As hard as you may have tried, learning the ins and outs of color theory in order to successfully purchase a new lipstick simply never happens. Most of us know if we look better in pinks than reds, but getting into the nitty gritty of blue tones and warm versus cool often evades us.
So, in true Fashionista style, we created a step-by-step lipstick shopping guide for a variety of skin tones, illustrated by some of our favorite models.* For some extra advice from the experts, we turned to MAC Cosmetics's Director of Makeup Artistry Romero Jennings and Maybelline makeup artist Erin Parsons, who told us which shades would look best on the ladies below based on their complexions — and which ones to avoid altogether.
Whether you happen to look most like Gigi Hadid or you veer more into Maria Borges's territory, the next time you hit up a lip counter, you'll know exactly what to stock up on.
If you're a Natalie, Jennings told us that the pairing of red hair and fair skin usually looks best with a peach/coral lip tone. But, he also added that with new lip textures and technology, it's easier to pull off pink and plum shades, too. "Plum would look most natural on her, but the coral/orange tones are still more popular," Jennings noted. He advised easing into the look by choosing a sheer lip color first, as an orange may be too strong, but could be built upon. Parsons echoed this by suggesting a match to her natural lip tone — not a nude, but adding a slight flush of color.
While we all wish we could be Gigi (with Zayn on our arm, natch) alas, we'll just have to settle with matching her lip colors — if you're so blessed with her skin tone. Parsons (who does Gigi's makeup regularly) told us that she loves a nude lip, but is willing to go bright, too. She has a skin tone that allows her to be flexible in her range of colors, but should steer clear of anything too grey or greige — like Maybelline's new ColorSensational Gone Greige (out this summer) — a tone that would look better on darker skin. Jennings also added that really bright shades could be overpowering, but a mauve nude brown like MAC’s Velvetease Lip Pencil in Aim to Please ($20) would be really flattering.
If you align with bombshell Victoria's Secret model Sara Sampaio, who originally hails from Portugal, then reach for a plum lip shade, like MAC’s Sultana Patentpolish Lip Pencil ($20). Jennings told us this color would accent both her skin and her dark hair; someone with this skin tone should look for shades with blue and plum undertones to balance the darker hair. Parsons added that due to the olive in the skin, you'll want to stay away from any of the trendy grey lipsticks right now, but you could even give oranges a shot — the key is to stay on the warmer side of the color spectrum to make it work.
If you have a lot of warmth and golden tones to your skin like Irina (who Parsons says is identical to J.Lo in tone) warm corals will look great on you — but both artists warned to be careful in the pink territory. Parsons noted that true reds, oranges and soft corals would work for this tone. Jennings told us that a metallic coral lipstick or a bold red like MAC Red ($17) would be flattering as well.
Parsons described Lais as that perfect café au lait skin tone — being a bit more beige than "warm" or "cool" — and we have to agree. For this complexion, there is room to play: Both Jennings and Parsons agreed that peach shades, browns, plums, metallics and even pinks would work well. Jennings also added that looking for skin-toned lip shades like MAC Lipstick in Pander Me ($17), which is a peachy mocha, is a good bet, or to dress up for a night, a metallic plum like Odyssey ($17) would work well, too.
If you consider yourself a Joan (lucky you!) you'll have a similar pick of the lipstick litter as Lais, says Parsons (who frequently does Joan's makeup as well) but your tone is a bit on the warmer side. As we all know, Joan wears both nude lips and bold shades, but both Parsons and Jennings agree that she looks her best in plums, reds and nudes — noting to steer clear of matte pinks.
For a deeper tone like Maria, often the issue is finding a lipstick that is opaque enough, notes Parsons. "I think sometimes it's about the application, too — if you're going to have a color that's not going to show up, then it's just about the sheerness of the product." Instead, look for intense pigments for statement lips. Both Jennings and Parsons agreed that for this tone anything from a deep plum like Maybelline Colorsensational Deepest Cherry ($5.50) to a vibrant red would work. You could certainly give chocolate browns or a nude lip a try, but stay away from any grey tones or it will make your skin look, well, grey.
For darker skin tones similar to runway stunner Aamito Lagum, the struggle of finding a lipstick that actually shows up is real. Fortunately, most colors can complement this tone well, from bold purple hues to vivid reds. Jennings told us the most important factor is that the coverage of the lipstick is not sheer, so that if there is unevenness to the tone it won't show through. His suggestion? Always using a lip pencil, such as MAC's Nightmoth or the universal Chestnut pencil ($16.50), as the base over the entire lip.
*Disclaimer: Keep in mind that this is just a handy guide to help you find which babe you're closest to in tone to making shopping a little bit easier. We know that we are not all Joans or Gigis and that these women do not represent every skin tone in the world.