Monday, June 27, 2011

The Nude Makeup Invasion

Part 2 of the "I Don't Get It" series.

Photo credit: Three Custom Colors
Warning: This article may be polarizing. I apologize in advance for offending dear readers who love nude lipsticks. I'll take the risk in forging ahead because I. Just. Don't. Get. It.

Photo credit: Three Custom Colors
Really? A must have? One lipstick for ALL skin tones? Um ... I'll pass, m'kay thanks, and buh-bye.

To be sure, the models in Three Custom Colors' ad are beautiful--in fact, I think the model in the center is the makeup artist, Lauren Napier, who designed the Nude Attitude lipstick, and she's stunning in her nudity.

If I appear to be picking on 3CC, I assure you I am not. Three Custom make skin-flattering makeup for a wide variety of skin tones, and they did an outstanding job duplicating a beloved discontinued lipstick for me. I applaud what they do.  But I slam on the brakes for silly putty.

If you're over 40 you know what this is
Why do so many beautiful women want to wash out all their features and wear--what appears to me--concealer as lipstick? Especially matte nude lipstick. I don't get it.

I'm a happy proponent of the "no-makeup" makeup look. I wear natural-looking makeup that extends colors found naturally in my skin, hair, eyes, lips, teeth, freckles, teeth, hair, veins, blood, bruises, and so on. It's one reason I like Three Custom Colors, Ellis Faas, Laura Mercier, Bobbi Brown, Edward Bess, Jane Iredale, Chantecaille, BECCA, and other brands that provide "naturalists" with plenty of options, letting us fly under the radar. As far as truly natural goes, how many of us have literally no pigmentation in our lips? Who among us wants our lips to match our chin, and why do some of us so ardently erase all traces of natural lip pigmentation with a primer or concealer, just so we can wear a lipstick that is lighter than our lips?

Flame me with comments if you must, but I find that nude lips can make us look exhausted. If you want to wear dramatic eyeshadow and play down your lips, what about just wearing clear gloss or balm over your own natural beauty? Or what about wearing a lip color with a teensy bit more pigment that your own natural color and then blotting it down to a stain?

Let's look at a well-known celabrity whose nude lips are internationally celebrated and imitated:

When I compare the above image to one where she's got a spot more color, I can't help but think she looks more awake, healthier, prettier with more pigment on her lips:

In the second photo, she looks like someone I'd want to know, whereas if I saw her walking down the street in that first picture, I doubt I'd even look twice because everything about her blends together into one big bucket of beige.

I believe that the women who look good in nude lips are those with low contrast between their skin, lips/eyes, and (ideally) their natural hair color: Heather Locklear, Naomi Watts, Beyonce, Reese Witherspoon, Halle Berry (although the whites of Halle's eyes might make her higher contrast), Kate Hudson, Nicole Richie, Renee Zellweger, Gwyneth Paltrow, Rhianna, Taylor Swift, etc.

Jennifer Lopez is not low contrast. At a minimum, she's medium, and probably even high with no tan.

J-Lo looks beautiful in both of the following pictures, but when she wears nude lipstick, the bottom half of her face disappears into her neck. On the other hand, the red lipstick—while dramatic and too high in chroma—brightens her face. Whether it's the lipstick, the lighting, the face-softening curl, or the photographer's skills, Jennifer looks happier in the red, more confident, more approachable. The image on the left is demurely "ice princess" and aloof, not as approachable. Of course, that well may be the point.

Photo credit
As for the low contrast women I mentioned above, I don't think nude lipstick is a good look on Gwyneth Paltrow, either. A touch more pigment in a shiny peached-rose lipstick would be outstanding against her complexion.

Photo credit Harper's Bazaar
I am biased toward reds and roses, so it should come as no surprise that I can't help but view each of the following women as needlessly beige. They don't have to wear a Hollywood red, and the lipstick need not be much darker than what they're wearing below. As an example, I'd apply a sheer coral on Carrie, clear, warm rose on Taylor, and a blushed peach on Gwyneth. All three could easily wear a clear red, but it would have to be sheer so as not to overpower their natural lightness. 

