5 Women Face Their Fear of Red Lipstick

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.

I’ve tried to become a red-lipstick person numerous times. I tested all the major players — MAC Ruby Woo and Russian Red, Chanel Rouge Allure, NARS Dragon Girl

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)…

Harling, Writer

“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.”

Jasmin, Senior Integrated Marketing Strategist

“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.”

Patty, Head of Revenue

“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.”

Ashley, Social Media Editor

“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.”

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  • Hayley

    I’m gonna push the combination of the Kat Von D Everlasting Liquid Lipstick in the color Underage Red, with the associated Kat Von D Everlasting Lip Liner in the color Outlaw. It takes me only a few minutes to draw the perfect red lip with this combo and it never budges unless you eat something oily. I love the color of the Nars Cruella crayon, but I don’t think it lasts as long/isn’t as comfortable as the Kat Von D formula.

    • Harling Ross

      good to know!!

    • Tess

      Underage Red is arguably the creepiest color name ever

      • Hayley

        Oh, totally. I think there was quite a bit of controversy surrounding that for awhile…

      • kat went on record to explain it isn’t sexual, but coming from the perspective of teenage years when you’re underage to drink, underage to go to a bar, underage to get into a concert, etc. when you consider the source (a pretty damn empowered woman and not some L’Oreal think-tank), i found it genuine and totally understandable.

  • Helen

    I’m a red lip addict and love seeing other people trying it out! Ashley, I totally know that ‘does my outfit justify this?’ thing but I’ve eventually swing the other way – no one notices my outfit, my spots, my bad hair day if I’m wearing red lipstick. it’s the cherry on the cake for me or my armor. Somedays, putting it on is like physically drawing on my game face. Benetint is a good starter and I’ve got my sister working upwards, by way of Burts Bees lipbalm. Also there are stronger lip stains out there – I personally swear by one I have from no7 but that’s a British brand so I wouldn’t know what to recommend in the US.

    I’m a bit intense about my intense lipstick colours.

  • Willa Konefał Davis

    I think red looks very pretty, but I have always felt most comfortable in mauve lips. Also, Harling you are far superior to Chloe Sevigny.

    • Harling Ross


  • Emmie

    all of you look mega gorge with the red lip – I always go for it if i’m in a rush / effort is a no go (all of the time?) and bc i suck at eye makeup. I also read that Alexa Chung always goes for a red lip if she’s tired / hungover to distract from her tired eyes, so if that’s not a reason to do it i don’t know what is.

  • Cristina

    Um, Harling. Cruella is amazing on you. It’s like that effortless look that suddenly dresses you up a notch. With the hoops and curls, it’s also very Jenny from the Block and I am loving it.
    JASMIN. HELLO. The red is so natural on you!!
    I too am scared of a red lip. But I also want something to dress up my face and honestly, who doesn’t want to be French Girl Chic? I use a red-orange because of my complexion, pink is a no go. I like Bite Beauty lip pencil in 076- it’s a great tomato color. The pencil means I don’t need a liner. It’s matte so it doesn’t budge and I make it as bold or sheer as I want!

  • Danielle Cardona Graff

    Cruella definitely wins!

  • Cruella is the absolute best red, especially for someone who’s red lip averse. I find that applying it with a light hand and a Q-tip keeps it from schmearing all over or off.

    • Harling Ross

      ooooh noted re: Q tip

  • MellieOleson

    If you want longer wearing red lips, Sephora’s Cream Lip Stain has a couple of reds that are good. Pro tip: lip liners used on the entire lip are also good either as the sole color or a solid base on which to layer a lipstick (I like Urban Decay’s lip liners in particular). I also recommend the Besame lipsticks; not as long lasting as what I mentioned but they have a good variety of reds based on historical lip trends and a lot of color saturation.

  • Alessia

    I looooooove a red lip. I don’t wear it every day because of the maintenance reasons that Harling mentioned, but a few of my favourites are Topshop Rio Rio, Rimmel Provocalips in Play With Fire, MAC Pro Longwear Lip Pencil in Kiss Me Quick (i just draw it all over my lips) and, if I’m being adventurous, Chanel Rouge Noir.
    PS: you all look great!!!

  • dayman

    I’ve been super into Benetint lately, it is so easy and flattering! I usually do 2-3 coats using a lot for each coat and then top it off with the “Merlot” tinted chapstick–lasts forever this way and unlike a matte lipstick, fades very gracefully. That said, you all make a compelling case for the Nars which I have but unfortunately not in my bag, I want to put it on ASAP!

