I Tried £5k Worth Of Red Lipsticks & These Are The Best

Anita Bhagwandas

It took me until my early 20s to feel adult enough for red lipstick. Until then I was content to wear black or blue in pursuit of ultimate cybergoth-ness, and red lipstick whenever I tried it just felt too polished and put together. Sometimes you actually just want to be a hot mess. I finally knew it was time after watching Cry-Baby at the age of 25 and seeing Traci Lords as the ultimate badass rockabilly girl complete with crimson lips. Adulthood was imminent.

In the 10 years since, I’ve conducted an inexhaustible search for the perfect red lipstick. I’ve tried thousands – every single one offering a little slice of promise but seldom reaching makeup bag status. I’ve put a decade of research into uncovering which lipsticks have timeless appeal, emulating the way Marilyn Monroe wears a deep red in Some Like It Hot, or the orangey red Judy Garland rocks in Meet Me In St Louis. And through these trials I’ve whittled it down to two heavyweights: MAC’s iconic Ruby Woo, a super matte blue-red, and Fenty Stunna Lip Paint in Uncensored, a much newer bright red contender.

Faced with £5,000 worth of red lipsticks, each one sent to me (as a beauty journalist) by the biggest brands in the world with the promise that this is the ultimate red, could anything sway me from my aforementioned lipstick loves? Consider this the ultimate red lipstick edit.

The stain

This is kind of the go-to red lip look in South Korea – stained, powdery and very soft. It’s pretty much the only bright shade sold there (I know – I trawled every beauty aisle I could find on a trip there, in search of brilliant reds). I like my red lipstick to look superimposed and bright, like you can see my crimson lips from space, but if you want a gentler, soft-focus red lip that looks like you’ve been put through a 'vintage' filter, then this is the one. The dark red applies super easily with an index finger and doubles up as a cute cheek stain. The mirror is super useful and it’s a nice entry-level product for any red-phobic people out there.

Urban Decay Lo-Fi Lip Mousse in Amplify, $12.6, available at Urban Decay

The gloss

I’d always thought you were either a glossy lipstick person – the kind that always looks perfect – or you were somebody who ended the night looking like The Joker, like me. But road-testing this over a lunch was a revelation. Nourishing, glossy and easy to apply, it stayed pretty much in place and the smaller bullet-shaped wand helps control the colour when you apply. Friends commented on it. It glistened in the sun that was beaming from the sky that day. It looked relaxed and pretty in a way I didn’t think red lipsticks could. I thought they always needed to be strong and militant, but this one undeniably changed my mind.

Surratt Lipslique in Rubis, $32, available at Net-A-Porter

The satin

This orange-red makes the ultimate summer shade. The slim bullet makes it easy to apply and the bright colour builds in intensity with every swipe. But the biggest bonus is that it’s full of natural moisturising ingredients like jojoba seed oil and protective turmeric leaf extract. It’s not a shade I’d have picked up on counter, but it’s definitely a hidden gem I’ll be wearing regularly, and one for those who adore MAC's Lady Danger to try.

RMS Beauty Wild With Desire Lipstick in RMS Red, $30, available at Cult Beauty

The matte

Finding a matte lipstick that has intensity but doesn’t dry the lips is pretty arduous. I can only name a handful in all of the thousands I’ve tried. But this one gives MAC’s Russian Red a run for its money in terms of colour payoff and price. The texture is creamy, and as the name suggests, suede-like, but it doesn’t drag the lips when you apply it like many matte lipsticks do. It also strikes the fine balance of staying put without making lips parched. One slight annoyance is that the bullet is quite big but my advice is to use it with a lip brush. Otherwise, this is a brilliant buy, especially for the price.

NYX Professional Makeup Suede Matte Lipstick in Spicy, $8, available at Cult Beauty

The liquid lipstick

I remember when the first liquid lipstick on the mass market (by Stila) landed on my desk. I felt like my world changed overnight. The days of it ending up on my chin/nose/other people during the course of a night was over. Since then, I’ve tried pretty much every liquid lipstick in pursuit of something that ticks every box. Namely colour intensity, ease of application and comfort. But nothing I’ve tried has matched up to the shade of this true red, encased in a cute '50s nail polish-esque bottle. The applicator allows you to over-line lips with ease if you want, or just create a really clean edge. It has incredible staying power and doesn’t bobble or pill like some liquid lipsticks do, and it truly suits everyone. The undisputed queen of liquid lipsticks.

Fenty Stunna Lip Paint - Uncensored, $19, available at Harvey Nichols

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