Photo credit:
Let's take a look at another actress who is celebrated for her nude lips: Angelina Jolie. I realize it can be hard to find fault with anything about her face, so let's just pick on the nude lips. I think she looks a little tired and bland.

Photo credit
And here she is playing up her pouty lips for all they are worth. I'd skip the gloss, which makes the red too high in chroma for her soft coloring, but she wears the pigment well, especially because her other makeup (brown eyeshadow and eyeliner) is so understated. It's a great, minimalist look with a powah pop of color. I suppose she plays down her lips because they are already so dominant on her face.

Which look do you prefer?

Photo credit
Angelina's hair is darker on the left, so perhaps if she wore the red in that image and wore the nude in the photo on the right, where her hair is lighter, her chosen makeup colors would harmonize more with her face. The red is also too warm (orange) for her cool-neutral coloring.

Although this article has been a decry against nude lipstick, I want to be clear that, even though I love red lips and truly believe there is a red for everyone—whether it's brick or strawberry or tomato or watermelon or coral or raspberry—it is important to consider the temperature of our skin's undertone (hue), chroma (level of saturation) and value (whether we are light, dark, or somewhere in between) to find our best red ... or nude.

If you are a great admirer of Angelina's softer look, she is purportedly a huge fan of Chantecaille’s Brilliant Lip Gloss in Charm (almost always out of stock) and Love. Charm is a nude-peach shade with a hint of shimmer. Love contains a hint more pink.

I'd love to know your thoughts about the nude invasion, so speak freely.


  1. I think even the weird looking nude lips work with a really well-done dramatic eyes, but not everyone can pull it off as you've noted. As for Angelina, I read somewhere that she prefers nude lips to tone down the natural redness to de-emphasize her lips which can take over her face with the wrong colours. I guess it's a good strategy but gets boring since she rarely deviates from it. Her mortal enemy Jennifer Aniston is also guilty of the constant boring nude lips.

    Personally, I'm not into overly bright lips but I also prefer not to look like a corpse!

  2. I completely agree - in nature if your lips are that pale, you're probably midst-exsanguination and that's not a good look in my book (I'm so pale my natural skin tone is almost blue and even I have a flush of rosy colour to my lips unless I'm just about to faint)
    Jo :-)

  3. Amen to that!
    Not a word that I would change in your entire post. Not to mention that the look only feeds on the whole porn star aesthetic -perhaps good for Pamela Anderson, but rather ridiculous outside the context.
    Have a great week ahead!
    Nina x

  4. I adore 3 Custom Colors but had the same reaction when I saw their nude lip campaign. In eighth grade, I was the mistress of that look. It was a phase that I fortunately realized did not suit me. Today, I favor my lips with many shades & textures, but never to the extent of washing out a feature.

    Excellent observations regarding nude lips and contrast. Spot on.

  5. Jo, my skin is like yours. I joke about being fish-belly white, but I have that northern European flush so my skin is more like skim strawberry milk. Heh. I used to think my lips were pale, but they actually aren't. They and my natural dark ash blonde hair color are what allows me to wear more contrast.

  6. Angela, I agree completely that there are many suitable textures and colors. There are probably plenty of women who look great in nudes if they aren't making their lips Pepto Bismal pink; the images of Taylor Swift that I stuck in my post is one that surprised me, but her skin is *so* fair.

  7. I'm going to stick my neck out further and posit that overly-bright, dramatic red lips tend to look best on younger skin and/or on women with very high contrast, like Paloma Picasso, Diana Vreeland, and so on.

