The Nude Lip: Do Any Conventional Versions Work on Dark Skin?

I'm breaking down what actually makes a "nude lip" and figuring out how to wear one with brown skin.
Publish date:
November 9, 2015
nars, mac, Revlon, Rimmel, nude lips, dark skin, L'oreal

If you are like me—and most American consumers—when you hear the phrase "nude lip," you probably think of a beige-toned pink. Same goes for "flesh-colored" anything. I know the color they’re talking about is probably not the color of my nude flesh.

The implications behind this are deeply upsetting and a symptom of a much larger problem, but that’s a topic for another day. We’re here to talk about lipstick.

There’s a lot of conflicting information about what a nude lip actually is, so let's take a look at a few of the interpretations.

The '60s Fembot Nude

Definitely looks like I shoot lasers out of my boobs, right?

This version of nude is significantly paler than most natural lips. It’s created using a color that has a lot of white in it, sometimes even to the point of shimmer. It’s awesome but not particularly modern and I wouldn’t wear it for an everyday look.

The Gum-Matching Nude

There’s a tip out there that says you can find your perfect nude by matching the color of your gums. Because I have relatively healthy gums, they are pale pink. For a person with pale skin, this might be a good way to find a nude, but for me, it’s just a way to make myself look like a kid playing princess.

The Nips-for-Lips Nude

We talked about matching your nipples for the perfect nude a couple weeks ago. To me (much like the “match your gums” idea), this felt like another "beauty rule" that ignores brown people. When Marci suggested we give it a shot, she was genuinely interested to see how this rule held up for all of us—not just the fairer-skinned folk—but across the board, those of us with dark skin were not having it.

My nipples are dark brown (almost purple) around the edges and fade to a pale pink in the center. As you can see in the above photo, that is not my perfect nude lip. It’s definitely a look, and if I were Pamela Anderson in her Baywatch years, I’d be all about it. However, since it’s 2015 and a nude lip is supposed to be chic and sophisticated, this is not the nude I’m after.

The Makeup Artist's Nude

In the '90s, when nude lips were everything, there wasn't a wide variety of lipstick shades to choose from. So when a makeup artist wanted to create that look, they’d start with a very thin base of concealer to dull down the color and then top with a sheer, pinkish gloss. This allows you to customize a nude exactly to your skin.

I love the way this looks but it’s fussy to apply, and after a while, the concealer starts to dry out your lips.

So if none of these actually work, how’s a brown girl supposed to find her nude? The only truly foolproof method is to try things on, but you can give yourself a head start by paying attention to the undertones of your skin.

I have neutral undertones, so my best nudes are also neutral (think beiges & browns that don’t skew super-red). If you’ve got warm or cool undertones, you can get away with something more peachy (warm) or pink (cool). I’m always drawn to a really peachy nude because I love the color peach, but the second I try one on, I remember that it doesn’t work. I also don’t love the way brown lipstick looks, so I’ll always go for something with a hint of pink in it.

That’s not to say that if you’ve got warm undertones you can’t wear a pinky-nude; it just means you need to pay attention and try not to stray too far from the undertones of your skin.

The Classic Nude

When I picture a classic nude lip, this look is what I see. I love this color because it’s not too pink but not totally brown either. It hits somewhere right in the middle and creates a really polished yet neutral foundation for just about any look.

My other go-to for a "my lips but better" nude is Revlon Lip Butter in Pink Truffle. It’s definitely a pink nude but has enough brown in it to ground it and make it read as a nude. As a bonus, it looks great on literally everyone regardless of skin tone. It may actually be "universally flattering."

Now, for your purchase-planning pleasure, here are a whole bunch of nude lipstick options for dark skin, grouped by undertone.

Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t wear a nude lip because you’ve got dark skin. You’ll have to work a little harder to find the right one, but that seems to be par for the course when it comes to people of color and cosmetics. HINT-HINT, BEAUTY INDUSTY.

  • What’s your perfect nude, and how long did it take you to find it?