All you need to pull off this bold look is confidence.

By Zoe Denenberg
December 20, 2019
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Credit: Zoe Denenberg

In the past year, I have almost entirely stopped wearing makeup. I still have a few cult-favorite products that I swear by (Glossier’s Boy Brow, NYX’s On the Rise mascara), but on most days I leave the house wearing just moisturizer and rose lip balm. This wasn’t an intentional decision on my part: While I did want to become more comfortable with going makeup-free, I never intended to wholly abandon the signature cat-eye look that I wore for many years. I don’t want to rely on makeup to make me feel good, but I do think it can help me feel more confident, put-together, and professional.

As an early New Year’s resolution, I decided to experiment with a look I’ve always wanted to be able to pull off: red lips. A strong red lip—when done well—can look so powerful and polished. In college, my friend Rebecca constantly rocked a red lip. She was the Vice President of our class and she always looked like she had it all together. Once we became friends, I discovered that—just like all of us—she did not always have it all together. But she always looked like she did. She wears bright pink or red lipstick almost every day of the week, and when I asked her where the habit came from, she said, “It’s a classic look, and feels reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn. I feel bold and strong when I wear red lipstick because it takes confidence to pull off!”

So I decided to try it out for myself—I wore red lipstick for a week straight. I do have a soft spot in my heart for lipstick (it’s the one makeup product that I really love to buy) but I usually opt for darker, scarlet shades. Since I’d never found a red that really worked for me, I decided to try a different red shade each day—they’d range in price, hue, and brand, from drugstore finds to high-end picks. 

I have a cool skin tone, which means that deeper ruby hues match my complexion better than bright corals or pinks, but it took trying out a variety of shades to discover this. Red lipstick was the only makeup I wore all week, and by the end of the challenge, I even had some of my coworkers hopping on board the red lip train with me. Here’s the day-by-day diary of my bold-lipped journey.

 

Monday: M.A.C. Retro Matte in Ruby Woo

Wearing MAC Ruby Woo
| Credit: Zoe Denenberg

On Monday morning, I was feeling particularly sluggish. I didn’t think my sore, dry eyes could even take a swoop of mascara, so I wanted to go for a bold, bright lip to liven me up. I used M.A.C.’s Ruby Woo Retro Matte Lipstick, a matte red that skews dark and bold—the color looks like the stain after you’ve just finished eating a bowl of juicy summer cherries. 

This lipstick made a great first impression; it applied smoothly but resulted in a strong, bold red-blue color. There was little excess (the blot only printed a faint outline) and no smearing.  I feel like it would look even better if I wasn’t currently ghostly pale. M.A.C.’s signature bullet-shaped lipstick capsules are easy to slip in your pocket and keep around for reapplication throughout the day.

I made the unwise decision not to take my allergy medication this morning (I live by Zyrtec), which led to a steady stream of sneezing throughout the morning. Although all this hoopla did cause the lipstick to rub off a bit, the color didn’t smear all over like I expected it would—it simply faded with grace. This lipstick’s longevity helped me understand why it’s Taylor Swift’s color of choice.

 Shop M.A.C. Ruby Woo: ulta.com, $18.50

Tuesday: Elizabeth Arden Limited Edition Moisturizing Lipstick in Red Door Red

Wearing Elizabeth Arden Red Door Red
| Credit: Zoe Denenberg

On Tuesday, I tried out a lipstick with a story: Elizabeth Arden’s Limited-Edition Red Door Red, a collaboration with Reese Witherspoon. All of the proceeds from this signature shade go to UN women, a global organization championing women’s empowerment.

The lipstick has “moisturizing” in the name, so I expected big things, and Elizabeth Arden definitely delivered: The lipstick was extremely silky, super-moisturizing, and had a nice shine. It’s definitely warmer in pigment and  leans more towards pink. Since it was so slick, this lipstick did not last as long as some of the others, but it’s definitely great for a glossier effect (especially when applied in lighter strokes for a sheer finish). When paired with a leather jacket, my coworkers said I looked like Sandy from Grease. I couldn't hope for higher praise.

Shop Elizabeth Arden Red Door Red: elizabetharden.com, $26.50

Wednesday: Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revolution in Scarlet Spell & Red Carpet Red

Wearing Charlotte Tilbury Scarlet Spell
| Credit: Zoe Denenberg

On Wednesday, my outfit mixed a few different shades of beige and light brown leather, so I wanted a warmer, deeper lip shade—I opted for Charlotte Tilbury’s newly-released Scarlet Spell lipstick. This deep, dimensional winter berry hue looked like something I’d normally pick out for myself: a slightly darker, more natural and earthy shade. This particular scarlet was the perfect medium between the deeper, brown-based hues that I typically gravitate to and a festive, cheery red for the holidays. It’s a buildable shade, which means that you can add layers to achieve a deeper, more scarlet pigment, or keep it light and slightly sheer with just one coat.