    I'm not ageist. Hell, I am among the aging hordes, so this is my opinion based solely on my observations of makeup on my own skin and on the women around me. Obviously we all should wear what the love--and I love red lipstick--but as I get older and my features begin to fade and lose definition, I find that clear or sheer reds are the prettiest, otherwise, I feel like the deeply-pigmented colors are wearing me, and people are thinking, "Here come Zuzu's lips" when I walk into a room.

    So I guess bright red is the other extreme from pale nude. I swing toward red because, in nature, such color is not totally out of the question and it brings to mind vibrant health, whereas, as Jo says, pale nude looks look like a vampire's victim.

    A few months ago, I wore one of my favorite matte red lipsticks to work. My only other makeup that day was a soft wash of taupe eyeshadow on my lids and a little mascara on the upper lashes only, but as I was talking to a colleague, I noticed his eyes were riveted to my mouth. I felt surprised, especially when, as the morning wore on, I noticed that other people were watching my mouth instead of looking me in the eye. Since I want to be taken seriously at my job (and I do NOT work in high fashion or in any aspect of the business), I did not wear that red to work again. But I found the same red in a cashmere scarf that I wore a lot instead!

    I realize that makeup is art, but my days of making a statement with my makeup are past. No matter what products I choose to wear on any given day, I want people to notice me, not my makeup. I'd rather have someone say, "You look [ pretty | happy | well rested | ... ] today instead of, "I really like that lipstick."

  8. Nude looks totally wash me out. I NEED some colour to my lipstick/gloss. I like a subtle lip with just a hint of colour that a lot of these looks are sporting. It is the "concealer lips" as you say that drive me nuts. I don't find it attractive at all. Especially in a matte finish.

  9. I was around to play with silly putty when it was all the rage and have recently had the first major rethink of my makeup in my life. I used to love red lipstick and brit eyeshadow but as zu zu said as my features have softened I just can't get away with it any more, which doesn't mean going too far in the other direction along with the actors and singers who are all about my age.

    I do think the beige lip works on the very young and glossy, Caggy Dunlop for example, but agree that because of those few successes it is taken on by far too
    many who Just can't get away with it.

  10. Just to throw in some complexities:

    (1) For some women, nude lipstick is a signature look, and for a celebrity like J.Lo, a signature look is a critical part of her image, more important than what is flattering or appropriate.
    (2) "Nude" has a variable definition. Some of the low-contrast women you've featured are in the type of pinky-nude that's really their natural lip tone enhanced (including Angelina Jolie), rather than concealer lips.
    (3) Concealer lips are actually a dramatic, not natural look, but passive-aggressive. Any dramatic element is difficult to pull off, but with red lipstick, because it's so obvious, people are more wary and careful about its execution. With nudes, people can get careless.

    As for myself, red lipstick all the way. I suck the life out of pigment. Without bright color, people ask me if I'm ill. But in my experience, it's a very personal preference.

  11. I like the way the model on the left looks in the 3CC Nude color. But I don't consider that a nude; to me a nude lip color is generally unflattering as it's usually a beige tone. If the color has some pink and shine to it. I prefer a lighter color to a darker one (on me, that is).

    I prefer Angelina's look with the darker hair and lighter lips.

  12. Hi

    I'm one of *those* that loves and feels the most comfortable in lighter lips. I however don't care for colors that resemble a *peach* Crayola Crayon(and trust me I have a few of those stinkers in my drawer).

    My poor brain cannot compute a *nude* matte lip either, it's just not flattering on anyone. I like the lighter lip look on Angelina- but really she could wear a Hefty bag and look fantastic!

    So is that Silly Putty or Bubble Yum? x

  13. Oh, what an eloquent ode to red lipstick!!! Love it!!

    Sadly, I am one of the few who truly doesn't have pigment in my lips. If I go out with no lipstick or just a hint of gloss, people think I'm ill. Literally...they ask me if I'm feeling okay. Sigh.

