Nude lipstick is a “trend” that looks good on everyone, but its flattering properties hinge entirely on finding the right shade for you. If you go too dark, “your skin tone might appear more fair or washed out than it actually is,” says MAC Cosmetics makeup artist Abby Sparks. Go too light, “[and] you lose your lip definition,” Sparks says. “Your lips blend in with the rest of your face and create a lifeless look.”
To prevent these harsh results, Sparks has provided us with a simple formula to guide us to our perfect nude and avoid the washed out zombie look entirely. First, consider your skin’s undertones. “Undertones play an important role in choosing [your nude] and can emphasize in a positive or negative way what tones you naturally have in your skin,” Sparks says. A shade formulated for fair skin may look great on a woman with warm undertones, but wash out a woman with cool—so your first order of business is to find your undertone by examining the veins that peek through the underside of your forearm. “If your veins appear green, you have warmer tones. If they appear blue, you have cool tones,” says Sparks. If you can’t tell, or your veins are somewhere in between, you’re probably neutral, which means you have a fairly even mixture of pink and gold undertones in your skin.
As for another factor that can affect your ability to discover your perfect nude, testing out the color is key…but it shouldn’t happen on the back of your hand, which tends to be the go-to spot. “This can be misleading because hands tend to not show as much sun exposure as your face,” Sparks says. “Your hands will be a lighter shade than your face. To be safe, test on your lips, if possible.”
And with that, now it’s time to find your shade. Sparks breaks down her suggestions by skin tone.
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“Pink tones that are slightly lighter or darker work best for medium tones.”
“Red or pink undertones bring warmth to your face. A shade darker will give you more definition and a sheer formula will provide a natural look.”
Our Pick: Bobbi Brown Lip Color in Beige
“A light pink nude will give you color and enhance your natural lips. Glossy formulas also go well with a fair skin tone.”
“Choose a shade darker than your skin, with caramel (for those with warm undertones) or pink (for cool undertones).”
Our Pick: MAC Cosmetics Lipstick in Faux
“Rosy or pink mauves and also caramel tones are all flattering choices for mocha skin tones.”
Our Pick: Dior Rouge Lipstick in Saint Germain
“A shade slightly lighter, with a glossy formula, will define the lips and give you a fresh look. Pink shades will also complement this tone.”
Our Pick: Laura Mercier Stickgloss in Brown Sugar
A version of this article was originally published in January 2015.