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Red hot – perfecting the red lip

How to get the perfect red lip

I adore red lipstick. It never ceases to enhance my mood or transform my outfit, it’s a little bullet of instant glamour. Ever since that the sugary smear of red “M&Ms” or smushed raspberries as “lipstick” before you were allowed to wear it, then graduating to the trashy pound shop efforts that made you look more disturbing than Dietrich; red has always been the lipstick look I wanted to master. Throw in a few years of getting it spectacularly wrong; seeing yourself in a nightclub bathroom at 2am with a less than precise pout will compound efforts to try to learn a thing or two about investing in getting it right. It is sexy, defiant, bold and can transform how you feel when you apply that dramatic kiss of poppy colour. And it’s always in style.

Bernadette Mc Bride is an IFTA-nominated professional make-up artist and has worked on countless TV and film productions. She is also my Godmother and my go-to for any make-up advice or tips whenever I need them. She shares her expertise on how to get the perfect red lip and what shade is best for you.

Choosing the right red to suit your skin tone

Finding the perfect red lipstick to suit your skin complexion can be challenging; the red lipstick that made you look like Lauren Bacall when you were 22 can be severe and ageing at 52. Our skin tone changes as we get older and the secret to fabulous red lips is choosing the correct shade and texture to enhance your skin tone and not to go overboard with the rest of your make-up.

There are reds to suit both warm or cool skin tones. Have a look at the veins on the inside of your wrists; if your veins appear blue then you have a cool undertones in your complexion, if the veins appear greenish then you are more likely to have a warm undertones. When choosing a shade, be sure to step outside in the light. Bear in mind that a lipstick’s texture (cream, matte or gloss) might affect how the shade looks on your lips. You can always adjust it with a clear lip gloss or by applying it gradually.

For pale skin with cool/blue undertones

Look for a red lipstick with blueish-based red hues like crimson and cranberry colours.

Try: Tom Ford Cherry Lush, Mac Ruby Woo and Maybelline 510 and 540.

For olive skin with warm/yellowish undertones

Look for a lipstick that has a more orange-based red. Think Sienna Miller.

Try: MAC Lady Danger, Armani 401 Rouge, Nars’ Pop life and Chanel Rouge Allure 97.

For dark skin with cool/blue undertones

An intense red lipstick looks incredible with this skin tone so go for deep reds and reds with blue undertones. Think berry and brick hues.

Try: Rouge Armani 609.

For fair skin with red hair

Contrary to popular belief, redheads can look amazing in bold red lips.  Look for a lipstick with orange undertones and don’t forget to neutralise any redness in your skin. With fair skin and red lipstick, I prefer to keep eye make-up understated and natural.  Take extra care to even out the area around the lips and chin and use concealer, if necessary, to cover any red blemishes.

Try: NYX Butter Lipstick in Hot Tamale.

For darker skin with warm undertones

Choose a lipstick with an orange-based red.

Try: Tom Ford Wild Ginger


Avoid reds with too much of a brown base if you have anything other gleaming pearly whites as it can emphasise yellowness on your smile. Red shades with a blue undertone is much more flattering if this is a concern.

The graft

Before you even attempt a red lip you need super soft lips. Try exfoliating with a cotton bud and some moisturiser to get rid of any dead skin and this will help stop feathering or bleeding around the mouth, which is always a risk with red lip colour.


Applying a lip primer makes it easier to apply your red lipstick of choice, makes it last longer and prevents lipstick colour bleeding.

If you are using lipstick, try a lip brush and don’t be afraid to blend. If you think your lipstick is too dark don’t bin it, mix it with a lighter shade or a gloss for something you find flatters your skin tone.

Lip liner and pencils

Filling in your lips with liner helps stops any lipstick bleeding, particularly important if you have any fine lines around your mouth. It also keeps it in place. Avoid very deep colours if your lips are thin.

Use a lip liner the same shade as your lip colour or for a really vibrant and long-lasting look or just use the liner as your “lipstick.”

What about the rest of my make-up?

Less is more and the secret to carrying this look off lies with the rest of your face. A clear palette is always good for red lipstick and minimal eye make-up makes a bold red lip stand out. Go for groomed brows, soft or neutral eye-make shadow with a precise liner if using, and lashings of mascara.

Most importantly, embrace and enjoy this glamourous look.

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