Warm, Cool, Red Lipstick

I think a lot of people have trouble looking at a color and knowing if it’s warm or cool. (I wouldn’t even say I’m great at it, but I’ve had a lot of practice looking at colors.) And knowing whether your own skintone is warm or cool? That’s advanced studies.

Eons ago I had this idea to do a post — with warm browns and cool browns, warm greys and cool greys, warm reds and cool reds, to illustrate the differences. It was such a massive undertaking that I never finished it. But since I was recently swatching warm and cool red lipsticks anyway, I thought maybe taking on one color family at a time would be a good way to get that project done.

Warm reds (sometimes called yellow reds) have orange tones. I tried to swatch shades that were still red, without crossing over into being orange. (Hourglass Raven, for instance, is so warm it’s nearly orange.)
MAC, Brave Red, Smashbox, Legendary, NYX, Eros, Bobbi Brown Vintage Red, Dior, 999 Ara Red, Estee Lauder, Spanish Red, swatches
Cool reds are blue-reds. I’ve gotten to the point where I can usually swipe a lipstick on my skin and see the blue around the edges. But a good way to check is to swatch it next to something you KNOW is warm or cool. It’s like holding a pair of pants up to something black to see if they’re black or navy.
MAC, Ruby Woo, Bobbi Brown, Hollywood Red, NYX, Electra, Estee Lauder, Rich Red, Rouge d'Armani 400, Make Up For Ever, Moulin Rouge, swatches
I dislike the term “true red,” because I’ve found everyone uses it to mean something different.

And warmness or coolness is a spectrum, not a binary decision. You can have two warm reds and one will probably be slightly cooler than the other. I’m sure we could also find shades that are neutral (not particularly warm or cool), but I can’t think of one off the cuff.

So which red should you be wearing? One of the most common diagnostic methods recommends looking at the veins in your wrist to see if they’re blue or green. Well I’ll be damned if mine don’t look blue-green. I find the “jewelry method” a lot more helpful. Think of your necklaces. If you look better in gold, you prefer warm tones; if you wear silver, you look better in cool. I prefer gold jewelry, and sure enough, blue-toned lipsticks make me look like a vampire (not the cute kind).

Does that mean a warm girl can’t wear a cool lipstick? Of course not. And just because I like warm reds doesn’t mean I like every warm red. Lady Danger is very warm, but it’s so bright that I feel it overwhelms my (fair) skintone.

You could write a book on warm and cool colors, or how to choose a red lipstick, or how to wear that red lipstick once you’ve chosen it. There’s a lot more to talk about, so I hope you’ll consider this post part of our ongoing discussion.

Click here for an older post about warm and cool skintones, and how that translates into your MAC shade.

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22 Responses to “Warm, Cool, Red Lipstick”

  • Shayla says:

    It *is* possible to be neutral-toned yourself, as well. I have a friend who’s an image consultant, and she came to that conclusion with me. It’s kind of daunting at first, but at the same time, a neutral gal can get away with wearing almost anything!

  • lazeny says:

    I believe anybody can wear both warm and cool tones regardless of their undertone. I have light olive skin tone, if I’m out in the sun too long I’m often told I’m yellow, because my skin tone can become very sallow. But I can wear both warm and cool red lipstick, and a large range of colors shades both warm and cool except for shades of white, lighter shades of gray and cool pink.

  • Only cool red lipsticks for me. Nothing warm. I’m pure cool undertone and I look horrible with anything that has warm undertone. :)

    At the moment, I like Chanel Rouge Alluer Lacque in Dragon <3

  • Lisa says:

    One more way to tell warm v cool is which colors make you look better without makeup: pinks, cool whites, and grays or peaches, creams, and beiges.

  • Shadowy Lady says:

    I wear both warm and cool reds depending on my mood but if I were to not to think about it too hard, I’d reach for a cool red. I have neutral undertone leaning cool (MAC NW25)

  • KarlaSugar says:

    Vesna, you are my opposite. Chanel Dragon Rouge Allure Laque was exactly the shade I had in mind when I said cool reds make me look like a vampire. :)

  • Phyrra says:

    Lovely post! I had my undertones done and I’v got creamy undertones with a bit of beige, a touch of peach, and a dash of yellow, as well as a pink overtone. This is why I look best in neutral foundations and awful in pink foundations or peach foundations. I definitely favor blue-based reds, but I find I can pull off warmer ones, too.

  • Adelita says:

    It’s kinda strange, I’m a medium deep (NC37) girl with strong golden-olive undertones but every warm red lipsticks looks tacky on me! (out of topic: I can’t even wear peachy/coral, lip colors)
    On a contrary, all of my fave blushes are warm tones. Cool blushes looks awful on me like really, really fake.

    So, yaayyyy cool red lipstick!!! :D

  • Evelyn says:

    I’m one of the odd ones who loves to wear both silver and gold. I tend to prefer cool toned reds even though probably warm reds suit me better. I do like the teeth whitening properties of wearing a cooler toned lipstick.

