How to Choose Flattering Lipstick Colors

With the thousands of shades out there, finding a flattering lipstick shade may seem incredibly daunting. We created this guide to help you along (note: it’s quite long, but worth the read, especially if you’re new to makeup!).

As a shortcut, think about what colors of clothing you look best in. Consider:

  • Undertones – how warm or cool your best colors are
  • Purity – how bright or muted those colors are
  • Contrast – how light or dark those colors are compared to your skin

You can echo those characteristics in your lip color choices. Let’s go into more detail on each!

Undertones
Do you look best in warm or cool colors? Generally, red, orange, and yellow are considered warm colors, while green, blue, and purple are considered cool. However, most colors exist on a spectrum from warm to cool. For instance:

Cool vs. warm colors

Of course, no one will look good in every single warm color or every single cool color. Just think about which type of colors you tend to prefer. See here for more examples of cool vs. warm colors.

  • If you look good in warm colors (plummy purple, tomato red, salmon pink, marigold yellow, chocolate brown)…

…then warm lip colors will probably look good on you (coral, peach, warm pink, orangey red).

Below are examples of beauty bloggers with warm undertones, in a cool-toned lipstick on the left and a warm-toned lipstick on the right:

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Source: Temptalia. Left: Estee Lauder Powerful, Right: Givenchy Rose Boudoir.

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Source: Painted Ladies. Left: Milani Violet Addict. Right: Maybelline Coral Crush.

  • If you look good in cool colors (mauve, cool purple or blue, blue-based pink or red)…

…then cool lip colors will probably look good on you as well (cool pink, berry, purple, blue-based red, fuchsia).

Below are examples of beauty bloggers with cool undertones, in a warm-toned lipstick on the left and a cool-toned lipstick on the right:

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Source: Monroe Misfit Makeup. L: OCC Lip Tar Safety Orange/Tarred. R: Eddie Funkhouser Epic.

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Source: Da Diva Beauty. Left: Ruby Kisses Orange Coral. Right: Pixie Pretty Pink.

Purity
Do you look best in pure colors or muted colors? Pure colors are unmixed with white, gray, or black. See below for examples of pure colors, known as “hues”, along with muted versions of the same color (the first row – “tints” – have white mixed in, the second row – “tones” – have gray mixed in, and the third row – “shades” – have black mixed in). As you can see, pure colors read as very bright next to the muted versions.

purevsmuted

If you have pure coloring, muted colors will look muddy or drab on you, whereas if you have muted coloring, bright colors can look overpowering. Again, everyone’s coloring exists on a spectrum, and your coloring might be somewhere in between. See here and here for more examples of pure vs. muted colors.

  • If you look good in pure colors (ex. fire-engine red, bright yellow, apple green, white or black)…

…you’ll probably also look good in bright shades of lipstick (bright orange, coral, purple, or red, fuchsia).

Below are examples of beauty bloggers with pure coloring, in a muted lipstick on the left and a bright lipstick on the right:

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Source: Patty Latini. Left: Chanel La Sensuelle. Right: MAC Ruby Woo.

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Source: The Glamorous Gleam. Left: MAC O. Right: MAC Relentlessly Red.

  • If you look good in muted colors (ex. olive green, burnt orange, burgundy, dusty lavender, gray or brown)…

…try muted shades of lipstick (ex. dusty rose, plummy pink, brick red). If your coloring is very muted, you can probably wear both warm and cool colors as long as they’re muted.

Below are examples of beauty bloggers with muted coloring, in a bright lipstick on the left and a muted lipstick on the right:

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Source: Lily Pebbles. Left: Tom Ford Wild Ginger. Right: MAC Brick-o-La.

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Source: Be Beautilicious. Left: Wet n Wild Purty Persimmon. Right: Lancome Rose Sulfureuse.

Contrast
Do you look good in low-contrast clothing as shown on the left, high-contrast clothing as shown on the right, or somewhere in between?

This is related to the level of contrast in the natural coloring of your skin, hair, and eyes. Someone with medium skin and dark hair and eyes would be medium-contrast, for instance, while someone with light skin, blue eyes, and blonde hair would be low-contrast. See here for more on contrast levels.

If you dye your hair, that will change your contrast level; for instance, if you go darker, darker lip shades will look more natural on you than they did before. Also, if your eyebrows are darker than the hair on your head, that will increase your contrast level.

  • If you’re a low-contrast person…

…then low-contrast lip colors will look most natural on you. Lip colors that are high contrast (for instance, a very dark lipstick if you have light coloring) will create an unbalanced look – drawing all attention to your lips. This is totally fine if you’re going for a dramatic look, but if you just want something that is flattering overall (harmonizing with your natural coloring rather than drawing attention to your makeup), then something low-contrast will work better.

Below is an example of a beauty blogger with low-contrast coloring, in a high-contrast lipstick on the left and a low-contrast lipstick on the right:

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Source: Nikkie Tutorials. Left. Right.

  • If you’re a high-contrast person…

…then high-contrast lip colors will look good on you. For instance, a very dark lip color will look surprisingly natural on someone with fair skin and dark hair and eyes. See the example below:

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Source: simpletwistoffatee. Left. Right: MAC Diva.

Comparisons

Let’s compare different lip colors on a blogger with pure, neutral-to-cool, medium-high contrast coloring:

And a blogger with pure, neutral-to-warm, medium-contrast coloring:

And a blogger with muted, neutral-to-warm, medium-contrast coloring:

What do you think? Did you find the looks on the right the most flattering?

Ending Notes
If you wear a lipstick color that clashes with your natural coloring, it may not necessarily look bad – it would just look less harmonious with your complexion. Rather than looking very natural, it will stand out more against your skin, so people will notice your makeup rather than your overall appearance. Again, this is totally fine if you want a dramatic look – it really depends on what your goal is.

Really unflattering lip colors will make it look like your lips were pasted onto your face – like they’re just floating there. This will be most true for lipsticks that are the wrong undertone, the wrong clarity, and the wrong contrast level for your face.

Keep in mind that you may have one dominant characteristic. For instance, you might might be medium-contrast and able to wear both warm and cool colors, but have very muted coloring. In that case, it will be most important to choose lip colors that are muted enough for you.

A couple of final notes to consider – if you have thin lips, darker colors (especially dark, matte colors) will make your lips look thinner; wearing lighter colors with a sheen or gloss will help prevent this. Also, if you have light skin, brownish lipstick probably won’t look as natural on you as it would on someone with medium or dark skin, even if you have warm, muted coloring. This isn’t to say that, say, a dusty rose or a brick red won’t look good if you have light skin – they absolutely can – just that very brownish lipsticks probably aren’t ideal.

If you don’t have any idea of what colors look good on you, we recommend going to a department store and simply trying on a bunch of different colors (ideally with a friend who can give you their opinion of which look best) – including colors you would normally avoid. We hope this helps you get started in finding a flattering lip color!

* This post was based on this guide to color analysis (Makeup Alley registration required to view).

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