How Do You Wear Red Lipstick? Tips and Tricks

Published in: Makeup, Makeup Tips/How To

Like the Ol’ Faithful of lip looks, a red lip is one of the most reliable, fool-proof ways to steal the spotlight.


But red and other bright lip shades can be challenging colors to wear. My secret to wearing reds like Lancome’s Absolute Rouge ($29, pictured above) is to apply them using a MAC 316 Covered Lip Brush ($19).

With the 316’s firm, pointed tip I can really get in where I need to get, precisely controlling my lines and delivering the right amount of pigment for my look — kinda like drawing with a sharpened pencil versus trying to draw with a stubby crayon. When applying directly from a tube of lipstick, I’ll often end up with uneven color or color breaking outside the lines of the natural shape of my lips. Not cute, ladies!


For my makeup this week I’ve alternated between Estee Lauder’s Ruby and Lancome’s Absolute Rouge.

A classic tomato red with subtle golden pearl, Absolute Rouge arrived last August as part of Lancome’s L’Rouge Absolue lipstick line. Richly pigmented, it was designed for full coverage and moisture, thanks, according to Lancome, to Pro-Xylane, a deeply-moisturizing molecule found across their Absolute skincare range. Whatever, right? It’s pretty — the most important thing.

Got any tips or tricks for wearing red lips? Come on, share your secrets. 🙂

Your friendly neighborhood beauty addict,



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So far, 33 people have commented on this article. How cool is that?

  1. Ellery says:

    I’m gonna buy that brush, I always notice that when I wear black lipstick it’s not completely even around the edges. I’ve never done red before though since I can’t find THE perfect red for me unfortunately.

  2. Karen says:

    Hi Ellery,

    An addition plus is that you can also use the 316 for gel liners (although, you have to be really good about cleaning it if you plan on using it for both — I have two, one for gel liners and one for lipsticks).

    Ahhh, the hunt for the perfect red does take some effort and patience. Have you tried MAC Russian Red?

    Oh, and what are your tricks for wearing black lipstick?

  3. Dao says:

    I just thought about red lipstick for my Halloween look so yeah, I have a way to wear my red but you have to wait ’til Halloween Eve to see 😛 The look I’m going to do is inspired by nocturnal creatures in fiction that starts with a V, that much I can tell 🙂 Yay for Friday, I’m going to see W. the movie tonight.

  4. Indian Girl says:

    I have so many red lipsticks coz I am just in a red phase. My fav is Femma Noir and Coco Noir from Julie Hewett.
    This one from Lancome is so pretty !!!

    Indian Girl´s last blog post..POP Apples of the Cheeks – No.1 Rouge

  5. nolamakeupjunkie says:

    I am happy you wrote about red lipstick… I think it is a classy look that is under-represented in makeup today… I asked my granda about lipstick when she was young, and she said, “Lipstick WAS red”, meaning that to wear lipstick was to wear red lipstick. I think it is a shame that red lipstick has become costume-y. I think is goes along with the trend of not dressing up anymore. When women leave the house to run to the mall or grocery, looks can range from jeans and a t-shirt to pj pants and a tank…just something to think about…

  6. RetroRiotGrrrl says:

    I dress rockabilly/vintage and wear red everyday (Russian Red, or Lady Danger (both MAC) ) use a very waxy lip liner to keep your color from bleeding and apply very heavly and blot this helps the color sink into you lips so if some comes off you lips are almost stained also be sure your lips are perfectly smooth for red i use a lip exfoliator every other day

  7. Almira says:

    Ahhh, apply beet juice to your lips before you sleep. If your lips are darkened from smoking, this will correct the problem better than lipstick–it’s also a semi permanent stain on your lips, so it doesn’t rub off.

    Also, if you apply a lipstick over it, then the color of the lipstick is enriched by the color that your lips have been stained, if that makes any sense =3

    Unfortunately I’m too pale to wear a red without looking like a clown, I have to stick to pinks and browns D=

    Almira´s last blog post..Mean Queens, Pt 2

  8. Gemma says:

    My favorite trick: After you’re done applying the lipstick, take a cream concealer or foundation and a 266 brush and line just outside of your lips. Blend into your skin when you’re done so there isn’t a harsh line of concealer around your lips. Doing this cleans up any crooked lip liner, covers red smudges, and really makes your lips POP! =) Do it with brows too!

