Despite the countless Pinterest hacks and advice segments on the topic—some helpful but laborious, and some NSFS (not suitable for Sephora), like uh, whipping out your nipple to swatch a shade match—nude lipstick is notoriously tough to pull off. Not because it looks good on only a few people but because choosing the right nude for you can be kind of a nightmare. (See previous.)
Plus, people have some strong opinions about the stuff. (Remember how the world basically stopped spinning when Gwen Stefani eschewed her staple red and wore a nude lipstick at this year’s Billboard Music Awards? The horror!). But nude lipsticks are valuable to have in your makeup bag. Sure, they look pretty, but you can also use them to balance a dramatic eye look or, like Stefani, wear them to take a breather from your go-to pop of color. Here’s how to find nudes you can use.
Best If You Have: Fair Skin
Try: Maybelline Color Sensational Creamy Matte Lip Color in Clay Crush ($6)
Like most things in life, the trick to finding the perfect nude shade for fair skin tones comes down to balance. If your lips tend to be more beige-y in tone, go for lipstick with pink or peach tones. Conversely, if you have naturally pink lips, you can go for something with a little more beige, says celebrity makeup artist Mai Quynh, who counts Chloë Grace Moretz and Emma Roberts among her clients. “If you go too similar to your skin color, it washes you out,” she explains.
When you’re out buying one in IRL (which you should be—more on that below), you should always test it on your hands. But while most of us may usually swatch lipsticks on the backs of our hands, it’s better to use your palms or fingertips for a nude lipstick. “There’s more blood there and the skin is more similar to your lips,” says Quynh.
Best If You Have: Medium or Olive Skin
Try: Buxom True Nude Lip Foundation in Bare ($20); Nars Satin Lip Pencil in Isola Bella ($26)
Nudes have this magical ability to give medium skin tones a subtle, just-back-from-vacay glow—no bronzer needed. Warmer shades are always better, says Stephanie Barnes, the go-to makeup artist for actress Priyanka Chopra. “Coral tones are especially great on medium and olive skin tones because they promote a very healthy and youthful look.” The perfect nude shade should enhance your own lip color—and should never, ever be lighter than your actual skin tone.
Also, consider the Internet your BFF. Barnes browses the Web for colors she thinks could be good and only goes to counters when she has a list of shades in hand. “Remember, just because you saw it on social media doesn’t mean it’s going to look the same on you as it did on the person on Instagram or YouTube,” she says. Buying your lipstick in-person (and trying it on beforehand) will save you the trip back to return it.
Best If You Have: Deep Skin
Try: Lancôme L’Absolu Rouge Lipstick in Henne ($31)
Let’s cut right to it: If you have dark skin, you already know most lipsticks labeled “nude” (read: beige) are far from matching your skin tone. If all nudes were truly nude for every woman, we wouldn’t have to be writing this article at all. So ignore shade names, and pick based on what you’re seeing. “If it looks [like a traditional] ‘nude’ in the tube, that means it’ll read too light on your skin,” says celebrity makeup artist Nick Barose (whose clients include Lupita Nyong’o and Gugu Mbatha-Raw). “Rather, look for shades that read like they could really be your lip color.”
Another good way to avoid washing out your lips: Don’t go too matte. If you do, says Barose, it’ll look as though you’re wearing foundation or concealer on your lips, and the overall vibe will be a little The Walking Dead. Instead, go for a satin finish, and stick with this rule: The darker your lips, the richer the shade should be. Berry or bronze undertones tend to be the most flattering—and paired with a sheen, you can’t go wrong.
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