Red Lipstick: The Edit for Fair Complexions

I’ve avoided red lipstick for the last 20+ years. I’m not sure what started its fall from grace but I’m guessing it had something to do with how my face was aging. The rough texture on my chin and pucker lines around my mouth weren’t something I wanted to draw attention to so I opted for a paler lipstick with deeper eyeshadow. 

I began experimenting with red lipstick again last month and I’m still at it. I stick to cruelty-free lipsticks and my goal is to find a red that doesn’t overpower my pale complexion or enter the room 5 minutes before I do 😀

Jennifer Connolly of A Well Styled Life wearing Jane Iredale lipstick

General Rules About Red Lipstick

Be sure the lipstick undertone harmonizes with your skin tone. A warm based lipstick can look deathly on cool tone complexions.

Your own coloring and chemistry will alter how the color looks on you. It never looks the same in the tube as on your face.

Don’t expect that lipstick you test on the back of your hand to look the same on your lips.

Jennifer Connolly of A Well Styled Life wearing Mineral Fusion lipstick

 How I Wear Red Lipstick

I break the cardinal (pardon the pun) rule about wearing either a deep lip or eye color. I need to balance red lips with a deep eyeshadow or all you see are my lips.

I wear a lip liner to prevent the joker action of it wicking up my pucker lines. The pencil makes a crisp line the lipstick tends to not cross. The pencil needn’t be red for this to work.

I don’t add shine. Glossy red lips scream louder than I want and tend to cross that lip liner easier so I avoid them.

I wear more contrast in clothes when wearing red lipstick. With pale skin and increasingly paler hair, medium to pale lips is a better balance when I’m wearing soft colored clothes.

Jennifer Connolly of A Well Styled Life wearing Charlotte Tilbury lipstick

It’s easy to go very wrong with red lipstick. Many women say they just can’t wear it and I suspect the reasons are the same mistakes I’ve made.

Mistakes To Avoid with Red lipstick

Very deep red and burgundy’s with purple tones can look “goth” and make the lips look like an angry slash across your face. Not pretty with thinner, aging lips.

Matte lipstick tends to look more intense, dry, and absorbs the light which makes lips look thinner.

Glossy red makes lips look larger than they are and is more difficult to contain within the lip line.

Jennifer Connolly of A Well Styled Life wearing testing Red lipstick

My current favorite is to wear a berry shade lip liner with a raspberry red lipstick. I find deep red pencils draw too hard a line on my face and go beyond crisp to angry-looking…never my goal:)

Jennifer Connolly of A Well Styled life showing Gabriel Lipstick
LIPSTICK in Pomegranate | PENCIL in Berry

There are seldom wishy-washy feelings about wearing red lipstick. Women either love themselves in it or hate it.

How do you feel about wearing red lipstick?

Thanks for reading and have a great day!how to choose the best red lipstick for fair complexions



  1. Hi, Jennifer…

    I just ran across this post, catching way up after the holidays! The lip primer from UK’s brand Look Fabulous Forever works really well for me. It goes on around the rim of the lips. I love that the brand was started by an older woman who could not find makeup that worked for her any more. They have gradually expanded their lipstick color options, and I love the warm color called Foxy Lady. It’s the best looking “red” I’ve found for me.

    1. That brand was who started me wearing red lipstick! Now I’m hooked. When I need a pick me up, I grab red lipstick.

  2. June Lake says:

    My bright red lips are my signature! As of late, I’ve been using Smashbox liquid lipstick. It’s matte, but not too drying. I line my lips with red Rimmel liner and fill in with the liquid lipstick. It takes a steady hand and a couple of pointy cotton swabs w/alcohol to clear up the edges at lip corners.

    This lipstick will last all day if you don’t eat a sandwich . . . I touch up with regular lipstick when I’m out and about (liquid lipstick requires a fair amount of precision placement).

    I am fair-skinned, blue eyed and (dyed) brown hair.

    1. Great tip about the alcohol dipped swab Julie. I’ve heard nice things about Smashbox and don’t believe they test on animals which is great. Thanks so the tip! I’ll check them out.

