How to Choose a Lipstick Color

by BrendaReeves

With so many colors to choose from, choosing the right lipstick color can sometimes feel like rocket science.

When buying a lipstick, keep in mind that the cheaper lipsticks disappear quickly and may turn to a color you weren't expecting after wearing it for just a short time. Although quality means more costly, it also means it lasts longer on your lips, and the color you bought will be the color you wear all day long. See if you can cut back on some other luxury for a while and buy a quality lipstick.

Your Skin's Undertone

Large department stores allow patrons to try on lipstick in the cosmetic department.  After trying out a few shades, your lips start to turn red from wiping off all the different colors, some of the them stain your lips, and you wonder if you're seeing the hue correctly. Knowing how to match lipstick color to skin tone can make the process a lot easier. Rather than make picking the right shade of lipstick a trial and error endeavor, use a little beauty science. Go outside in natural light and look at the veins on the underside of your wrist. If your veins appear bluish, your skin tone is cool. If your veins appear greenish, your skin tone is warm. If you are still confused as to what your skin tone is, ask a friend to give you a second opinion using the same method. Consulting the Fitzpatrick Scale, might also make it easier to understand skin color.

Fitzpatrick Scale

Skin Color Classification
The Fitzpatrick Scale is a numerical classification schema for the color of skin. It was developed in 1975 by Thomas B. Fitzpatrick, a Harvard dermatologist, as a way to classify the response of different types of skin to UV light. It ...

Color, Hue, Shade

We all learned our primary colors, red, green, blue, orange and yellow, in kindergarten, but we weren't taught the meaning of hue and shade.  Although hue also means color too, it further describes the brightness, lightness and saturation of a color and also the gradation of a particular color. Hue may belong to the warm, cool, or neutral palette. Shade, as in, "I love this shade of lipstick, or I love this shade of red," is synonymous with hue.


Fair Skin

Cool or Warm Undertones

Fair skin can have cool or warm undertones. Here are the colors best suited to cool undertones:

  • Light Brown
  • Pinkish Beige
  • Rosy Pink
  • Pomegranate 
  • Cranberry
  • Light Mocha
  • Mauve

If your skin is very light or porcelain, avoid shades such as bright pink, dark bronze and dark mocha. Hues such as these against extremely light skin result in too stark a contrast.

For fair warm tones, the following colors are flattering:

  • Shell
  • Sand
  • Nude
  • Peach

Medium Skin

Cool or Warm Undertones

Medium skin also has cool or warm undertones. These colors flatter skin in the middle:

Cool undertones are best in these colors:

  • Rosy pink
  • Pomegranate
  • Cranberry

For warm undertones, try these colors:

  • Bronze
  • Copper
  • Cinnamon 

Both cool and warm medium skin can wear these two colors:

  • Plum
  • Raspberry

Stay away from nudes if your skin is medium. Nude is close to your skin color and will make you look washed out.

Tips and Tricks

As we age fine lines begin to develop above our lip line. Wearing a lipstick that contrasts against our skin, such as red or shocking pink, accentuates these lines. Stick to a lipstick neutral in color that closely matches your skin.

Large lips are in style, if you don't like your thin lips, make them look larger by outlining your mouth outside of your lips with a lip pencil that matches your lipstick. You'll be amazed at the difference it makes.

Updated: 02/02/2013, BrendaReeves
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?


BrendaReeves on 04/09/2012

Thank you brl.

Guest on 04/09/2012

Great info! I'm useless at this kind of stuff. Thanks!

bhthanks on 02/26/2012

Next time I buy lipstick, I need to remember to reference back to this article. Thanks for the info!

katiem2 on 02/26/2012

Awesome, thanks for the tips on how to wear the right color of lipstick, I have so much trouble with that. I now know for certain there are some colors I must stay away from period.

BrendaReeves on 02/25/2012

Downtown Brown is one of their most popular colors.

Angel on 02/25/2012

My favorite MK lipstick is Downtown Brown. With Mocha Ice on top. Love it.

Marie on 02/25/2012

Thanks for the fair skin options as my skin is very fair and I don't tan. I only wear lipstick for formal events but I want it to look right :)

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