I simply loved this lipstick. It’s more moisturizing than your standard matte lipstick, but it’s still long-lasting. The design balances functionality with whimsy: The lipstick shape itself is a rectangular slant with a flat ledge, perfect for achieving sharp lines around the edges of your lips; it’s stamped with plump lip cartoons and comes in a fluted rose gold capsule.

 Shop Charlotte Tilbury Scarlet Spell: charlottetilbury.com, $34.00

Charlotte Tilbury Red Carpet Red after a full afternoon of wear
| Credit: Zoe Denenberg

After lunch, I switched into Charlotte Tilbury’s Red Carpet Red (a brighter, more dramatic shade), and y’all… it lasted all night. This is not an exaggeration: Above is a photo of me on my couch at 8pm, lipstick still fully intact without so much as a single touch-up. All hail queen Charlotte.

 Shop Charlotte Tilbury Red Carpet Red: charlottetilbury.com, $34.00

Thursday: L’Oréal Paris Colour Riche British Red, M.A.C. Werk Werk Werk & MAC Chili

Left: Zoe wearing L'Oréal Paris British Red | Credit: Zoe Denenberg
Right: Zoe wearing MAC Werk Werk Werk | Credit: Zoe Denenberg

This road test would not be complete without a good, staple drugstore find, and L’Oréal has never let me down before. I tried out British Red, a bright cherry shade with a sheer, shiny finish. The formula was super-smooth and soft on my lips, and the color leaned a bit towards coral or orange, making it a great choice for those with warm skin tones or for hot summer days. This was a great cheery red option, and throughout the day it held up just as well as lipsticks with far heftier price tags.

Shop L’Oréal Paris British Red: ulta.com, $10.99

In the afternoon, I switched into M.A.C.'s Werk Werk Werk Powder Kiss Lipstick. From my success with M.A.C.'s Ruby Woo on Monday, I knew I'd like the formula, but this lipstick may have been my favorite of them all. The color was bright, but not too bright; it toed the line between red and a cool pink, and like Ruby Woo, it stayed all afternoon with minimal smudging. At $19, this lipstick is a great middle ground between drugstore bargains and more expensive tubes.

Shop M.A.C. Werk Werk Werk: ulta.com, $19

I finally convinced my roommate and coworker Rachel Mulcahy to try out a red lip (she’d been resisting all week, saying she never wears lipstick). But I lent her a tube of M.A.C. Chili (a brownish-orange shade) and she couldn’t help but admit that it looked great. “It really pulls my outfit together. I look like Kacey Musgraves,” Rachel said. “Thanks for making me do that.”

Shop M.A.C. Chili: ulta.com, $18.50 

Friday: Maybelline Color Sensational Ruby for Me & Revlon Insane

Zoe wearing Maybelline Ruby for Me
| Credit: Zoe Denenberg

Big news, folks—I finally found the true, shiny, cherry red I’ve always dreamed of. When you think of red lipstick, you probably imagine a color like Maybelline's Color Sensational Ruby for Me—a bright red shade that packs a punch. This is a fabulous, wow-worthy shade; it applies smoothly and feels very moisturizing (after an entire week of wearing lipstick, my lips are super dry, so this was much appreciated). Maybelline's Ruby for Me proves that you don't need to shell out a ton of cash to get a quality lipstick.

Shop Maybelline Ruby for Me: target.com, $4.99

Rachel wearing Revlon Insane
| Credit: Zoe Denenberg

After yesterday’s successful experiment with M.A.C. Chili, Rachel said that she’d be more than willing to try another red shade. She tested Revlon’s new Super Lustrous Matte Lipstick in Insane, which resulted in a poppy, bright berry pink. “I look like Gigi Hadid,” Rachel said. She’s up on the pop culture.

Shop Revlon Insane: amazon.com, $8.49

End-of-Week Reflections

All in all, I’d consider my week of red lipstick trials to be a success. It did require me to wear more neutral outfits so as not to clash with the red lipstick, but I found that a bold lip color really livened up a bland beige ensemble. Lots of coworkers stopped me in the halls to compliment me on my red lipstick, and many said I looked put-together and polished. For days when I was feeling drab or tired, when I normally wouldn’t put much thought into my appearance, red lipstick required little effort and quickly made me feel more confident.

By the end of the week, I even learned a few beauty hacks—I’d apply lip balm 15 minutes before my lipstick to keep my lips moisturized, and I could reapply without even looking in a mirror. I also took more selfies this week than I have in my entire life, but hey, it's all for the sake of journalism.

While I don’t think I’ll be wearing red lipstick every day from now on, I do know what shades work best for me and I’m not scared to try out a more adventurous look. I'd wear any of M.A.C. or Charlotte Tilbury's cool-hued lipsticks again in a heartbeat. So many people swear that they can’t pull off a red lip, but after this week, I don’t think that’s true—all you really need to pull off this bold look is confidence.

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What beauty experiments would you like to see me try out in the future? Give me a holler and share your ideas!