still has a little life and a little brightness to it.” Try a sheer shade such as Clinique Almost Lipstick in Black Honey ($15, — it really does look good on everyone — or create your own by applying a dark lipstick with your fingers instead of straight from the bullet for a sheer wash of color.

Try a trendy shade.
With all things ‘90s back in a big way, “We’re going to be seeing some vamp throwback colors,” this fall, Powers predicts. Her current favorite? Make Up For Ever Rouge Artist Intense 48 ($20,, a beautiful black currant shade.

Brick-red shades also make a perfect complement to a fall color palette. Shiseido Perfect Rouge in Dragon ($25, is a deep, orange-based red that flatters warm skin tones.

For the truly bold, Lipstick Queen Velvet Rope in Entourage ($50, available September at is a deep wine shade with an intensely pigmented, unbelievably lightweight, silky formula — and we’re obsessed with the gilded magnetic case.

Read more: How to Make Thin Lips Look Fuller