  3. I blogged about lipstick this week too! Instead of testing lipstick on the back of your hand or on your wrist, try it out on the pads of your fingertips as they are closer to your lip colour.

    1. Great tip Elaine! Our hands are never the same shade as our face.

  4. Barbara L says:

    Hi Jennifer. I have read your notes on red lipstick with interest. I have noted that in last couple of years my lips seem to be disappearing in photos of me. So your post is timely as well as the comments of your readers too. Could you identify the colors that you swiped across your hand (in your post photo)? That is, if you can identify them again after all this time! ????

    1. That’s a toughy because I didn’t pay attention when I did it. Sorry, note to self…make notes next time Jennifer.

  5. Julie from Melbourne,Australia says:

    The perfect red lipstick for me used to be a Revlon one they don’t make anymore.I always wear lipstick as it’s my favourite thing to wear:I feel undressed without it.I grew up with a mother who always had her red lipstick on and she wore it well.I begged my mother when I was 14 if I could start wearing lipstick and she finally agreed and 50 years later,the lipstick love continues.
    I find these days that it’s hard to find the perfect red for my older lips and I end up mixing different shades to try to get the right colour.I find different brands looks so different on my lips to what they do in their case.I’m thinking of trying a lip primer.Can you recommend any?I always use my Inika lip pencil,Bluff shade:love it.
    Thanks for the article.

    1. I have been experimenting with lip primers because I think they may be very helpful for red lipstick. Nothing has rung my bell as yet, but I will share when it does. Thanks for sharing Julie.

  6. I find red lipstick makes my teeth look yellow regardless of the hue. So I stick with a rose tone.

    1. Yellow looking teeth is not a great result so that sounds smart Nancee!

  7. Debbie Z. says:

    My favorite on you is the Pomegranate color- and by the way I love that outfit you are wearing too- the denim shirt with the rhinestone jewelry is wonderful! I didn’t wear red lipstick for years either, and then I discovered Nars Manhunt after reading a blogger’s recommendation for it. When I put it on in the morning it perks me up and I feel it is the perfect shade of red for me, not too dark. I am sorry to read what another commenter wrote about testing on animals. That will bear looking into- I certainly hope it isn’t the case because I would hate to have to give up this lipstick. I love it that much.

    1. Many companies who do not test on animals allow their products to be sold in China which requires animal testing. That taints many brands. It’s a rare brand who will refrain from selling in China ( a huge market) to prevent testing on animals. I avoid companies who sell in China because I loathe animal testing.

  8. You look lovely in the Jane Iredale Karen. I like the slightly warmer tone with your coloring. I am unfortunately too lazy to wear red lipstick, though I could benefit from it.

    1. That’s an interesting observation Karen. It is more maintenance for sure. Thank you:)

  9. Katie Ross says:

    My understanding is that NARS is no longer cruelty free, since they recently started testing animals in China. This is sad news, a backwards move! Meanwhile, I love It Cosmetics’ Ruby Slippers!

    1. I’m sad to hear that about NARS! Money is more important for many brands. I love IT cosmetics. I’ll look at Ruby Slippers. Love that name:)

  10. I love the “ Karen” colour you have on….I might have to try that one!!! I am also on the hunt for the “perfect” red! My skin and hair colour is very similar to yours! I love MAC lip liner in “Spice” it goes with most every lipstick I have! The red I am trying right now are MAC VIVA glam 3 and Clinique Love Pop.

    1. The MAC Spice color is way too warm on me so I may have cooler skin tone than you. I used to wear lots of Mac reds. They’re great.

  11. What a great and timely article as I too have been searching for the perfect red for quite a while now. About a month ago, I finally found one that looks red on me even though it looks magenta in the tube! I only wear red for an evening out or dressy occasion, and works best for me when I’m wearing black or very dramatic colours.
    BTW – you look fabulous in a red lipstick. Thanks for being so real and honest.

    1. Great observation Yvonne. Lipstick always look different on the lips. That’s why it’s do important to sample them first!

