3 Ways to Wear Red Lips for the Totally Terrified

Published in: Makeup, Makeup Tips/How To

Earlier this week in the comments on the MAC Unsung Heroes Red Lipstick post I got to chatting with reader Dana Jae about a question a lot of us wrestle with — “What can I do to get over my fear of red lips?”


We may love the way red lips look on other gals, but for one reason or another, we just don’t feel they work as well for us.

“I have such a hard time with red lipsick. I have Ruby Woo, and it looks like my lips take over my whole face (and my lips aren’t that big). It just doesn’t blend well, sticks out too much.”

— Dana Jae

I feel like the holidays are a perfect time to rock dramatic, rich red lips, but I know they’re not for everyone. Red can be daunting, especially if a particular shade of red contrasts heavily with your skin color, or even if you’re just unaccustomed to seeing yourself in something bold and/or bright.

But here’s one of my favorite things about red lips: you can dress ’em up or down, and you don’t have to wear a red that’s fully opaque.

If you don’t feel quite red-y (haha!) for full-on red BAM! — here are a few less intense ways to wear one of the hottest colors around.

1. Using a lipstick as a light stain

Wearing a red lipstick as a stain is probably the quickest, easiest way I know of to dial down the intensity of a red lipstick while retaining much of its rich color. If you already own a red lippie that you like but don’t wear very often because of its rich red might! — this little trick might help you two get along even better. 🙂

To create a stain, lightly dab your lipstick directly from the tube to your lips, aiming for a very light wash of color. Then, pat and blend it out with a finger.

MAC Lipstick in Lady Danger ($14.50) worn as a lip stain

I usually don’t wear a lip liner when I do this because I find that the blending doesn’t leave me with a crisp line around the edges of my lips, but it’s still an option. Unless you’re trying to maintain the contrast between the liner and the lipstick, blend it out with a finger or brush until it looks nice and seamless.

2. Reach for a lightly tinted lip balm instead

Red lip balms are another fun way to rock red. Because they’re often sheer and very lightly tinted, they tend to look softer and less intense than a lipstick or gloss.

Benefit Benetint Lip Balm SPF 15 ($20) is a favorite of mine. I reach for it a lot of the time when I’m in the mood for a tinted red balm with a super shiny finish. It’s also moisturizing, which is great, and has a glossy finish with a light rose flavor and scent.

Benefit Benetint Lip Balm SPF 15

And when I’m in the mood for a shine that’s even more subdued, I grab Burt’s Bees Tinted Lip Balm in Red Dahlia ($7).

Burt’s Bees Tinted Lip Balm in Red Dahlia

I flat-out LOVE this hydrating balm. It comes in a tube, which I prefer to jars, and because it’s not sticky, I don’t have to worry about it catching my hair when it’s windy outside.

3. If you’re looking for a little more bling, try a sheer red gloss with sparkles

So maybe you’re a gal who craves shimmer (you and me both!). 🙂 A sheer red gloss with glitter, like MAC Dazzleglass in Love Alert ($18.50), will do you right.

MAC Dazzleglass in Love Alert


Raspberry red Love Alert has been a favorite of mine this season. Because of how sheer it is, I feel like I can wear it by itself without having to fuss with a lip liner, and the glitter gives it an extra festive touch.

Now who’s ready to rock some red lips with me? On three, let’s go…

One, two, three! 🙂

Your friendly neighborhood beauty addict,



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  1. love this post. Great tips, and you are looking gorgeous-as always.

  2. Chris25 says:

    Sometimes I mix a lip balm with some red lipstick on the back of my hand and apply it that way, with a brush.

    • Karen says:

      That’s a good trick, Chris. I bet the balm softens up the color and adds a pretty sheen. I’ll have to try it with my Salma Hayek Rose Petal Hydrating Balm!

  3. Joanna says:

    Love the lipstain idea! You look fab

  4. Elle says:

    You look great. And I know red lips can kinda be scary, but eh…it’s makeup. It comes off 🙂

  5. SaraJane says:

    Urban Decay has a really great red gloss that I absolutely love. It’s one of the pocket rockets, Eric, I think is the name of that color. If you put just one coat, it’s a really nice, sheer red, but nothing too bright. Another coat or two and you can get a bit more color if you want.

  6. corallista says:

    Great tips Karen. I often use Red lipstick as a stain, my favorite is Revlon Colorburst Crimson – it just matches really well with my skin tone.
    corallista recently posted … B.LAB deals on Maybelline, Vichy, St.Ives, La Roche Posay (till 11th dec)

  7. Ruchita says:

    Thanks for the great tips! I love the look of red lips on others, but I have never tried it myself. I think I might ease into the look with the Burt’s Bees Tinted Lip Balm.

  8. anks says:

    Thanks for this post Karen… i am always terrified of Red!

  9. Kim says:

    I think this will have to be the holiday season to bite the bullet on the red lips. I remember thinking about Tarte’s LipSurgence because, quite honestly, I could use 6000% more moisture. I have to look up your review, though. I seem to remember it wasn’t an A+. Maybe Dubonnet as a stain, instead. I do wear some berry shades. That doesn’t count as red, though, does it? 🙂

  10. Sarah says:

    thanks for the great tips, I’m too nervous with wearing red lipstick. Your hair looks FABULOUS by the way. Smooches to Tabs

  11. Harshleen says:

    Great post karen! I am also new to red and these tips are pretty useful to get me red-y!