    My response? Red is my signature color, and deep and vibrant lip colors are my signature, period. At the moment, I'm loving the purples and oranges for summer, but all winter, it's red with a capital R. With my very pale skin and dark hair and eyes, it works, and I'm sticking to it, regardless of what the makeup mavens of the world tell me is en vogue. That's a benefit of getting can eschew the trends for what truly looks best on YOU and not worry about it.

    I took note of the press picture from 3CC, and noted that they do NOT have all skin tones represented...there is nobody fair in that picture. I'm wondering if they tried and failed and cut her out of the shot.

    In any case, I disagree with the concept of "one shade fits all" anyhow. How is that any fun? The joy of makeup is finding what works for YOU individually and running with it...not choosing a cookie-cutter shade and hoping for the best.

    Just my (rather vehement, I guess) opinion. Bottom line: if you can get away with nude lips, go for it. For me, the deeper and brighter the better!


  14. I have low-contrast coloring and the best description of me in pale lips is either "Death Eating a Cracker" or "Chinless". Dain's characterization of nude lips as passive-aggressive made me LOL and is perfect.

    Red lips may look best on younger women, but I don't care. I am, however, a fan of blotting said lipstick. It took me years to get up the nerve to wear red lipstick on a daily basis and I ain't giving it up now! :D

  15. Munichjoolz, I had a makeup awakening 2 years ago and it was kind of depressing. I'd never given a second thought to the formulations I was purchasing before that--I just chose colors I liked. Even then I was never terribly adventurous--preferring very cool taupe or plummy grey/beige eyeshadows and rose lips that leaned more red than pink. I owned one Px lip gloss 10 years ago and then did not buy another one until last year! Anyway, I found my happy place, and I can still wear my killah reds--I just blot them down to a stain and top with lip balm now.

  16. Dain, your post made me laugh and also brought up some good points. Maybe I liked Taylor's photo because her lips are more pink-tinged nude as opposed to flesh nude. Angelina tints her lips peach or pink, as well. That said, I don't really understand holding onto an image that no longer (or maybe never) works.

  17. shannon, you may be fair of pigment in the lip department, but you have that lovely high contrast to pull off any look you like. I guess that means you could also do nude, but I get the feeling you won't. :)

    As for makeup media telling us what to do, there is always an angle, usually a profit-based one, so I pay attention to what makes me feel comfortable, and I hope everyone else does, too, but I know that the media can make so many of us feel less than. I have never been one to follow makeup trends, though I do get sucked into the new collections. So if I buy something from a hot new collection, it will be because I'd have liked the color anyway.

    As an aside, you could not make my corpse wear Chanel Mimosa. (Though I wore Vamp--both lips and nails--for years!)

  18. Veuve, "chinless" made me chortle! Did I say low contrast women shouldn't wear brights? If so I must have been momentarily deranged, and I'd edit my post if it didn't feel like cheating. I think Gwennie and Cate and other low-contrasting women look gorgeous in red lips, and so do you!

    When I made my remark that some might interpret as ageist, I was thinking more along the lines of a few of the women on the Advanced Beauty blog, who while stylish and attractive ... let's just say that I haven't been a 100% fan of ALL of the bright red mouths. I just think that when our lips thin and we develop deep vertical lines above and below our mouths, it takes some very very careful application for really pigmented lipstick to look good, that's all.

    Will I still wear red lipstick into my 80s? Hell yes. Red is *my* signature; I just miss wearing it the way I used to.

  19. Great discussion, havemto add though, i can't stop thinking about silly putty now! Does anyone remember the wierd way that it used to come in a clamshell packet with a diagram showing how you could lift the ink from a comic book? I always wondered why you would want to, and wouldn't it ruin the putty?