    Gemma´s last blog post..Juicy loves Sephora

  9. lexi says:

    Hi Karen,
    I find that the darker my hair gets so do my lips! I have stayed away from red because it was out of my safety zone which is ironic since all I use to wear was red when I was in high school. To get back into red I started with cranberry colored lip gloss or a brown based red. Right now I have been wearing Nars’ Afgan Red which is more of a wine more than anything on its own. So to make it more rich and glossy I put on Bad Education gloss which is also by Nars -it makes it more red. I leave my eyes soft and natural – I love Mac Rubenesque paint pot on my lids – black liner that super thin and lots of mascara. On my cheeks I put a soft touch of plum blush.

    Usually I use a brush to apply but since I’m getting use to seeing color on my lips again I go straight from tube to lips!

  10. Evie says:

    Oh, I love my reds. Always have. Today I’m wearing NARS sephora flame, which is a gorgeous matte brick red that feels very early 90s supermodel to me 🙂

    Anyway, my trick is cargo’s the reverse lipliner, which is one of those flesh colored liners that you use outside of your lip line, and then a very thin layer of balm before applying the lipstick. I usually dab it on rather than brushing, but that’s more personal preference than anything else…

  11. Glosslizard says:

    I don’t have any real tips or tricks, but I love a good red! Chanel’s Shanghai Red is one of my go-to’s, and I sometimes tone down bright reds with a darker shade like MAC’s Kirsch mattene. Yeah, I tend a little to the Goth-y, but it helps me to strut those reds with attitude! 🙂 I guess that’s my tip, wear reds like you mean it! 😀

  12. Heidi says:

    I love my MAC Russian Red. It’s the perfect blue-based red for nearly all skintones. Instead of going for a full on red pout, I smear on some chapstick and dab some on until I achieve the pretty stained effect. It lasts all day, and it works for those who are still timid about sporting this look.

  13. Ellery says:

    Oooh, I’ll have to try it out with a gel liner. 😀

    I was thinking about Russian Red but I’ve been waiting until I go to Glasgow so I can see them in real life and decide what’s best for me.

    You can’t really wear black without everyone staring really, or assuming you’re a goth, especially since I have really pouty lips, lol, but I just make sure it’s applied perfectly and the only other makeup I wear with it is really really sharp liquid eyeliner. 🙂

  14. Karen says:

    Hi Ellery,

    Yeah! The gel liner trick is tops. The line is just so perfect… not too harsh, not too soft, but just right!

    Dunno if you like the retro reds, but another good one for your list is MAC Lady Danger. It has a bit of orange to it, and it’s one of those colors that makes pouty lips go POW!

    I admire you for rocking the black lip. That’s a look that I like in theory and on the runways, but dunno if I can pull that off in real life anymore (hey, I’m 33…)!

  15. Karen says:

    Hi Heidi,

    Great tip! I have Russian Red and love love love it. I will try your Chapstick trick the next time I bust it out!

  16. Karen says:

    Hi Glosslizard,

    Great tip! I agree that the red lip requires a good attitude. 🙂

  17. Karen says:

    Hi Evie,

    I love that early 90s supermodel look. I was in high school during that era and it was all about the matte lip look! You couldn’t find anything glossy for miles.

    I will have to hunt down that Cargo liner!

  18. Karen says:

    Hi Lexi,

    What a pretty look! I love the pairing of a very strong lip with soft, natural eyes. I don’t have either of those Nars shades, but think I’ll try something similar this weekend. I have a bit of time to play! Yay!

    Props to you for being able to handle the dark shades straight from the tube!

  19. Karen says:

    Hi Gemma,

    Great tip! I’ve been rocking the reds 24/7 lately so this is one I’ll give a go. I got plenty o’ concealer up in here, LOL. What’s your favorite, btw?

  20. Karen says:

    Hi Almira,

    Ahhh! An all natural lip stain! What a neat idea. 🙂

    Hmm, maybe you can do a very sheer red gloss? Shu Uemura has a good one… I’ll go looking for it in my stash if you’re curious!

  21. Karen says:

    Hi RetroRiotGrrl,

    Good call on the exfoliator! What liner do you use with Lady Danger? I’ve had that one on my list, but have yet to pick it up. Maybe with the next back to MAC round…

  22. Karen says:

    Hi nolamakeupjunkie,

    I hear ya. I remember when I was younger how it seemed more people dressed up to go out. Even when I look at pictures or watch movies of folks going out and about in the 50s it definitely seems like people were more put together, even when they just had to run errands!

