The Hunt for the Perfect Red

Until recently, I never wore makeup on a regular basis. Since I’ve started dabbling in vintage style, I’ve re-examined red lipstick and found that I really like it. I started wearing red lipstick sometimes back in December, and by now I feel like my face looks weird if I’m not wearing bright lipstick, usually red.

But red lipstick is daunting. It’s scary. “Red,” as it turns out, is not just one color. Like foundation, you have a find a good match your coloring and undertone. A lipstick that looks fantastic on one person may look odd on you. And then there’s the fact that bright lipstick is, well, really obvious, and if it ends up somewhere you don’t intend it, it will be similarly obvious.

I remember at a winter drinks party, I learned the kryptonite of one of my favorite lipsticks: a combination of oil and alcohol, in the form of hot buttered rum. Halfway through the party, a woman leaned over to me and said “I thought you would want to know, you have lipstick on your chin.” Despite having worn a pretty sturdy matte lipstick that had proven itself against food and drink before, it was no match for the solvent powers of alcohol and fat.

So finding the perfect red lipstick is trickier than just finding red lipstick. Here, I’m going to document a little of my hunt for the perfect red lipstick, along with a list of my current favorites. Fair warning: I haven’t found that perfect red lipstick.

When I first started out, I wore Revlon lipsticks. Their classic matte lipsticks are surprisingly devoid of the nastiest of cosmetics chemicals, and they make a color called “Fire and Ice” that turned out to be my gateway red. It’s just bright and red enough, but still doesn’t actually look garish. And the balance of warm and cool tones keeps it from pulling weird colors on me. I also got a tube of “Certainly Red” for more festive occasions.

But then I found out that Revlon was one of the companies found to have detectable lead levels in their lipsticks. It dawned on me while seeing the lipstick marks on my lunch sandwich that I eat an awful lot of lipstick when I wear it every day. There were also some issues with the company head that made me not want to patronize the company anymore. So out went Revlon.

From there, I discovered Lipstick Queen, which makes a fantastic line of “Sinner” lipsticks that are highly pigmented. Their “Red Sinner” is a saturated true red, while “Fire Red Sinner” worked a bit better with my coloring. Sadly, they also don’t do much testing of their pigments to watch for lead contamination, so I kept looking.

Enter Bite Beauty. I’m super enamoured of this brand. Seriously, their colors are BRIGHT. I got a Cashmere Lip Creme in “Rioja” (a nice true red), a Matte Lip Crayon in “Fraise” (slightly pinkish strawberry red), and a High Pigment Pencil in “Bramble” (a blackberry color for when I’m feeling Goth). I also bought a mini lipstick duo on a whim because it was on sale in “Tangerine” and “Lingonberry.”

Well, it’s not red, but “Lingonberry” has become my favorite non-red lipstick. It’s so pigmented, it stains my lips for ages. It ended up being the color I wore for one show of the play I was in in January because I wore it during the day and it wouldn’t come off for the show. Oops.

But on to the reds. Fraise is probably my favorite. I love the color of Rioja, but the formula leaves something to be desired. I also got their Luminous Creme Lipstick in “Apricot,” but it was a little too brick with its warmth. I like it occasionally, but I want something brighter. And I went with a High Pigment Pencil in “Pomegranate” for a nice true red in one coat with a blot. Bite’s lip colors are pigmented enough that I can generally apply one coat and blot and be good to go. They do make a Luminous Creme Lipstick in “Pomegranate,” so I want to see if it has the same staying power as Lingonberry.

But I really wanted a lipstick that I could put on in the morning and forget. Probably a pipe dream, especially considering I wanted one that I didn’t have to worry about the chemicals in it that I would be putting so close to my mouth. So I tried Stila’s Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick in “Beso.” First of all: Oh. My. God. It is the perfect red shade. And it’s pretty lasting.

But.

But it dried oddly on my lips. Even when I prep with a little lip balm, it dries and accentuates my lip wrinkles. And then, it starts to flake. I can salvage it with a little balm, but then it loses its transfer-proof-ness, and sometimes smears. At least Stila as a brand vets their ingredients to avoid heavy metal contamination.

So I’m still looking for that perfect red. My ideal red would be a matte bright, slightly-warm, but not brown red in a bullet that goes on in one application and lasts through several cups of tea and at the very least fades evenly through a meal without running. If the lipstick fairies are taking requests, that’s what I’d like under my pillow in the morning.

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4 thoughts on “The Hunt for the Perfect Red

  1. I love beso by Nars. Its a liquid lipstick that goes on like lipgloss but then dries matte and velvetty. And doesn’t transfer!! It is a cooler toned red, but I think they also have a warm toned red in the range x

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  2. Much like good fitting jeans or a swimsuit that one actually feels comfortable, the right red lipstick rarely throws itself at you. I hunted for years and tried scores of others before landing on Russian Red from MAC several years ago now. Save for gifts and items I’ve received to review, I haven’t ventured from it and doubt I ever will. It’s the perfect red for me: matte, long lasting, very vintage looking and alive with blue undertones, which is a must for me usually with red lipsticks (and most red things that I might wear in general).

    I really hope that you hit on your own perfect shade, too, and look forward to hearing more about your hunt. One tip that I found useful on my road to Russian Red, is that layering two or more lipsticks, stains, and/or liners can help create a great custom color that might actually work better for you than any currently sitting in tube.

    ♥ Jessica

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    • Thanks for weighing in! Yeah, I’ve read about Russian Red, but I’m probably a bit too golden to pull it off. Most of the cool reds look just a little pink on me. For now, I own it, but I also layer the Tangerine lipstick I have from Bite under cooler lipsticks if I feel like warming them up a bit. I mostly just want that iconic tube of lipstick that I can pull out in the ladies’ room between dinner and dessert to touch up in one step. Maybe it’s too elusive a dream…

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