  12. So glad you pointed out that it’s ok to wear eyeshadow along with a red lipstick. I think some women get confused when makeup mavens suggest “no smokey eye” with red lips. There is a big difference in a full on smoked eye and moderate eye makeup. I believe that is a Francophile thing….truth is French women do wear eyeliner, mascara and even a flick of shadow with those bold lips. You are so right, some eye makeup does balance the overall look. I found that Bite’s lip crayon work well and they have a good selection of berry, wine-y and reds. My favourite though is NAR’s Cruella crayon which is a bright clear red poppy. Urban Decay’s lip primer in a crayon form helps control those lip lines and it’s clear so you can use it beyond the lip line to control the colour!!

    1. I love the idea of a clear poppy red! Those clear lip liners seem like the smartest invention. I’ll have to get some. Thanks!!

  13. I find I need that dark rose lipstick to wake up my face. The older I get the more alive I need to look. I’ve been thrilled with Makeover Workshops two colors together. I wear Spring fling on the bottom and Rue Rivoli on top. I wear their lip pencil but can’t remember the name right now. If you need it I’ll find it. Rue Rivoli was named by Une Femme’s Susan.

    1. I know Susan speaks highly of it too! Do you get it online?

  14. Ahhh….the lifelong hunt for that elusive perfect lipstick! I also have cool, fair, blonde coloring plus thin lips with those awful vertical lines. (They are called smoker’s lines although I’ve never smoked; my dermatologist said drinking through a straw caused mine). If I follow the advice to do color on either lips or eyes, I looked totally washed out. Nude lipstick make me look embalmed. Thus the search for neither too light (Walking Dead) or too dark (makes my lips even smaller). Jennifer, the color on your lips makes you look even more youthful! I really like it.

    I do have a product recommendation. DuWop Reverse Lipliner. It is a clear pencil that is applied outside the lip line. It 100% stops lipstick from bleeding into those vertical lines. I’ve used it about 10 years and would never put on lipstick without it. One pencil is about $20 but it lasts me about 8 months. Plus I usually only apply it one time a day. It is a miracle product! (DuWop should pay me!)

    1. Yay Roxanne, that sounds like what I need!!A reverse lip liner. I’m with you on the Walking Dead look with nude lipstick. It just sucks all the life out of my face. I love the look on others but not me.

      1. Oh, reverse lip liners are the best!! My mother tried the Chantecaille Lip Contour Fill as a reverse liner – actually she gave me one for my birthday and it works brilliantly for both of us (she’s 70+ and I’m 30), though I need to check if it’s cruelty free before stocking up again. It’s so nice when lipstick stays put!

        As for red lipstick: for me it’s a true blood red (or BRIGHT pink in summer), and mother wears BRIGHT orange day and night. Hmmm…wonder where that colour sense came from?!?

      2. It sounds like you come by fabulous style…naturally Clara 🙂 I do believe Chantecaille is cruelty free. Many fabulous brands are now. That’s a good step
        In my mind.

  15. I so appreciate your honesty and openness about the challenges women face in appearance! Its refreshing! I like darker lipsticks in the fall/winter, but my biggest issue has been that the lipstick wears off and you are left with the outline, which looks strange and you might not realize it. One thing that has worked for me (at least in this stage of the wrinkling lips process) is to be sure there is foundation, then face powder lightly on my lips. It seems to keep the lipstick from running up those lines. I also blot my lipstick around those lips lines. Doing both of these things has been a big help. Just thought I’d pass that along for anyone who feels they can’t use lipliner. BTW, since you have been discussing these types of things lately, would you consider discussing hair coloring and how people can find the right shade for their skin tone? Also can be challenging.

    1. Those are great tips Linda! It does look a little funny to only have the lip liner left on. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about hair color lately (mine) so it will be a great thing to discuss here. Stay tuned!

  16. I love red lipstick in fall and winter. It seems to be the only time that I feel comfortable wearing it with my fair complexion. It looks great with so many of this seasons colors, such as reds, grey, black, and camel.


    1. That’s a great observation Aimee! I’m not sure I’ll still like red on me during the hot summer.

  17. Melodee Currier says:

    In the winter I wear red lipstick (I prefer matte) and in the summer I wear orange. Works for me!