  20. Silly Putty! That shiny fleshy look and that awful smell. And, yes, I totally smooshed it onto the face of the Sunday "funnies" and lifted off the print. Eventually the putty took on a dirty tinge. I think you could also roll it into ball and bounce it. Fun times before the internet. ;)

  21. By the way, Munichjoolz, what is brit eyeshadow?

  22. I'm not a fan of concealer lips but I think lighter lips can look fab on the right people.

  23. Wow I am late to post. I have to be careful with brightly colored lips, it brings out my cheeks so I use subtle cheek color if my lips are bright. I use nude when I want my cheek color to be the attention and not my lips. I also couldn't stand how mauvey pink they tend to be when I wear nothing and the nude tones just brought that down to a beige pink.

  24. Oops. I meant bright eyeshadow (I've always loved green and blue) flippin' ipad.
    Being a Brit though I wish there were such a thing as Brit eyeshadow x

  25. Sheer peachy nudes (eg. Chantecaille Anais Lip Chic, NARS Tonga Lip Pencil) that tone down the dark pigment in my lips, or perhaps add a hint of gloss, are the only kind I wear. Matte nudes on me are unthinkable, and not only make me look sickly, but never apply evenly because my naturally dark lips inevitably will peek through. The first type of "nude", something that doesn't cover up your natural lip colour, just enhances or brightens it a little, is flattering on most people. The latter is almost never a good look on anybody. It's rarely used even on the catwalk; I think it's just a crazy celebrity thing.

  26. It has occurred to me that perhaps these celebrities want to blend into the background. I can't imagine what it must be like to be them, to be recognized everywhere.

  27. This is a very interesting post. I for one wear a nude lip almost every day. I must have hundreds of different ones. It honestly looks great on me and I constantly get compliments on how amazingly it looks and/or how great my skin glows. I think the key to a perfect nude lip is finding the perfect one for YOU. If in fact you wear certain colors you risk the horror of looking washed out! I work in the beauty industry and honestly I've tried every brand of lipstick you can think in every color but nude (on me) looks great. I think it really depends on your makeup overall as well. Really dramatic eyes looks perfect with a nude lip and natural looking eyes looks great with red or hot pink. Nice post. I'm new to your blog and to blogging and I'm happy to have found yours :-)

  28. Hi Kristine, thanks for the lovely comments. Well, I stand corrected. If nude is what you are wearing in your profile picture, you should never wear anything else. It is a perfect look for you. :)

  29. LIke Kristine, I think the right nude for your color tone looks fantastic. The problem is finding just the right one. I have a drawer full of the wrong ones.

  30. Another exciting entry =). I don't have an earth-shattering comment, but I have to say I'm a nude lover! It's interesting how different tastes are--- I actually like the looks in the photos you posted (Angelina, Carrie, etc.), though I'm not a fan of the J.Lo nude lip. I think the important thing is to switch things up with nudes, reds, etc. from time to time.

  31. My mother used to say to me (and still does if she happens to catch me leaving the house without lipstick): "You need to have some colour on your lips! You look sickly." Obviously, she would never ever approve of the nude lip look. I've flirted with that look a couple of times but let's face it. It just does not look right on 90% of us. Still, I might flirt with it again in the future but deep down, I know I'll always end up looking like a corpse. Period.

  32. i do agree that most nude lips tend to be overdone and wash out people to make them look more corpse-like. however, that being said i do like the occasional nude lip. that first picture of j-lo is just a makeup fail picture imo and quite possibly one of the most unflattering pics i've ever seen in general xD i think nude lips are like red lips and have a variety of undertones which you need to wade through to find the one that matches your skintone. there's nudes that are more pink, more beige, more brown, etc i will venture to say many people are wearing the wrong nude lip color for them and that's what makes it so strange. that and it's a harder look to pull off than people think. however, i find with extremely dramatic eye makeup nude lips are a good balance to the look since it keeps the attention on the eyes. as in the case of angelina jolie i think that her lips are already a strong feature and emphasizing that feature does overpower all other features of her face and thus nude lipstick does help downplay her lips. and i think you might disagree but i think kim kardashian does the nude lip well and she's definitely not pale at all. she's actually one of the people that got me into the trend and kind of helped it rise xD