  12. Sexy Sadie says:

    I use red lipstick all the time, but I started it by wearing it only when I was alone in my flat.

  13. Sunny says:

    Hey Karen, thanks for the tip! I’ve always stuck to safe colors that don’t stray too far from my own lip color, because I find it flat-out shocking whenever I try a bolder one in the store. After reading this though, I do want to give red lips another chance!

    PS: LOVE the dress! It looks so nice on you!
    Sunny recently posted … Review: Bobbi Brown Bronzer Brush

    • Karen says:

      Hi Sunny,

      You’re welcome. 🙂 Another thing you could try is wearing the color around the house first. It might feel a little silly, but whenever I try a new shade, it helps me get used to seeing it on my face.

      I hope you give red lips a chance. Let me know how it turns out!

  14. DanaJae says:

    Hey Karen,

    Thanks for the spotlight on my question!

    Have you tried the new Maybelline Baby Lips in Cherry Me? It would be another good option tinted balm option and these little babies are cheap and feel oh so wonderful on the lips


    • Karen says:

      You’re welcome, DanaJae. 🙂

      I haven’t tried that particular shade. Good to know that there’s a drugstore option for the gals who want a bargain! Question for you — does it have a strong flavor/scent?

      • DanaJae says:

        Only from the tube but once it’s on I don’t smell it anymore – I think it smells like sweet-tarts which smells pretty good to me 🙂

  15. Vonvon says:

    Me me me! I took out all my red and berry tone lipsticks to be worn for the run up to Christmas and New Year. Wore MAC Riveting Rose yesterday. And wore Dubonnet today all day and to my daughter’s school Christmas play too. 🙂
    Vonvon recently posted … Nail Polish Galore – Breakdown By Brands

  16. I think it’s just something that takes some getting used to, when I first tried a nude lip it was a shock to my system too!! I have MAC Russian Red and love it!! I don’t wear it all the time but if you wear it with confidence you’ll be the envy of all those nude lip girls who wish they had your guts!!

  17. Brittany says:

    This post is a god send. Thank you Karen!

    • Karen says:

      You’re welcome, Brittany. Are there any red shades here that you think you might try?

      • Brittany says:

        I actually have quite a few I’m looking into trying! I bought the Burts Bees tinted chapstick in Rose which is fantastic since I’m a bit on the pale side. I also just tried out CoverGirl Natureluxe lip balm in Anemone which is another really nice subtle and sheer red. I have Taylor Swift for that one! I’m am looking to invest in one of the MAC red lipsticks, I just haven’t quite settled on which shade yet!

  18. Evelyn says:

    These are three fantastic ways to ease into the full on red. I rarely wear red lipstick any other way than the one you’ve listed as #1, with a gloss over the top. I did, however, go the full nine yards today with Revlon Nightlife (my mum’s from forever ago so don’t know if it still exists) so I’m on alert for the dreaded lipstick-on-the-teeth and the hair dragging the lipstick across my face situation! Oh the dangers of full on lipstick – thanks for the great alternatives 🙂

  19. BeckBeck says:

    I’m one of those girls whose lips turn *everything* hot pink – if there’s even a speck of pink pigment in a lip product, it’ll end up full Barbie-pink on me (remember the color of the boxes Barbie came in in the 80s? THAT pink!) Is there a reliable way to identify a pinkless red? All the ones I’ve tried have looked like true reds in the tube but turned into awful berry-fuchsia nightmares on the lips.

    • NeenaJ says:

      I have the same problem. Try two things: lightly apply foundation over your lips then, blot and apply a mid-tone brown lip liner (like MAC Cork). Finally, apply the red lipstick.

      Also, if you swatch one of each red on your hand all in a line, it will be easy to pick out which ones lean more pink and eliminate them.

  20. Let says:

    Thanks for the tips Karen! I’ll try these tips 🙂

  21. Marian says:

    Love Alert is fab! I might have to gift myself with this!

  22. Naj says:

    I have a red lip balm that I use often. But I didn’t think I was wearing red! Haha! Thanks for making me realise it. Love it! I’m planning to buy a red lipstick.

    On a much more contrasting note, have you tried Mac Half N Half lipstick? My friend used it and it looks so awesome on her!

  23. Nina says:

    i agree with your tips! i started out with a red lipgloss when i ventured into the world of red lips (im looking at you viva glam 1 lipglass!) … then as i grew braver, ended up with the red lipstick love of my life — ruby woo.

    what helps is to apply red liipstick in thin layers and to use a lip brush … brush on, blot, brush on, blot. repeat until you get the red you desire! then blot it one last time for good measure!

  24. Noemi says:

    Thanks for this post, it was really helpful! Btw what foundation do you use? Your skin looks amazing!

  25. Stephanie says:

    Revlon Cherry Ice – just got it yesterday, took a chance on 75% off. It is shockingly perfectly sheer enough to not be scary and has a little gold sparkle for fun. It’s not orange-y though. And it wears off evenly which is also a giant plus for a red. No 90’s only the lip liner is left look.

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