Lipstick can put the finishing touch on a great makeup application or it can be worn alone to enhance a more natural look. The right lip color can help make you look gorgeous, while the wrong shade can be disastrous. So how do you pick the perfect shade for you?
We're often told to match lipstick shades with our skin tone (our skin's surface color) but your skin's undertones as well as the undertone of a lipstick shade also determines which shades work on you.
What’s Your Undertone? Warm or Cool?
Warm skin tones typically have yellow or orange-red undertones. Cool skin tones tend to have pink or red undertones.
In addition to your skin tone and undertone, the right lip shade can also depend on your hair color and clothing, but here are general guidelines for choosing color:
Light Skin Tone
- What Looks Best: Deep plum-reds, berry and wine reds with blue undertones, browns and beige lipsticks with pink undertones, pinks with blue undertones. If you have warm undertones, you’ll look great in cappuccino, caramels, browns with golden or slightly bronze shimmer.
- What to Avoid: If you have cool, pink undertones, avoid orange-reds, pale browns with yellow undertones and any shades that might overpower your complexion such as very hot pinks.
Medium/Light Olive Skin Tone
- What Looks Best: Deep reds, blue-reds, deep pinks, brownish reds, caramel, medium brown with yellow or pink undertones and coffee browns.
- What to Avoid: Medium tones seem to get away with warm and cool shades.
Olive Skin Tone
- What Looks Best: Deeper shades of browns and reds, dark berries.
- What to Avoid: Mauves, pale pinks, orange-reds, pink-reds.
Medium-Brown Skin Tone
- What Looks Best: Brown reds, berry pinks, rose, medium plums with yellow undertones.
- What to Avoid: Pinks that are too cool or light, pastel shades, orange.
Dark Skin Tone
- What Looks Best: You can get away with darker, deep shades, reds with blue undertones, reddish browns like mahogany, deep plums, wine reds, raisin, coffee brown and deep rose.
- What to Avoid: Orange, pinks or pastel shades.
Trial & Error
Finding the right lipstick shade can take a lot of trial and error. One easy method is to use a tester (using a cotton swab) and swipe the color onto the tips of your fingers. The pads of your fingers will be closer to the lip shade than your hand, and will give you a better idea of how the color will look.
The best way is to test the color on your actual lips. Some companies might actually have mini lipsticks for testing or you can purchase cheap drugstore brands to experiment with colors before purchasing a more expensive and/or better-formulated lip product. Also, remember that price doesn’t necessarily mean a particular lipstick will look great on you or that it is any better than an inexpensive brand.
Look at Your Natural Lip Color
For nude lipsticks or more natural shades, look at your natural lip color, and choose a color close to the lip color, or a couple of shades deeper or brighter.
If a lipstick color doesn’t look good on you, you can always mix it with another lip color. Some of the best-looking lip shades are custom-made by blending two to three different shades.
For simple custom-blending of lip color, makeup artist Mally Roncal has created the Mally Pro-Tricks Lip Palette which contains nine lipstick shades, plus three "adjusters," which is what Roncal calls the three additional colors that are used to deepen, lighten or add pearlescent shimmer to customized shades. The Mally Pro-Tricks Lip Palette is $45 at QVC.com.