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11 best red lipsticks: From matte to glossy finishes

After a new go-to rouge? This hall of fame has you covered

Rebecca Fearn
Friday 03 September 2021 14:43
<p>Finding “the one” can seem like an endless pursuit</p>

Finding “the one” can seem like an endless pursuit

One item everyone needs in their make-up bag is a trusty red lipstick that can be reached for when a touch of confidence is needed. The range of reds out there is so versatile, however, that finding “the one” can seem like an endless pursuit.

There are orange-toned hues, pinky-reds, blue-toned reds and “true” reds. And if that wasn’t a broad enough spectrum, they come in matte, velvet, balms, and glossy finishes; and that’s before we even start discussing colour pay-off or budgets.

In terms of knowing where to start, Gucci Westman, founder of Westman Atelier and make-up artist to the stars, has some top tips on how to find your red and wear it well. “I encourage clients and our customers to have fun and experiment with different shades,” she explains.

But, if you really don’t know where to begin, Westman has some basic advice. “A bright tomato shade with orange undertones is really pretty on skin that has more pink to it, or tends to flush easily.” She says. “For olive and deep skin, reds with a blue or cherry undertone are really flattering.”

As always, the key to making a good lippy last, is preparation – and that’s even more crucial when dealing with red lipstick. “Years ago on set, Gisele Bündchen taught me to use a washcloth and warm water to exfoliate your lips. It’s easier and less messy than a scrub and it works. Afterward, dab a clear balm onto clean dry lips – I tend to go for ones that are hydrating and sink into the lips as you don’t want anything that’s going to interfere with your color application.”

Read more:

So, now you know how to apply your red, it’s time to pick the one for you.

How we tested

Luckily, there is a red out there for everyone, and we are determined to help you find yours with this rundown of the greatest reds ever.

Our writer took the time to test more than 40 red lipsticks (along with many others she’s tried over the years as a beauty editor), checking for colour payoff, tone, pigmentation, longevity, finish, texture, and packaging, among other important features. With plenty of swatching, she managed to find her ultimate 11.

The best red lipsticks for 2021 are:

  • Best overall – Charlotte Tilbury hot lips lipstick in Tell Laura: £25, Charlottetilbury.com
  • Best for Mac loyalists – Mac matte lipstick in Russian Red: £17.50, Maccosmetics.co.uk
  • Best for making you smile – Ciate smile on lipstick – be proud: £18, Ciatelondon.com
  • Best for raspberry red fans – Laura Mercier rouge essentiel silky creme lipstick in rouge eclatant: £26, Johnlewis.com
  • Best for showing off – Victoria Beckham beauty posh lipstick in fire: £34, Victoriabeckhambeauty.com
  • Best for red lipstick newbies – Glossier ultralip in coupe: £14, Glossier.com
  • Best for pinky red fans – Max Factor colour elixir lipstick in ruby tuesday: £8.99, Superdrug.com
  • Best for traditionalists – Dior rouge Dior in velvet 999: £32, Dior.com
  • Best for dry lips – Nars audacious lipstick in Rita: £20.80, Lookfantastic.com
  • Best for fans of luxury – Pat McGrath mattetrance lipstick in Elson 2: £35, Selfridges.com
  • Best for a bargain – Sleek MakeUP say it loud satin lipstick – mo money mo problems: £6, Matalan.co.uk

Charlotte Tilbury hot lips lipstick in “tell Laura"

Best: Overall

Rating: 9.5/10

A glorious red that can’t really be beaten in our opinion (which is the same way we feel about Charlotte Tilbury lipsticks in general), “tell Laura” is a true red with a hint of orange. It comes from Charlotte Tilbury’s hot lips line, inspired by famous women the make-up artist knows and loves (this one is inspired by model Laura Bailey), and is the best one the range has to offer. The comfortable matte formula is long-lasting with a glorious texture, is easy to apply thanks to the shaped bullet, and is housed in a stunning golden tube. You can’t beat it.

Mac matte lipstick in “Russian red"

Best: For Mac loyalists

Rating: 9/10

It’s impossible to be perfect when it comes to most things, but in terms of red lipsticks, Mac’s “Russian red” is perhaps as close as you may get. While fans of the brand’s bestselling red, “ruby woo” (£17.50, Maccosmetics.co.uk), may feel outraged, our writer prefers the slightly deeper “Russian red”, which is sultry, mysterious, and suitably sophisticated. Mac’s beautiful matte texture also reigns supreme here; it’s not too drying, nor is it too powdery, it’s just right.

Read our round-up of the best Mac lipsticks of all time

Ciate smile on lipstick in “be proud"

Best: For making you smile

Rating: 8/10

This bright, bold bullet lipstick is not for wallflowers; the gorgeous orangey-red hue must be worn, as the name suggests, proudly and confidently. With buildable colour (depending on how bold you’d like to go), an anti-matte slight sheen, and a moisturising, nourishing texture, this lipstick is super-easy to apply because of its rounded shape. And if the colour, texture, and formula don’t sway you, the smiley tube just might.

