You can spend hours on a cut crease, false lashes and full contour, but nothing brightens up the face like red lipstick. The ultimate confidence booster, the perfect red is tricky to find, but well worth the effort.
To set you on the right path, you first need to establish your skin’s undertone. Cool or warm toned skin is generally suited best to the colours with the same undertone. For those with neutral undertones, almost any shade will do the trick.
Even with the right undertone, there’s still plenty of room for personal preference. Some prefer bolder, siren-esque shades, while others turn to darker, deeper tones. While the right red can take you from zero to 100 in one quick swipe, the wrong shade can leave you washed out and ashen.
For this reason, wearing red lipstick can be intimidating. Whether you’re after a matte or high-shine finish, there are simple tricks to helping you achieve your desired look.
To get an everyday, classic French red lip, opt for a traditional stick lipstick and blot after use. If you’re looking to keep things as matte as possible, prep with a lipliner. And for a lustrous glow, either choose a balmy, liquid formula, or a lipstick that sits comfortably beneath gloss.
Whatever you’re looking for, we rosied up our pouts to curate our definitive list of favourite red lipsticks. With so many options, it’s no longer enough to simply nail the perfect red. The formulas here are the best of the best, and to make the cut they needed to make us feel like we just stepped off the red carpet, even after meals and drinks, rain and shine, and hasty touch-ups.
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Nars velvet matte lip pencil in ‘cruella'
There’s a reason this is a cult classic. Packing all the pigment of a liquid lipstick into a compact lip pencil, it’s easy and smooth to apply. Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a glorified lipliner — the formula is deeply moisturising, enriched with vitamin E and emollients to make it as creamy as possible. There’s no feathering around the lip line and it sits well on its own, over lip balm and beneath lip gloss. As it is a pencil, it doesn’t require you to prep with a lip liner either. The shade itself is a neutral red that complements most skin tones and is more than worthy of its villainous namesake.
Buy now £22.00, Nars
Giorgio Armani lip maestro in 'scarlatto'
Far from the dry, cracked finish you get with some liquid lipsticks, this creates a look that is velvety and luminous. It’s moisturising without feeling sticky and extremely pigmented, to the extent that you only need one swipe to coat your lips in a deep, warm red. Our tester wore it from morning to night and while she reapplied it once after lunch, it would have held up impressively well without it. The formula is a lot thicker than we’re used to, but perfect for anyone who dreads dryness.
Buy now £32.00, Armani
Charlotte Tilbury hot lips 2 in ‘red hot Susan'
Formulated and named in homage to actress Susan Sarandon, this shade is an orangey red. It’s matte, with incredible staying power, 3D pigments and hydrating antioxidants to keep your lips looking plump. We loved the glowy finish – the shade is universally flattering and as understated as you it gets for a red. It’s also refillable, which means you can feel good about your new favourite lipstick being more sustainable.
Buy now £28.00, Charlotte Tilbury
Pat McGrath Labs mattetrance lipstick in ‘Elson’
Everything from Pat McGrath looks as good on the outside as it does on the inside. This is a medium-deep red, erring towards a slightly cool cherry. It slides easily and luxuriously onto lips without clinging onto any dry patches – in fact, it’s mixed with optical diffusers that actively work to blur imperfections. While it’s the priciest option on this list, it masters the fine line between opaque coverage and a healthy glow like no other.
Buy now £35.00, Net-a-Porter
Anastasia Beverly Hills matte lipstick in ‘rosewood'
Anastasia Beverly Hills might be better known for its matte liquid formulas, but we personally prefer the lipsticks. This is a deep, muted red, perfect for autumn. It’s very matte, but those who prefer a bit of shine can easily top it with a gloss. You can also rest easy knowing your look is flake-free, as its natural oils help cushion and protect lips from the elements. While it is warm toned, it’s subtle enough to complement cooler skin tones.
Buy now £18.00, Cult Beauty
IT Cosmetics pillow lips moisture wrapping lipstick in ‘fanciful'
The “pillow lips” line is available in two finishes, matte and cream. We personally prefer how the red pops in cream – it leaves lips looking full and plump, courtesy of a glow-inducing tri-oil complex in the formula. It also contains collagen, which helps minimise the appearance of lip lines. While the pigmentation isn’t as concentrated as some other lipsticks, it layers easily and, once applied, locks onto your lips for hours on end.
Buy now £20.00, IT Cosmetics
Fenty Beauty stunna lip paint in ‘uncensored'
Each and every shade in Fenty’s “stunna” range was handpicked by Rihanna. If that alone doesn’t convince you this is the perfect red, it’s also one of the most long-lasting products we tried, living up to its promises of 12 hour staying power. It has a thin, light consistency that dries to a soft matte with a subtle sheen. While we did experience some transfer, it’s nothing that can’t be solved with some lip liner and blotting. As for the shade, it’s a bold, bright red, which leans towards cool tones.
Buy now £18.00, Boots
NYX professional makeup soft matte lip cream in 'Monte Carlo'
This was our tester’s go-to red lipstick for several years, and it still holds its own against its much pricer competitors. It’s velvety smooth, drying quickly to a matte finish. Although it can flake after a few hours, this is easily avoided if you exfoliate and apply a lip balm before use. Its real strength lies in the red itself – it’s a perfect deep red for warm, olive skin tones.
Buy now £6.00, Superdrug
bareMinerals mineralist lipstick in ‘energy'
Not only will this lipstick leave your pout a fiery, orange toned red, but it’s designed to improve the look of lip lines, texture and dryness after one week of use. Scrubbing our lipstick off at the end of the day, our lips felt softer and smoother – this is down to the unique blend of cold pressed sea buckthorn fruit oil, olive oil and Moroccan pomegranate extract. Like all of bareMinerals’s products, it keeps the unnecessary ingredients to a minimum (it contains 40 per cent less than top selling lipsticks), making it an ideal choice for the chemical-conscious. It feels comfortable on your lips, almost like a balm, and gives them a lovely shine.
Buy now £20.00, bareMinerals
Huda Beauty demi matte cream lipstick in 'boy collector'
Blending all the power of its legendary matte lipsticks with the luminosity of a balm, Huda’s demi mattes are a cult classic in the making. It’s a highly pigmented formula, applying like a thick, glossy lacquer. Enriched with the brand’s “maxi lip” technology, it feels cool and tingly at first, acting as a mild lip plumper. This feeling isn’t for everyone but is definitely worth it – lips look noticeably fuller and more hydrated. The red is very Marilyn Monroe but does require a few touch-ups throughout the day.
Buy now £18.00, Cult Beauty
The verdict: Red lipsticks
The Nars velvet matte lip pencil is a reliable, glamorous red that takes all the risk out of lipstick application. For something glossier, we love the Huda Beauty demi matte cream lipstick. We’re also big fans of the NYX professional makeup soft matte lip cream, which greatly outperforms its price tag.
If you’re looking to make your beauty collection more eco-friendly, read our review of the best refillable make-up products you should buy now