Like Taylor Swift, I’m a classic red lipstick kind of girl. Red is my go-to any time I want a more intense look, whether I’m going to a party or wearing a costume or just feeling dramatic. Unfortunately not many reds work on me—makeup tends to look overly yellow on my pale skin. Colors that look like true reds in the package end up either too orange or just garishly bright. Red lipstick is a fickle master.
At some point early in high school I stumbled across the perfect red for me: Moroccan Red, by Ulta. It looked amazing and was a great texture. Not only did it look good on me, but it has worked for every single person I’ve loaned it to. So you can imagine my reaction when I got to the end of my tube of Moroccan Red and found out that Ulta had discontinued my favorite color. Disbelief, then horror, then shock, then anger… then some more shock.
So began the great lipstick search. Too hurt by Ulta to be able to trust them again this soon, I set out on a search across several other brands to find the New True Red. I was actually pleasantly surprised by what I found. I built up quite the pile of rejects that were too neon or too pink or too orange, but I also found several options that may actually have that rarest of qualities: a universally flattering red hue.
I started at Sephora, where a sales associate pointed me toward a lip stain, which I hadn’t been considering. It looked red in the package, which made me worried that it would end up too bright, as usual. To my surprise it actually stayed true to color.
It goes on like a very thick gloss, so it doesn’t completely cover my natural lip color but is still bright enough to transform it. Just be careful to not drip it on anything or get any on your hands, where it can smear everywhere before you notice. This ended up being the brightest red that still worked on me.
NARS Fire Down Below, $27
Next I tried a plethora of actual lipsticks, most of which weren’t quite right. This was a nice one. It was a little darker so it didn’t look too bright, but not so much that it veered into oxblood territory. It was a very good classic red, but wasn’t quite as dramatically red as some. That makes it more wearable but maybe not quite as much fun. Either way, it was definitely a strong choice.
Emboldened by my earlier success with a lip stain, I next found the Giorgio Armani Lip Maestro Line, another lip stain, though this one was less glossy on my lips. The colors don’t have names, which may mean users are more likely to focus on the actual color, but is still somehow disappointing (and hard to remember).
I tried 400, which immediately looked good but then as soon as it started to fade got lighter and brighter. I worried that as it wore off it would face the same problem of being too bright on me. 201 ended up being the better choice on closer inspection, a slightly darker red that seemed to keep its color better.
NYX Snow White, $3.99
This one went on dark, but ended up being a great color on me with a little blotting and blending, and is by far the most budget-friendly option. As I said it goes on dark, so make sure to blot it and not to go outside the line of your lips at all.
Unfortunately it loses a little shine when it’s blotted, but cover it with a tiny bit of neutral gloss or even chapstick and it’s definitely a strong contender. And it does have a great name.
MAC Dubonnet, $16
I was running out of time before dinner, so I decided to make one last stop at a local MAC store. I tried a few colors, none of which was quite right. I was on the verge of heading home to consider my options when I found Dubonnet. This was the lipstick I found that was closest to my previous one, and therefore the best. It’s a gorgeous color, just dark enough to look great on me, and it has a wonderful sheen to it.
Dubonnet ended up being my favorite, though I’m considering going back for the Sephora Always Red Lip Stain too, since it’s different enough I can pretend I need both of them. I found a lot of great options, though, so we’ll just see what happens the next time I run out. Or…it wouldn’t be too much to just get all of them, would it?