COLOR THEORY: My Search for the Best Bright Lip Shades for Darker Skin

At department stores, make-up artists were always putting either extremely dark hues on me or gold. I don’t know why department store make-up artists love putting gold on my lips.
Publish date:
May 16, 2013
lipstick, red lipstick, bright colors

There were two things that I hated as a child: floral dresses and the color red. The former was too girly for me, the latter too bold. That’s why as I grew older I shunned bright shades for my full lips, even though I loved the color on celebrities and “grown-ups.” My mother’s red shades fit her skin tone beautifully, but for me it was too much.

Fast forward to a "Mad Men"-themed Halloween party two years ago at my office. Not one to celebrate Halloween, I put on a simple black sheath dress and ballet flats. Everyone was shocked that I, who was known as the office fashionista, hadn’t embraced the theme more.

Well, for one, I had not seen an episode of "Mad Men" at that point, and secondly, dressing up is for children.

However, my best friend at work Malia told me to stop being a party killer and loaned me her red NARS lip pencil in "Cruella." I told her I never wear bright lip shades. But she pushed on, with the encouragement of my other female co-workers. Even my other bestie, Brad, said, “Just try it!”

So I did. The lip pencil looks like a chubby marker and after applying several layers of the color I was surprised to find that I liked it. That weekend I went out and purchased a NARS pencil for myself -- however, I didn’t use it for almost six months. Could I really embrace color?

One of my main problems with lipsticks was that the shades that I liked didn’t quite work for my skin tone. However, unlike with BB Creams, there are a multitude of shades for darker skin tones out there, so you can find what you want if you are willing to sacrifice an afternoon and the back of your hand to experiment.

When I started doing videos for my site I realized that bright lips looked better on-air. They popped and added a vitality to my face. Now, instead of shunning bright colors, I was on a constant hunt. I wanted a bright orange as seen on Solange. I wanted more bold reds like the ones on the F/W 2012 runways at New York Fashion Week and even some bright pinks like NARS favorite Schiap.

Then, last summer, purple lip hues became stylish. I put aside my favorite neutral hues -- like Laura Mercier’s gloss in "Bare Beige," and NARS Pigalle lipstick -- and began to embrace color.

Still, I had to be careful that the bright hues didn’t look clownish on me. At department stores, make-up artists were always putting either extremely dark hues on me or gold. I don’t know why department store make-up artists love putting gold on my lips, especially gold with shimmer specks. Is that a color I’m supposed to wear to work? It looks like the Vegas skyline on my lips.

Sorry, back to bright lip colors!

A bright lip can instantly update your look and hide a myriad of sins, like wearing no foundation or mascara. It’s easy, and in most instances cheap/ For women with fairer skin, shades with blue undertones look best. Some good picks are NARS Schiap for pink, Covergirl’s Hot for the perfect Marilyn red and Sephora’s Latin Lover for orange. If these colors seem too bright for you, I dare you to give them a try. No one was more averse to color than me and if I can embrace these hues, I promise you can too.

For darker women, the undertones should be more brown or burgundy based -- the deeper and fierier the color, the better. Now that doesn’t mean darker. It just means more poppy. Here are my top picks and brands.

NARS Velvet Matte Lip Pencil Cruella

As I mentioned above, this was my first venture into color. I am obsessed with NARS matte lip pencils. They last all day, are non-drying and, since they’re not glossy, stay put. It’s almost as if they stain your lips. This is my perfect red.

MAC Lipstick Ruby Woo

This color is a constant favorite in magazines and works very well on most skin tones. It’s a bit darker, or deeper than Cruella, but again, I love the matte texture. I wear this when I’m feeling a little more serious.

NARS Semi Matte Funny Face

When purple shades came on the scene, I had to join. I’m glad I did, because I probably get the most compliments when wearing this purplish hue. The color has a slight metallic sheen, but avoids being too much. It really just pops on my skin tone. Dolce & Gabanna’s Duo Gloss Fusion sheer lipstick in #100 is also a good pick if you want a truer purple.

Beauty is Life Lipstick in Red-13 WC

This is a brighter red, and it’s a little glossier. I usually reserve it for special nights out, as the color is a little more high maintenance. Still it lasts pretty much all day, with maybe one or two light re-applications.

NARS Semi Matte Lipstick Heat Wave

OK, now we’re getting really wild. This was my first attempt to re-create Solange’s orange pout. I love this color, but I still think it’s a little too bright for me. I wear it when I’m feeling extra bold. What are your thoughts?

Tom Ford Lip Color Wild Ginger

You might call Ford’s the Rolls Royce of lipsticks, and at $48 a pop it has a matching price tag. The texture of this lipstick is absolutely amazing, as is the packaging. This shade is light, bright and has "Look at me" written all over it. It’s a bright orange with some darker undertones. My husband hates it, but I love it and so do other women. It’s not for the faint of heart, or for a corporate environment, but it’s a lot of fun.

Now that we’ve covered the colors, let’s briefly touch on application. Bright colors, for any skin tone, can require some maintenance. The quick of it is: Skip the lip liner and use the tip of the lipstick to line your lips and then fill in vigorously, smoothing out any bumps with your fingertips. When the situation calls for it, you can go through some additional steps to make sure your color is applied perfectly.

Start with a light lip exfoliation -- you should be doing this anyway, especially since it’s so simple. You can buy one or you can just mix some salt with olive oil and warm water. Use either your finger or a toothbrush to rub in, and you should be left with flake free lips.

At night, I like to moisturize my lips with Aquaphor, which is available at all drugstores. When applying color, I try not to put on any lip balm beforehand as this can make it hard for the color to stick. For lighter skin tones I highly recommend a lip-base. Becca and Guerlain offer great ones. Why do you need this? Well, it helps the true color show through, eliminates lip creases, plumps lips slightly and provides a longer-wearing base. It’s a little like foundation primer for the lips.

If your skin is darker, you can create your own lip primer with one of your favorite concealer sticks in a hue lighter than your skin tone. I like MAC’s Moisture Cover concealer. No matter what products you use, allow them to dry before applying your color. Lip liner should either match your lip shade or be a tad lighter. However, it’s definitely not necessary, especially if you’re using a matte shade.

As for the rest of your make-up, keep it simple. A matte bronzer or face powder and a few swipes of mascara should do just fine.

The only downside of my newfound love for lip color is that it limits spontaneous kissing moments with my husband. However, we all know beauty requires sacrifice.

Do you regularly wear bright lip colors? Have you always? I would love to hear your thoughts and favorite shade recommendations.