  • Marta says:

    For the most part cool colours look terrible on me, but when it comes to red lipstick both cool and warm tones look great. For some reason, red is the perfect lipstick colour for me (in almost all possible tones and variations).

  • Jennifer says:

    I am NC20 (MAC). I find Cool Reds to be the most flattering on me (whether bright, midtone, or deep). I also like some Brown based reds like MAC’s Viva glam 1 and Dubonnet. I also dig pink based reds on me.

    I can’t wear warm reds like Orange-Reds, especially if the orange is really apparent. I find “True Reds” to look slightly on the clownish side on me, but I can work them, but I’d rather not have to.

    I have med/dark brown hair, green eyes, NC20 skintone.
    I love: MAC: Russian Red, Viva Glam 1, Dubonnet, Ruby Woo, New York Red Apple, VIva Glam Cyndi, Brick O La.
    Benefit’s “Wild Card” lipstick, Estee Lauder’s Red Apple lipstick.
    The one Red-pink one from the Marcel Wanders collection (Gorgeous).

  • Jennifer says:

    P.S. Yellow based reds look crazy on me too. I have a hard time wearing MAC’s Cockney. Also “Heartless” from VV collection by MAC is hard for me to wear too.

    I have med/dark brown hair, green eyes, NC20 skintone.

  • Cat says:

    Thank you for this post, Karla! I would also love to see a post on warm/cool browns and especially warm/COOL greys, which are hard to find I think.
    I know, I am cool toned, but I`m always gravitated towards warm tones (especially lipsticks). They don`t suit me, I try to avoid buying them, but I have a whole bunch of them. So it would also be interesting to see some pretty much ´neutral` colors – which I can pull off, probably like many others as well.

  • sandy says:

    Hi! Thank you so much for this article! I got one of those color analysis books recently and have been adjusting my clothes and it has made a big difference. So for the last month i have been moving on to make up! I love mac and have so far got my lipsticks set except for reds! I love chilli ….. since i am an autumn. But now i am addicted to finding more mac reds that will work for my warm skin tone (medium golden brown hair green eyes). So long story short i was hoping to get your advice on warm mac reds. I have tried on many and its so hard to tell if something is warm or not in person or on my lips.. thanks for any help!

  • Mary Beth says:

    I’ like to see you do posts about warm and cool browns and Greyson also.

  • Janine says:

    It’s interesting, I could tell you were warm as soon as I looked at the lipsticks on your arms! The warm ones look red and the cool ones look bluey-red and a little odd. Fascinating! :)

  • luxlux says:

    Love this post! It’s so true, also. You only need to look up the reviews of red lipstick (its always reds!) on Makeup Alley to see how subjective warm/cool sometimes is.

    And I totally agree about Lady Danger- I’m total cool-toned, but sometime’s it’s really fun to go for something lurid and clashy and a little bit draining, just for shock value I guess:)

  • This is a great article. I am a professional colour analyst and think you have done an amazing job of explaining this. In my experience most of us have a definable cool or warm bias though some very few look good in both. That is because we are all a mix of three values in colour but all of us have a different dominant – there are up to 24 key types. I am Clear, Warm and Deep (bright blue eye, warm dark hair, creamy pale skin) and my outstanding colouring is in the clarity of my colour – the tone is a secondary issue and depth the tertiary element of my colouring. But others will be very strongly warm or cool and this will be their dominant. For example red haired women or silver haired women – as a generic example.

    Tone: warm or cool
    Depth: light or deep
    Clairty: clear or soft

    I like to think of these top tips in selecting make up:

    Cool – you are likely to have skin like white milk or have a blueness to dark hair or dark skin – there will be no red hues if you saw your hair in bright sunlight. You will look blended in Silver jewellery but Gold will look dramatic on you.

    Warm – you are likely to have skin like cream or have a redness to dark hair or yellow/creaminess to dark/olive skins. You will look blended in Gold jewellery but Silver will look dramatic on you.

    And: Cools who wear warm make up tones will look older than their years. Warms who wear cool colours risk looking doll or clown like.

    I’m a warm but too orange/red just looks bad on me. My preference is to bluish red lipstick but then I quite like the cute more doll like look. My all time favourites YSL & Sheseido reds do have warm undertones but do not look at all on the orange spectrum.

    Hope that adds to your thoughts. Would love to read more. Love Lady MB x

  • Danitza says:

    great article! so happy to find it!

  • Nikki says:

    One of the best ways to determine whether a red lipstick is warm or cool is by swatching it on your hand/arm then rubbing it off as much as possible. You’ll see whether the red is built on pink/fuchsia (cool) or peach/coral (warm). This will also give you a preview of how the color will look as it wears off.

  • Jenna says:

    I usually go for the warmer red tones, but there is that occasion where I go for the cooler one. I love the orange hints of the warm reds, especially the NYX Eros which is definitely one my faves. Great info in this post by the way!

  • Ruby says:

    Grrrrrreat post! Really helpful.

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