Red Lipstick and Me: A Love Story

I've known this lipstick longer than I've known my husband. Longer than I've known most of my really good friends. Certainly longer than I've had this job.

So, I'm 34 years old. That's a nice comfortable age. I'm super enjoying it. And it means I've been wearing makeup for about 20 years, give or take (give a few, honestly). In those two plus decades, I've never once used an entire tube of lipstick.

That's why it feels like some sort of femme rite of passage to be staring at the bottom of my MAC Ruby Woo matte lip color, y'all. I feel more committed to this lip color than I do to almost any other endeavor in my life. I've known this lipstick (well, not this exact tube but others like it) longer than I've known my husband. Longer than I've known most of my really good friends. Certainly longer than I've had this job. Or my day job.

I remember the very first lip color I ever truly loved. I was a freshman in high school. It was a lip gloss by Mary Kay called Bronze Glow. There was something about the dark brown with hints of amber in it that called to me. It was so vampy (in retrospect, my fondness for gothy styling should never have been a surprise to anyone). So shiny. So sticky when my hair got stuck in it. (Life is pain, highness. And so is lip gloss.)

My mother bought me an extra tube of that lip gloss -- my first experience with stockpiling beauty supplies -- but I think it was only necessary because I lost the original tube on a trip. It was years before I found another lip color I loved so strongly. I started experimenting with reds.

Red is one of those shades that gets talked about a lot. It’s a strong color, even when it isn’t particularly bright. And it seems to scare a lot of women. I’ve had, historically, a hard time understanding why that is -- though I think a lot of it is just a natural outgrowth of having a certain picture of our own faces in our heads. Any large deviation from that picture is always going to be an adjustment.

And red is a loaded shade; there’s the usual Internet scuttlebutt that women who wear red lipstick have better sex lives, of course. But there’s also theories that women who wear red lipstick are more confident, more assertive, have better jobs and make more money.

In the inevitable reverse, there are also theories that women who go bare-lipped lack confidence and feel less attractive. Of course, these studies are generally run by makeup companies, so such conclusions are far from unbiased and/or scientifically sound. That’s called following the money.

There is something about red lipstick. I’ve never been afraid of looking like a clown; in fact, I like my presentation to be kind of loud. I’ve tried bright pinks but they just don’t have the same impact as a sharp blue-based red.

At this point, I’ve worn so much red lipstick that my face looks weird to me without it. I’ll often go to work with no makeup on at all. But even on those days, if I’ve got to deal with a client or a higher-up, I’ll take a minute to slap on the old red lipstick. It makes me feel pulled together even when my eyebrows are out of control and I’m wearing my oldest, comfiest cardigan.

Ruby Woo has been my go-to red for a couple of years now.

Before that, I used MAC’s Lipmix (a highly pigmented Pro product) in Crimson, but it wasn’t good for any kind of application outside of my bedroom. And it got everywhere. Oh, dude, how that stuff traveled.

Ruby Woo is a matte shade, so it’s dry and can be harder to apply. (Note to those who want to try it: exfoliate with a soft toothbrush or, like, a napkin, slick on some lip balm and then go for the bold red mouth.) But it lasts forever, and I can eat and drink without worrying about putting it back on.

Sounds perfect, right? Except now that I’ve actually managed to finish an entire tube of it, I’m tempted to try something new. It’s the never-ending quest for the perfect beauty product, the optimistic belief that as good as what I have is, there has to be something better out there. It’s mystery! It’s intrigue! It’s samples at the makeup counters at the mall!

Though, really, it’s still going to be red. I gotta be me, after all.

I'm adding this tube of lipstick to my pile for the Back to MAC program. And after that, there’s definitely an exploratory trip to Sephora and maybe Ulta in my future. After years of daily matte color, I’m curious about something shiny again. Glosses are such cruel mistresses, especially when they start to creep off your lips. But the shine is singing a siren song to me.

What should I be looking for and testing? Any much-loved reds? Help me, xoJane readers, you are my only hope. (Because, really, the beauty blogs can only do so much.) What’s your signature red?