Laura Mercier rouge essentiel silky creme lipstick in “rouge eclatant"

Best: For raspberry red fans

Rating: 8/10

Laura Mercier’s lipstick is just as is described: silky smooth. The gorgeously velvety comfort matte is a glorious texture our reviewer hasn’t found before, and one worth reaching for if you can’t decide between super matte and super sheeny, and want something in-between. The lipstick has a shaped bullet for easy application (particularly on the top lip), and is ultra-pigmented; in fact, a single swipe and you’ll be good to go. The colour is a true red with the faintest of raspberry thrown in for good measure.

Victoria Beckham beauty posh lipstick in “fire"

Best: For showing off

Rating: 7.5/10

Victoria Beckham’s latest drop of new lipstick hues included this firecracker of a shade, which is what red lipstick dreams are made of. The orangey-red shade is perfect if your motto is “the brighter, the better,” and it has a super-long-lasting formula (our writer found it got through even a long, fancy meal). The feel is nourishing and hydrating, and the packaging is to die for; you’ll certainly be proud to whip this one out of your bag, no matter where you are or who you’re with.

Glossier ultralip in “coupe"

Best: For red lipstick newbies

Rating: 7/10

Perfect for full coverage-phobes, this lightweight lip colour has a super balmy texture that feels hydrating and glossy. It boasts a beautifully bright orange-toned red hue, and for a balm, it has a surprisingly impressive colour payoff that will turn heads for all the right reasons. Perhaps the only drawback of this lovely lipstick is that it’s not that long-lasting and may require a few more top-ups than “regular” full-coverage bullets. But if jumping in at the deep end with reds fills you with fear, start here and you’ll be safe and satisfied.

Max Factor colour elixir lipstick in “ruby Tuesday"

Best: For pinky red fans

Rating: 7/10

There are plenty of gorgeous orange reds, true reds, and deep reds to find, but sometimes discovering the perfect pinky red can seem like an impossible mission. Enter: Max Factor’s “ruby Tuesday”, which is cute and feminine, but still bold and vibrant. In Max Factor’s classic long-lasting formula, the lipstick is housed in luxe packaging (despite its purse-friendly price), and even has a nice smell, which is an added bonus.

Dior rouge dior in “velvet 999"

Best: For traditionalists

Rating: 7/10

A classic, an icon; this has a glowing reputation for a reason. Rouge Dior lipsticks come in a number of finishes, with the velvet being the standout in bestselling shade 999, a true red with a stunning matte finish reminiscent of fifties movie stars. Impressively, this lipstick somehow has the ability to make your pout look fuller and plumper, and suits just about everyone.

Nars audacious lipstick in “Rita"

Best: For dry lips

Rating: 8/10

One of the best lipstick lines to come from the past decade, Nars’ audacious formulas have won a place in our writer’s heart — and it’s the “Rita” shade that has to be crowned winner of the reds. It’s a gorgeous (slightly) deeper red, which is sultry, sexy, and irresistible, making it ideal for formal occasions when you want to impress. The formula is long-lasting and moisturising (yet not glossy or balmy), and its magnetic casing is always a pleasure to use.

Pat McGrath mattetrance lipstick in “elson 2”

Best: For fans of luxury

Rating: 8/10

After a luxurious, keepsake lipstick? Go for one of Pat McGrath’s, which look just as pretty from the outside as they do once you open them. Pat has some stunning reds in her range, but “elson 2” has to be our favourite, boasting a blue-toned red hue, which is great for all skin tones. The finish is velvety, but it never feels dry or overbearing on the lips, which is important, especially if you suffer from dry lips.

Sleek MakeUp say it loud satin lipstick in “mo money mo problems”

Best: For a bargain

Rating: 7/10

At £6, you can’t get much better than a Sleek satin lipstick, which is sheeny and slightly glossy, making it ideal for anyone scared of daunting matte textures. This gorgeous hue is a darker burgundy red, meaning if vibrant orange tones aren’t your thing, this may just be. Pick this up in your local Boots store, online at Amazon or ASOS, or even at Matalan, where you’ll still get change from a tenner.

The verdict: Red lipstick

For those who love a true red with a hint of orange, you can’t beat Charlotte Tilbury’s gorgeous “tell Laura” shade, which features a comfort matte formula and an eye-catching tone. If you prefer a deeper red, Mac’s “Russian red” is the one for you, and is worth passing “ruby woo” over for. Trust us.

Voucher codes

For the latest discounts on make-up and other beauty offers, try the links below:

Looking for a new lip gloss? Read our roundup of the best lip glosses for the perfect pout, from plumping to pigmented formulas

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.

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