The Master Guide to Figuring Out Your Red Lipstick Shade

With the holiday season quickly approaching, a fun way to change up your makeup routine is to add a red lipstick into the rotation. It’s festive and bright and instantly lends a bit of glamour to any look. But easier said than done. How many times have you swiped on a red shade and thought, this just doesn’t suit me?

As a makeup artist and Darling’s Beauty Editor, one of the most common sentiments I hear is, “I wish I could wear red lipstick but it just doesn’t look good on me.”

Well, I disagree and I am going to help guide you in finding the right red for you.

Step 1: Determine your tones.

The first thing you want to do is identify whether you are FAIR (think Lily Collins), LIGHT (think Kate Bosworth), MEDIUM (think America Fererra), TAN (think Rihanna) or DEEP (think Lupita Nyong’o). This is the depth of your skin tone.

The second thing you want to determine is your complexion’s undertone, the color underneath the surface. These are divided into three categories: COOL (pink, red or blue), WARM (golden, peachy or yellow) and NEUTRAL (both cool and warm). Many people believe that all pale women fall into the cool category and all dark women fall into the warm zone, but this isn’t true at all! Just picture Anne Hathaway and Nicole Kidman with their similar levels of fairness but the former is cool and the latter is warm.

There are several simple ways to figure out what your undertone is. Take a look at the insides of your wrists. Do your veins look bluish or purple? You are most likely cool. Or are they more greenish? Then you are probably warm. A little bit of both? Perhaps you are neutral.

Okay, next question. Does your skin turn pink or golden brown when exposed to the sun? If the answer is pink, then you’re most likely cool. If you said golden brown, then you are warm. Still uncertain? Think about your clothing and jewelry preferences. Do you look better in colors like reds, oranges and yellows paired with gold accessories (warm) or do you tend to choose shades of purple, green, and blue along with silver (cool)? If you’re still on the fence and feel that you fall into both categories, then you are most likely an even balance of warm and cool which places you as neutral.

Illustration by Francesca Giaimo

Step 2: Determine your reds.

Now that you have determined your complexion’s tones, let’s talk about which reds will flatter you most!

For you COOL GIRLS: blue-reds, fuschias and berries will look gorgeous. And for the WARM LADIES: tomato and coral reds are stunning. However, if you are looking to add major pop, try a shade from the opposite undertone to provide the most contrast. And if you happen to fall into the neutral zone, then both warm and cool reds will look great.

The rule is there are no rules. If you like how your lipstick makes you feel, then that’s the perfect shade for you.

I have chosen my top suggestions according to both your skin’s depth and tone to help get you started. For the most natural look, choose a color with the same undertone as yours. If you’re going for drama, then simply opt for one from the opposite tone. Most of these are full coverage lipsticks but remember, if you want something subtle, simply apply with your finger in a tapping motion to make it sheer.


Fair (Warm) – Besame Lipstick in Carmine
Fair (Cool) – Wander Lipsetter Dual Lipstick and Liner in Fuschia Class
Fair (Neutral) – MAC Lipstick in Ruby Woo


Light (Warm) – Nu Evolution Lipstick in Femme Fatale
Light (Cool) – Erin’s Faces Satin Lipstick in Red
Light (Neutral) – NYX Lipstick in Perfect Red


Medium (Warm) – Clove + Hallow Lip Velvet in Fiesta
Medium (Cool) – Burt’s Bees Satin Lipstick in Brimming Berry
Medium (Neutral) – Milk Makeup Lip Color in True Red


Tan (Warm) – Axiology Organic Lipstick in Worth
Tan (Cool) – Lily Lolo Lipstick in Desire
Tan (Neutral) – Beauty Bakerie Lip Whip in Mon Cheri


Deep (Warm) – ILIA Lipstick in Lucy’s Party
Deep (Cool) – Rituel de Fille Forbidden Lipstick in Fortune Teller
Deep (Neutral) – Bite Beauty High Pigment Pencil in Pomegranate

Are you a fan of the red lip? How do you wear it?

Feature Image via Zulmaury Saavedra

Francesca is a professional makeup artist and the Beauty Editor of Darling Magazine. She finds joy in helping her clients feel beautiful through her natural and un-intimidating approach to makeup along with her wacky and dry sense of humor. When she's not on set, Francesca likes hanging out in her very small bungalow apartment with her very tall husband and very sweet French bulldog.

  • Leah November 3, 2017

    Red lipstick is my ultimate accessory, and lucky for me I’m a neutral! I’m not so great with jewelry beyond a pair of earrings, so I’m grateful lipstick can polish up just about any any outfit. (And, it makes me feel pretty, powerful, and confident!)

  • Kristen November 3, 2017

    Love this! Took me quite a while to find the perfect red, but I bought Kosas Electra after I saw it on a vlogger who someone said looks like me. I still am trying to figure out my tone and undertones and this is the most helpful article I’ve seen yet!

    • Francesca November 3, 2017

      Oooo I love that red… and it’s a natural product! I am so happy this was helpful for you. Thank you for reading and sharing!

  • Elizabeth November 3, 2017

    I love the look of an orange-red, but I tried it once and it looked awful! That’s when I realized I have cool undertones. So I gave that orange-red lipstick to my mom who has warm undertones and I stick to the more blue-reds or berries. This is probably the most thorough article I’ve read about finding the right red lipstick – very helpful!

    • Francesca November 3, 2017

      Yes! I’m opposite. I look great in Orange Reds but cool tones can look a little too dramatic on me. I’d love to know what your favorite berry lipstick is!

  • Ana November 3, 2017

    I loved this article! I always see Youtubers trying to explain which red should we use and… it’s difficult to understand. Now, I completly understood that I’m light and the reds that go along!
    Thank you! This was enlighting for me!

    • Francesca November 3, 2017

      I am glad to hear this was enlightening for you! Let me know which red you end up choosing!

  • I’ve never worn the red lip before – it’s so bold and I’m always afraid I’ll look weird with the wrong shade. Might attempt it sometime this Christmas, though. Thank you for the guide!

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

    • Francesca November 3, 2017

      Thank you for reading! I think you should go for it! Pick a shade from your color family in a sheer formula for the most natural look. HVe fun with it!