    1. I love that idea. Maybe that’s why red feels right for me at this time of year!

  18. I find red too harsh and too in your face for my taste. I have tried many different reds to no avail. So..I’ve decided to give up the hunt for my perfect red and stick to softer colours. But, never say never. ????

    1. That’s how I felt Joanna. I love the right to change my mind. Tomorrow I made decide no more red for me so I’m enjoying it while I do.

    1. I tried that Rodin you love but it was too orange on me. Probably because I’m so much paler.

  19. Red is so classic and such a fine line (pardon the pun) for me to get right. Thanks for the tips here. With thin lips and a small mouth it can be difficult. I really like the first picture of you above – Jane Iredale. Never thought of a liner with the red – will check it out.

  20. Deb Meyer says:

    I think you look awesome in red lipstick! It brightens your face and you look alive and confident! I wear red lipstick everyday, it makes me feel good and I feel polished and ready to go!

    1. Thanks Deb! It adds a polished feel that I’m really liking.

  21. I am a red lipstick fan. I have a very cool tone so wear a red with blue undertones. Lipliner is definitely my friend. I line my lips then color in the lip before putting on my lipstick. I will never give up red lipstick. My mother wore it until she was 80. I guess it is in my blood

  22. I am 58 and started wearing Clinique’s Black Honey when I was in my early 20’s and the color came in a “pot ‘o gloss”. It has changed its form and comes in a sheer lip color they call Almost Lipstick and in a glossier Superbalm. It seems to change color to compliment your skin tone. I still love it!

  23. Patsy Allen says:

    Just curious as to the lipstick color you are wearing in your profile picture? It looks lovely on you. Of your selections above, the Pomegranate looks lovely on you.

    1. I’m wearing Fascination by Jane Iredale. I’ve worn that shade for years!

  24. I love red lipstick when it’s “right” – thanks for these suggestions! I try to find things that are cruelty-free, and appreciate that you have shown them here. 🙂

  25. I loved this discussion! I discovered Merle Norman lip pencil plus (I use Bistro Berry…I use a darker tone in fall). It’s a double ended pencil with liner and lipstick. I don’t know how to describe the effect, but it’s the best!

  26. Lianne MacGregor says:

    I want to wear red lipstick but the task of finding “the one” is so daunting. In my twenties I wore red lipstick, red nail polish, and black eyeliner every single day – it was my signature look. I can’t quite remember when the tide turned, but turn it did. Like you, I started dipping my toe in the red lipstick waters a couple of years ago and found one I actually liked from Lipstick Queen. Wouldn’t you know, it’s been discontinued, so now I’m back on the hunt. I appreciate your tips and also the shades you’ve recommended, although my skin-tone is warmer than yours (equally as pale). Happy hunting!

    1. It’s so frustrating when they discontinue a favorite! It is daunting to find THE one so I’m settling for some good options right nor. Nothing has totally sold me so my hunt continues.

  27. I sometimes feel that red lipstick is wearing me, instead of the other way round! It takes more “upkeep” throughout the day to keep it looking good, no quick touch up without a mirror when red lips are involved! And sometimes when I spy myself in a mirror or glass, all I can see are those lips Yikes!

    1. All so true Ramona! Sometimes I get a glimpse of myself and am shocked at the intensity. I just bought a little mirror to carry:)

      1. Evelyn Baey says:

        The upkeep comment rings true with me. That is probably why I stick with a richer shade of my natural color.

        Always appreciate the thought process, Jennifer.

  28. For all the reasons you mentioned it can be harder to wear but I haven’t given up and wear it occasionally when I’m in the mood. I look for cool shades and satin not gloss or matte. I really agree with the first paragraph. I need balance on eyes and lips not either/or for it to work. Done right it brightens the face and can look youthful vs. aging. Besides, I don’t like being told I can’t do something. ????

    1. I totally agree Janet! If I don’t have that balance, the lipstick wears me rather than the other way around!

  29. I’m following this-I’ve felt the same. You’ve got my nerve up, but what color lip pencil then? How do you figure that out?

    1. I like the Berry pencil with red lipstick. It’s less harsh than a deep red pencil on me.

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