Your Step-By-Step Guide To Applying Red Lipstick & Looking Fierce AF

by Kim Carpluk
Kim Carpluk

Red lipstick has been a cosmetic staple for centuries, but it's certainly one of the more intimidating beauty tools. If you've always wanted to rock a powerful red lip, but you've been too afraid of looking like Pennywise from It, here's how to apply red lipstick from start to finish, without a single clown vibe.

Getting statement lips down pat isn't rocket science, but it's also not entirely goof-proof or without its challenges. I'm not going to lie, in one fell swoop red lipstick can enter Miranda Sings territory. But, if you know the right rules, your lips will be Cheryl Blossom worthy every single time.

Not every finish, shade, and formula is a hit with everyone, and that's OK! I, for example, overdraw my top lip quite a bit, so using a glossy or luminous product makes it look like I straight tried to eat my lipstick. But that's the true power of makeup: There really is something for everyone. Whether it's MAC Cosmetics iconic Ruby Woo or New York Color's Retro Red (one of my personal favorites), there is a crimson color that will suit your distinct personality.

If you're ready to start feeling yourself in red lipstick, then prepare to be unstoppable with these short steps.

1. Exfoliate Your Lips

Have you ever tried to apply a matte lipstick over chapped lips? Girl, not glam. If you're even able to glide the bullet over dry, desert-like lips, you'll find that the product gets stuck under the flaky skin and becomes chunky and uneven. Even if you're using a luminous lipstick, any color or shine will just accentuate the dehydrated patches on your pout. I should know, I've been there.

Exfoliate the skin on your lips, just like you (hopefully) exfoliate your face a few times a week. This will remove all dead skin cells, leaving behind smoother and fresher skin. But you definitely don't want to go in with your favorite facial scrub on this delicate area. Do you want to accidentally consume your St. Ives Apricot Scrub? It smells tasty, but I think not. Instead, use a sugar scrub specifically designed for your lips. [That way, if you accidentally eat it, it's cool.

Start with a grain-of-rice-sized amount, starting at the center of your lip and working outward. Use your ring finger to apply the product in little circular motions, which help to lift the dead skin up and off of your mouth. After about 30 seconds, I like to remove the residue with a damp paper towel. If there's a small bit left, you can just straight up lick it off.

I'm using my Bite Beauty Whipped Cherry Lip Scrub, which sloughs away flakes with vitamin C, rice bran, and resveratrol. It isn't quite as pleasant, but you can also just use a dry toothbrush to lightly buff lips. And don't feel overwhelmed by adding this new step to your routine. You only need to exfoliate once or twice a week!

2. Hydrate

So here's the gig: the skin our lips is very similar to the skin on our face: both have the stratum corneum, the epidermis, and the dermis. But, our lips don't contain sebaceous glands, ya know, those annoying things that produce oil but are actually really important when it comes keeping our skin hydrated. So, the only way our lips get moisture if from saliva. No wonder why lip balm is so ridiculously popular.

We all know everyone has their favorite lip balm. Lately, I've been addicted to the Fresh Sugar Lip Caramel Hydrating Balm. First of all, it smells straight up like it's fresh out of the oven from the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory. I'm not a big balm person myself, but this one has me reapplying multiple times throughout the day. I find that it's the perfect pre-lipstick treatment. It locks in hydration without emulsifying your lipstick.

3. Prime

Dude. If you're going all out on your lips and you want them to last, please use a primer. If we're going to carefully apply our lipstick, we want that extra insurance so we don't have to touch up as much throughout the day.

I'm using my Bite Beauty Line and Define Lip Primer, which works as a universal lip liner (it prevents product from bleeding) and as a traditional primer. I line my lips with the pointed tip first before completely filling them in.

If you're in a pinch, many eye shadow primers also double as lip primers, like Nars Pro-Prime or ELF's Shadow Lock Eyelid Primer will do.

4. Choose The Right Red Lipstick

There are literally thousands of red lipsticks to choose from. Generally, the best way to choose is to go by your undertone.

If you have warmer skin, warm-toned reds will look the most flattering. If you have cooler skin, blue-toned reds will go on like a dream. If you have neutral skin, guess what? The world is your oyster.

