I sent an email to the Man Repeller team a couple weeks ago with the subject line, “Read this if you’re scared of red lipstick.” In it, I explained that I was writing a story about my personal fear of red lipstick and asked if anyone else shared the same affliction. I was looking for red lipstick-averse volunteers to try out two red lipstick products that are considered to be “universally flattering.”
I figured I would get a few responses and would probably end up having to harangue additional coworkers to participate in the experiment. Boy, was I wrong. The emails flooded in almost immediately. Including myself, nearly 50% of Man Repeller employees admitted to being afraid of red lipstick, or simply disliking how it looked when they wore it.
I guess I should either stop assuming I’m special, or I should stop trusting what I read online. Maybe both. The internet had me convinced that everyone was obsessed with red lipstick. It honestly seems like the “bold red lip” has been trending nonstop for half a decade.
But I have big hair and big eyes and big lips and a round face. Bright red lipstick always makes me feel too exaggerated. Like a cartoon.
I also don’t enjoy the “fuss” of red lipstick. It is a very demanding product that requires near-constant maintenance to make it stay put and look perfect. My usual makeup routine is extremely low-key. I never wear eyeliner, I rarely wear mascara and the closest thing to foundation that I use is a nearly sheer skin tint. So yeah — red lipstick feels taxing to me.
Nevertheless, I’m a sucker for anything that (allegedly) has the magical capacity to transform me into something close to Chloë Sevigny. I think that’s why red lipstick gets so much hype — we associate it with iconic faces and powerful style statements. It’s a confidence boost.
Anyway, back to my little experiment. Before emailing my coworkers, I had reached out to makeup artist Allison Smith to pick her brain about how to conquer red-lipstick fear. I was surprised to learn that even makeup aficionados suffer from this ailment. “I’m not in that camp of women who love how I look in red lipstick,” she told me. “I definitely identify with the vibe of that woman who’s like, ‘I love it on other people, but not on me.’”
“Feeling good in red lipstick isn’t always about choosing the right shade of red,” she said. “It can also be about making sure your skin looks nice and hydrated first. Because beautiful skin and a bold red lip is always really gorgeous.”
I asked her if she had any go-to red lipsticks that she considered “universally flattering.” She recommended NARS Velvet Matte Lip Pencil in Cruella for a true, pigmented red-lip effect. For someone who wants the look of a red lip but isn’t ready to fully commit to a high-maintenance pigment, she suggested Benetint, Benefit Cosmetics’ rose-colored lip stain.
After acquiring both recommendations, I put my experiment into action. Keep scrolling to find out how five lipstick-fearing members of team MR fared in two “universally flattering” red-lip products (and yes, even though I had more volunteers, I narrowed the guinea-pig pool to five because I didn’t want your eyeballs to fall out of your head)…
“I really enjoyed how the Benetint stain looked (left here, and below) — like I’d just eaten a strawberry popsicle. I would definitely buy this product and wear it often. The NARS Cruella (right here, and below), on the other hand, had me conflicted. Leslie said it made me look like an author at her book signing for an autobiographical memoir about her cool downtown life, which obviously went straight to my head. But even though I liked what it did for my overall vibe, I knew I would be reluctant to wear it regularly because of the necessary upkeep. Maybe I will wear it for my future headshot (when I inevitably write an autobiographical memoir about my cool downtown life), and then I will wipe it off and drink three glasses of champagne.”
“The Benetint was fine. It wasn’t very striking or dramatic — just a cute, subtle pop of color. As someone who typically goes for more nude/browny tones, this wasn’t a huge shock to the system, but I also don’t think it made me look (or feel) like my best self. The first thing I said when I put on the NARS crayon was “OMG” because it was so bold and so…RED. I also got really nervous that I had over-lined my bottom lip and that it was very obvious. I always wear skin-color type lipsticks, so over-lining isn’t typically a concern. When doing my makeup, I usually focus on my eyes and eyebrows; diverting all the attention to my mouth was a foreign experience. I was very self-conscious about it, in a way that I wouldn’t be after layering on tons of mascara. That being said, I kind of liked it. I shy away from red in particular because I don’t think it typically suits my skin tone or sits well on my lips, but this time I was less critical of that. I’d still be wary about committing to a red lip as a full day or night look, though.”
“The Benefit lip tint is the adult version of a magic ink marker. I was totally messy with the application and yet, the color showed up perfectly. I loved wearing this. The NARS stick required a steadier hand and firmer intentions. I applied it as carefully as I could and hoped for the best. I was kind of pleased with the dramatic color, but I did end up removing it pretty quickly after. Maybe I’ll try again.”
Victoria, Business Operations Intern
“The tint provided a noticeable wash of color, which was nice, but I actually preferred the NARS crayon. It was just so smooth — super opaque, too, but also smudge-able for a softer look. Having such a bold color on my lips woke up my whole face and made me feel empowered. I’m usually intimidated by that kind of look, but the crayon was so easy to apply, it wouldn’t be hard at all to do a touch-up after eating or drinking. I kept the lipstick on after the photo shoot, and a bunch of people asked what color I was wearing later that day.”
“I liked the stain because it felt a lot more subtle. I’d buy it when I’m trying to amp things up a little. The full red NARS crayon looked cool in theory, but I felt like it required a great outfit to truly do it justice. Also, I freaked out a little when I saw myself in the mirror because I didn’t think I looked like myself.”