  • Andrea Loewen

    I LOVE this because I am terrified of wearing dark lipstick. I always think I look like a fake grown-up, but looking at the before and after photos of these ladies, they just look a little brighter and bolder with the red. Mayyyybe I can try it? Oh no, maybe not. Maybe yes! I have a big, fancy event tonight, so I even have an excuse! EEEEP!

  • Aerris Marie

    Yeah… as a dark skinned woman I was literally raised with the understanding that it just doesn’t look good on dark skin (I don’t agree)… so I juststayed away from red…

    • S

      Jasmine looks GORGEOUS

  • Heather Chambers

    This was super fun! I remember feeling like a clown the first time I wore red lipstick. Now my former “bold” shade is my “feeling kinda natural” shade, lol.

    The NARS velvet matte lip pencils are some of my favorites because I find them to be suuuuper low maintenance. They really don’t move much.

  • Brianna Smith

    I’ve always stayed away from reds because I feel like my complexion is too pale for it, but Glossier’s Generation G in “Zip” is really nice & subtle! Plus it’s not stubborn if you want to take it off.

    • Caitlin Crow

      Agreed! My favorite low-maintenance red.

  • Néo Bourgeois — Montecito

    The overall looks are more on the comical / silly side then like a French sensuous / sophisticated thing. I’m getting the impression most women are not making enough money to buy real clothes with double stitching in material that are not a derivative of petroleum — being forced to rely on sportswear and funky vintage to fill their closet isn’t sustainable, that stuff is junk.


    • kellymcd


      • Néo Bourgeois — Christum


  • breathlss79

    I think red lipstick photographs well. It’s not natural in any way, so you’re not going to feel like “you” at first, but as with anything, you’ll adjust.

  • spicyearlgrey

    Jasmin!!! u r my brown girl inspiration im going to flirt with a little red this weekend

  • Bernadette

    I was gifted a dior red a while back-the tube is gorgeous and it looks great on! but it is such a bolder look than i usually go for, and I feel like it draws attention to my non-whitened teeth…but I think the really red looks so beautiful on all these ladies!

  • lily


  • emily moran

    Harling your look is so Carrie rn it’s amazing.

  • 100% of these ladies pulled off red and quite frankly, look amazing with a red lip!!! i have all the same apprehensions, but i think you just have to wear it enough to get “used to it.” patti is giving off christine barberich (of refinery 29) vibes, which is to say she looks uber cool but like she’s not even trying.

  • ladle

    I will always associate red lips and nails with my mom. I think that is why I am comfortable wearing it, and honestly, any shade in the red family anywhere (I mean I have dark red hair right now too). I disagree with the ‘you need to do something to prep your skin before suing red lipstick’ because I wear it with anything, even if that anything is just it and a washed face.
    i think it’s a matter of how you see yourself not how something works. Personally I dont’ even see the stain on the photos so I’d pass.

  • I needed to come back and thank you, Harling for this article. I definitely thought everyone above looks just lovely with the red lip that I am personally terrified of. So I dug out my little Nars Cruella (it was a Sephora birthday gift a year or two ago) and I have been happily wearing it. This article was definitely the kick I needed and its really fun and not nearly as cumbersome/scary as I thought!

  • Ahh you all look so great but I’m still convinced it’s terrible for me!! Harling, the NARS Cruella looks DIVINE on you and honestly it’s my fave look here!

  • Denngar

    More power to you if you’re wearing it for a confidence boost for yourself. I know my “style” may not always attract the most people (prefer t-shirt and jeans, but a nice silk shirt and tie certainly turns heads), but I feel like it attracts the right ones.

    That being said, I find the “before” pictures to be more attractive. I feel like there’s a good reason to worry about red lipstick and makeup in general: it attracts attention to that part of your body and makes it the focus. Everything then revolves around it, and man, that’s a lot of work. The women look great before, but once the red hits, they look incomplete to me. I’ve had this chat with a few guys from various cultures (American, Japanese, Chinese) and the general consensus is red can be a huuuge turn off.

    Again, this is just visual. If you’re posting pictures on a dating site, maybe avoid the red unless you’re really working on the whole look. I actually dated a women I really wasn’t that attracted to (in a large part because of the red makeup), but it certainly fit her personality. Apparently, online, she wasn’t getting much attention, but when we’d go out, she was fighting other guys off when we’d go out with social groups we were experimenting with. In person, it seems red is easier because the confidence you’re after can matches your personality better, and that may not always be easy to see in pictures alone.