Are You Wearing the Wrong Lip Shade?

Aly Walansky
Woman applying red lipstick

Image via Jonathan Knowles/Stone Collection

Finding the best lip color for your face depends on your objective – do you want a bold, out-there look or a natural, polished finish? You want to find the best shade for your face, whether rocking a bold red lip or a light lip and natural shade, the key is to find something that looks great and that you’re comfortable wearing. We talked to experts to find out which shades not only work best for your skin tone, but also how to find them in stores – as well as some easy application tricks.

Safe bets:
“As a rule, sheer colors are more universally flattering because they allow your own coloring to shine through and so will work on the widest spectrum of different skin tones and faces,” says celebrity beauty expert and founder of Ramy Cosmetics, Ramy Gafni.

Warmer shades (think yellow or brown based) will blend in better and therefore be more flattering than cooler shades, which will pop more, even if you have a cooler complexion. “For example, a blue based Barbie pink is far less likely to look good on you compared to a pink with a yellow base, so look for a pink that has a subtle gold or copper shimmer to it or a non-shimmery pink that has a slight beige or nude undertone and you’ll find that it will be far more flattering,” says Gafni.

MORE: Matte Lipstick: All You Need to Know About the Look

Try before you buy:
Lipstick is one cosmetic product that you really must try on to see how it will look on your particular face. The same shade may look pinker on one person and more orange on the next. Never judge the color simply by how it looks in the tube. “If you’ve tried a lipstick shade on and like it, but are still unsure if it’s flattering, draw it onto your cheeks and blend it out as a blush. If it looks good as a blush, it’s a good color for you. If it doesn’t look good as a blush, you shouldn’t wear it on your lips either,” says Gafni, who suggests seeking a lipstick shade that makes your teeth look whiter and your eye color brighter when you have it on.

An old wives’ tale is to match your lipstick with the inside color of your cheek. “That used to be the guideline for what color you should wear. Although it still holds true, these days there are many more lipstick shades to choose from,” says makeup artist Donna Kelly. If your lips walk into the room first, then you are probably wearing the wrong shade of lipstick.  It should compliment the rest of you and not be center stage.

Olive skin tones:
If you have olive skin, cool tones are best. Try shades of pink, rose, mauve, plums, etc, which have blue undertones.  “Avoid lipsticks with too much yellow in them. They can bring out the yellow in your skin and make you look sick.  Cooler toned lipsticks can make your teeth look a little whiter too,” says Kelly.

MORE: 15 Things That Change Once You Start Wearing Lipstick

If you are a redhead and/or have pink undertones, warm tones are usually best. Try shades of orange, gold, copper, brown, etc, which have yellow undertones.

The eyes have it:
If you have blue eyes, warmer toned lipsticks like coral and orange shades can help bring out the blue in your eyes, says Kelly. Green Eyes: If you have green eyes, cooler toned lipsticks are great.  For example, pink and rose colors are beautiful. Brown Eyes: Brown eyed beauties are the exception…they can wear whatever shade(s) they feel best in. It’s more important that their lip shades compliment their skin tone.

Choose your battles:
This struggle isn’t necessarily about color.  It’s knowing where to pick and choose.  “Most women won’t branch out to new lip colors because they are set in their ways when it comes to doing their eyes.  If you are not open to changing your eye look, it can make it hard to change a lip,” says Bryanna Casey, a makeup artist. For example, if you really love a heavy smokey eye, applying a serious red or coral lip will seem like way too much.  Take away the dark eye and go for a cream shadow, no liner and mascara and you have opened yourself up to trying that deep burgundy color, or an orange for summer!

When wearing darker colors:
Exfoliate 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,” says as Kerry Cole, Style Director of BECCA Cosmetics. This will insure your color stays put and true.

Test a few shades out:
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.

“I love makeup mostly because of its title. Makeup. Make it up. There are no rules, really make it up as you go.  See what works, what doesn’t, and have fun in the process. You will never know if you can pull of a black lipstick unless you try!” says Casey.

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