  33. I think whether nude lips work for you is also a function of your facial features. Kim Kardashian and Barbara Streisand have perfected the nude look but they very strong, defined features that don't need help from bright colours. My face looks rather like a bun, pale with chubby cheeks and small features. If I don't wear a fairly strong colour in lipstick and blush, I look pasty and featureless. Too much eye makeup obliterates my eyes. Mauvey neutrals and medium pinks (I still can't do red) on my cheeks and lips give my face contour and depth. I'm quite fair but MAC Sophisto is my go-to MLBB. Love it. In general, unless you have fabulous bone structure, a little colour is best.

    1. I hadn't thought of bone structure, but it's an excellent point.

      I recently tried nude again (or my version of it), even though my inner grump rails against it. I bought Dior Incognito, a greyed-down pink purely because the nail polish of the same name was so finger lengthening on me.

      I almost like it. If my skin were more pale, instead of the rosiness I have, it would work. I'm keeping it anyway. It will be my tribute to nude. :^)

  34. Haha (putty face) ... yes I think sometimes folks can get swept away with the 'in' thing. I admit, I do dabble with 'nude colours' because I find that they err on the more safer side of makeup for me + it takes less to maintain.For instance ... when a red lip bleeds its obvious whereas when a nude lips slides - no one's the wiser ;) ... have I made a ground breaking discovery for the trend? :O

  35. The first picture of j.lo is honestly the least flattering of her ever....
    she doesn't look good in the one with red lips either-from real life, actually she looks like a clown...some can pull off dark eyes and red lips at the same time but she'd look way better if she paired those lips with a simple cat eyeliner.
    she looks better in the l'oreal ad because she is photoshoped and also cause she is wearing black on her waterlines-she's the kind of person that looks good either with precise and smoky eyes or with almost naked eyes, not an in betwheen.

    I think she looks perfect with orange toned nude lips-tho the second nude-pink look of hers isn't horrible, here's some pics in which she looks very nice with nude lips:

    Angelina looks bad in that second red lipstick picture-no eyeshadow, no blush, too overpowering on her and it makes her huge lips look even bigger whereas with the natural lipgloss she looks nice(that's really NOT a pale nude, it's just 70% her lipcolor plus the gloss' color; what makes her look weird in the first pale lipgloss one is the orange foundation.

    Carrie, Taylor and Gwyneth's lip colors are supeeer flattering in that pic of all 3....those are not even that nude, more like some light mlbb shades.

    indeed, G doesn't look good in that nude pic. the eyeshadow is not dark enough to balance the pale lips and the lips are too yellowy, she looks better in the other pic.

  36. Dior Incognito isn't even a nude on pale skin-more like a natural light or even light-medium on very very pale girls lip color. It looks cute, I googled it. I guess it would be a nude on J. Lo. when she isn't wearing a lot of bronzer like in that first pic or someone around that range of skintones, more or less lighter, maybe.

    1. Hi artemis, thanks for the comments! I re-read my article, and I can see that the photos I referenced were neither fair nor representative, given the different lighting in the comparison shots, as well as the rampant photoshopping that goes on for PR stills. I also found that I actually do like the lighter lipsticks on the three blondes toward the end. I'd still brighten their faces, though. ;)

      I am very pale (NW15) and Incognito was, unfortunately, a ghastly nude on me. I was disappointed because it really is a beautiful color. I suspect it didn't work because I am higher contrasting than most "Summer" skin types; my lips are fairly pigmented, my brows are dark, and my hair is light Ash brown, but all of those against my strawberry milk skin create the illusion of contrast, so it makes sense that I prefer a bit of contrast on lips.

      I read somewhere that we should choose our lipstick so that its value is no darker than our eyebrows. That makes sense; it means the face is in balance/harmony, and it seems like a good rule of thumb, unless we're going for A Look.


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