  23. Karen says:

    Hi Indian Girl,

    Girl, me too! I haven’t tried those shades (yet, whee!).

    If you have a Lancome by you, definitely try this shade. It does have a slight perfume to it, but it fades quickly, and it’s really moisturizing.

    Hope you have a great Saturday! Doing anything exciting this weekend?

  24. Karen says:

    Hi Dao,

    Hmmm… I wonder what your costume is gonna involve? Maybe some fangs? 😉

    How was the movie?

  25. jessica says:

    Hey Karen,

    Kind of irrelevent to this post, but I wanted to tell you I just started using Pixi gel liner and I am in love with it. It is the first liner I’ve ever used that doesn’t end up all over my undereye area after a few hours. It pretty much stays put where I use it and doesn’t budge until I clean it off with my Lancome Bi-facil.. even rubbing it with my fingers doesn’t take off much after it is set. I couldn’t say the same with anything else that I used– even liquid liners. The gel liner comes with a little brush that’s perfect too– it’s stiff enough to give good control over where the liner goes. Loves it!

    ^.^ Have a good weekend, Karen!

  26. Dao says:

    The movie was good, we came back at 1-something am! Josh Brolin played a very convincing W. and in the movie, Cheney is called “Vice”. It’s a funny movie but not so much of Bush-bashing though.

    Dao´s last blog post..Sephora Brand The Lash Stash: Perfect for Mascara Addicts

  27. Marisol says:

    Wow that color looks great on you. The only red lippie I like is MAC’s O.

    Marisol´s last blog post..TILT 10.23.08

  28. Lydia says:

    Red lipstick usually looks funny on me but I like Gash by Urban Decay 🙂

    Lydia´s last blog post..Laura Mercier

  29. cloudburst says:

    Line & full in your lips with a flesh toned pencil, then apply your red lipstick. The liner helps define & hold the colour but you avoid the “ring around the lip” look when your lipstick starts to fade. Tip courtesy of the late, great Kevyn Aucoin – always works for me!

  30. jane says:

    I just bought my very first red/any colored lipstick. I always do a nude lip having worn MAC SISS for years and years now. So seeing any color on my lips is thoroughly strange and terrifying. I’ve been looking for a rep lipstick for a while now to complete my halloween costume as a classic pin up girl. it was difficult to because for me to find something to go with my very tan asian skintone. I purchased MAC DIVA and surprisingly like it a lot. Now…how do i keep it off my teeth all night?

  31. Dolores says:

    I am so into red lipstick lately! Sexy by Chanel is pricey but I find I can put it on without liner or a MIRROR! and it looks good! The only thing is before re-applying I have to make sure I have wiped it completely off of my lips before I put more on.

  32. Natalie says:

    I LOVE red lipstick
    I usually wear Showcase by 17 (it’s an English brand from Boots, I’m not sure if you’ll be familiar with it) it’s got a really nice texture and holds well
    Also I recommend Lipcote – it’s this kind of nail varnish looking liquid that you can paint over the top of lipstick and it holds it all day which is especially important with a bold shade like red 🙂

    love the blog!
    natalie x

  33. Kathy says:

    I have MAC’s Russian Red too!!! I apply it after my foundation working as a base, and covering my whole lip with a red pencil (forget the name but that’s MAC too.) Blot. Reapply. Blot again. Then apply Lipcote. I love Lipcote, really helps avoid the red ring of lipstick Cloudburst spoke about. MAC also have a lip primer I sometimes use but tbh I’m not really sure it does anything a regular chapstick would do. The old toothbrush + Vaseline trick works well for exfoliating before putting it on too. Always wear it matte. There’s just something so much more sophisticated about a matte lip which I need because I have a bit of a babyface that makes me look like a teenager.
    Just black liquid liner with that, always. Make sure my eyebrows are well groomed and powdered in with that as well because I feel like my eyes look so bare, it’s essential to still look groomed.

    I love a good nude lip too. Revlon Matte’s Nude Attitude is great! sometimes I dab it on with my finger after applying Estee Lauder’s Rose Tea to completely avoid the “concealer lip” look that nudes can sometimes do.
    There is a great image from the MAC website I remember that teamed it with a full-on black eyeshadow look. Very striking with my white blonde hair!

    Apart from those two matte looks or a simple balm, I rarely use anything else on my lips. Lipgloss always ends up all over my face! Haha. Sorry for this epic message, obviously an important topic for me!!!


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