But some rules are meant to be broken. If you want your lips to really pop, you may want to opt for the red with the opposing undertone. This will create more contrast against your skin and really stand out as a focus feature. It just depends how dramatic you want your look to be.

Regardless of the hue you choose, don't let anyone tell you that you can't wear red lipstick. Everyone of every age, race, and color can wear red lipstick. It's just about the confidence. Once you find a shade you love, don't let anything hold you back.

If you're newer to reds, you may want to try out a sheer lip color, like Revlon's Colorburst Balm Stain. If you want a middle-of-the-road option, you can go for a creamy satin finish like Bite's Amuse Bouche Lipstick in Gazpacho or New York Color's Retro Red (I've probably gone through at least six of these, FYI). If you're embracing the matte moment, you can use a matte cream red, like the cult favorite Nars Velvet Matte Lip Pencil in Cruella, or you can opt for a liquid lipstick, like the ultimate beauty steal Sephora Collection Cream Lip Stain in Always Red. I swear, Always Red looks good on everyone. It's like the Sisterhood of the Traveling Lipstick.

For the purposes of this video, I chose the Dior Rouge Dior Lipstick in 999 Matte.

5. Line Your Pout

So this is the sketching before the painting. By lining lips first, all we have to do with our lipstick is color within the lines, like an adult paint-by-number.

When it comes to lip liner, we want to start by creating symmetry. The first thing I do is create an X at my Cupid's bow (top center of upper lips) and line the center of my bottom lip line. If you have fuller lips, you may have to tilt your head backward or smile to make sure you've successfully applied the bottom line where it needs to go.

Then, I line the corners of my mouth. If you have a hard time remembering the order, just remember North, South, East, and then West.

Once I have the points marked out, you're gonna play connect the dots.

For a fuller look, draw directly on your natural lip line. This will make your lips appear slightly bigger without entering clown territory. Don't try to create the line all at once, because making small dashes gives you far more control. Remember, this is just the sketch. Don't sweat it if it's not perfect.

On me, I applied my very old... I mean, well-loved Hourglass Panoramic Long Wear Lip Liner in Icon, but there are dozens of other brands that work just as swimmingly. Rimmel London makes some fantastic ones, I might add.

If you want to fake fuller lips, choose a lip liner one shade deeper or cooler than your lipstick shade. If you want a little less dimension, grab a pencil that matches your lipstick exactly.

For a more natural, seamless look, use a lip brush to apply your lipstick in towards the center of your lips. This will prevent that hard 1990s/early 2000s intense liner look.

I mean, unless you want to be a Hollaback Girl. No judgment here.

For extra long wear, you can fill your entire lip in with liner. This will provide extra saturation and a stain-like effect. I like to blot my lips together to blend out the color and get rid of any inconsistencies in the line.

6. Apply Your Lipstick

So I am a straight-from-the-bullet girl, though there is much to be said for using a lip brush. Lip brushes give you control and precision. You'll most likely stay within in lines and you'll be able to control your saturation. You can sheer the product out if you want, or apply a nice, thick layer.

Because I'm a lipstick addict, I'm quite used to the bullet. Personally, I like to start at the center of my bottom lip, completely fill in the bottom, and then press my lips together. The transfer to the upper lip creates a softer, more natural appearance to the lip line. Then, I fill in my upper lip starting at the center and working outward.

7. Blot And Layer For Longevity

Now this step is not a necessity, but it does help. If you have a problem with your lipstick fading throughout the day, blot your lips with a tissue and then apply another layer of color. This will create a stain underneath the lipstick so any fading throughout the day won't be as noticeable.

If you really want to be extra, you can separate a 2-ply tissue and place one of the sheets over your lips. Using a brush, lightly dust a translucent setting powder over the top of the tissue. This makeup artist trick will keep your red lipstick set in place without heavily changing the finish of the lipstick.

And that's it! See, applying red lipstick is kind of intuitive and palatable when you break it down into little bites. I hope you're now feeling so spectacular in your glam garnet, you're taking a million selfies and Boomerangs to show it off. I know I am.