Friday, May 18, 2012

Wearing Red Lipstick... Do You?

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Red lipstick is such an iconic color, but it also one of those colors so many women are hesitant to wear, despite the claim that there is a red for everyone.

I am not a person you'd normally think of as rocking reds: I am fair and pink-skinned with blue-grey-green eyes and mousy dark-blonde hair.  Nevertheless, I love red; I always have. From my mid 20s through most of my 30, I wore red lipstick often and with very little other other makeup, just a smidge of powder, mascara, and--of course--groomed brows. A similar look worked for Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, and as much as I admire her timeless style, I can't say I copied her because I only came to know about her as I was winding down from red.

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I discovered my choice in red lipstick had become a problem for me when, one day at work, a male colleague could not stop looking at my lips when we were talking, not in an "I want to eat you up," way, but more in a "Who let Bozo the Clown in here?" As I left the room, it felt like a collective shout rang out, "Here come Zuzu's lips!"

On some, red lipstick works as a dramatic statement, while on others, red is more harmonious with their skin tone and looks very natural. Still on others, the red wears them. One thing seems certain to me: Either we like/wear red or we don't. There doesn't see to be much middle ground.



When I was a little girl, I saw older women wearing red lipstick, and I always thought they looked so elegant, but when I tried my first lipstick on, I felt like a fraud. It was just so .... RED.  So, much like anything else I had to grow into, like seeing myself in sunglasses or heels or smoking a cigarette (yes, I did), I wore my red lips around the house until I felt comfortable.

I do believe every woman has a red that suits her, but it all comes down to whether she likes it or not.

I like. And I have a few favorite reds to share:

I rarely wear matte reds, certainly not the way I used to. If I choose a pigmented red, I almost always blot it down to a stain, but my strong preference now is a sheer, juicy, cool red. I just like the way it brightens my face and whitens my teeth.

Laura Mercier Gel Lip Colour Sweet Cherry

Whatever the case, it's best that we wear our reds rather than the the red wear us. As a pale person, here are some things I have discovered along the years:
  • Avoid deeply-pigmented dark reds if lips are thin. Dark colors recede, so they can make lips look even thinner. I have found this to be especially true as I have gotten older and the vermilion border is beginning to fade and lie more flat.
  • Consider skin undertones. Cool-toned people generally look their best in blue-based reds and warm-toned people tend to have more flexibility, though orange- or yellow-based reds seem to be the most flattering. 
  • If you look like Snow White, go for it. High-contrast women have all the luck and can get away with wearing more vibrant colors. 
  • If your teeth have yellowed over time, you probably want to stay away from orange- or yellow-based reds. Blue-based reds are tooth brightening. If you and your orange red will go down together with the ship, apply, smile and be honest with yourself about your chompers.
  • Consider the environment/lighting. If you'll be under fluorescent lights or outside, a Gwen Stefani-type red might draw more attention to your lips than you want. Consider something sheer, perhaps even a red-tinted lip balm or gloss. For evening, you can always bring on the more more bold colors. 
  • We all know this bit of advice but it bears repeating: If you wear red lipstick, keep the rest of your face neutral. Unless, you are going for a dramatic look, don't wear a lot of eye makeup. Red lips look best when eyes aren't competing with them, so a light dusting of powder or soft wash of a single eyeshadow that blends into the existing skin tone, like beige or greige, is ideal.
  • If you have a lot of red in your skin around cheeks and nose, you'll want to tone it down first. Use your regular foundation or concealer or powder, as long as the result is natural. 
  • If you are wearing a super-pigmented red, like lipsticks by Julie Hewett or Besame Cosmetics, you'll need precision. These aren't lipsticks you can apply without a mirror, so use a brush or a lip pencil, either in a color that exactly matches your lips or one that exactly matches the lipstick (Julie Hewett is the only one I know of that makes such a match). Fill in the entire lip with the pencil, and then apply the lipstick straight from the tube, blot, reapply, and blot again. To make double sure you don't get any excess red on your teeth, purse your mouth, like you're about to whistle, stick your index finger in, and draw your finger out through your pursed lips. 
  • If you have a really dark lipstick that you love and you want to wear it for day, apply it, blot it all the way down to a stain, and apply a glossy balm on top. Instant sheer lipstick!

Is red your thing? If so, what are your favorites?

45 comments:

  1. Great tips Zuzu!! Red is such a scary lip shade for a lot of people. It's something you need to get used to seeing on your face to feel comfortable. I blot down for most bright lipsticks if I'm wearing them in the day.

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    1. In my 20s, as I began my experimenter, I would wear lipstick at home, so every time I saw myself in the mirror, I would become less and less surprised. I moved my red lips from the house to yard work, and then I'd slick on red lipstick before a 20-to-50-mile bike ride along the coast. I doubt anyone noticed, but I was out in public! From there it became easier until I was wearing red (or my favorite deep rose) lipstick every day.

      Seeing yourself in red lipstick the first time parallels the shock of gazing into the mirror after getting your bangs cut (or shaving off your beard if that's your gender) Suddenly, a portion of your face you'd once largely ignored is under the spotlight. It just takes some getting used to.

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  2. My best feature is my lips so I've always been drawn to a bolder lip. Currently, I'm partial to Julie Hewett's Oona Noir, Delux Beauty (discontinued)& Nars Flamenco. Since we have similar coloring, I flirted with LM Bing Cherry but it didn't suit me. I may need to sample Bad Education. I do love a Nars lip gloss.

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    1. Lucky you to have nice lips, Angela! I have a good bottom lip but almost no top lip, so I have to be careful, and sheer (with some shine) helps prevent my top lip from disappearing.

      Oona Noir is an outstanding color, so thanks for the reminder. I lost mine months ago—I suspect it's in the basement somewhere, turned into a cat toy—and I am adding it to my list of my next red purchase.

      Bing Cherry is a deep color, one I wear only in winter, and not all that often anymore, but you might consider swatching Sweet Cherry. It's much like I remember Ooona Noir being, only more cushiony.

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  3. I love red lipsticks (and red nail polishes <3). tbh, I had to 'grow' into that, I felt weird and uncomfortable with any red colour on my lips. I felt, like people were staring at me all the time. I have enough self-esteem now to wear a bold red and don't feel uncomfortable anymore. some of my favourite reds are hourglass icon, chanel famous, guerlain chamade, suqqu karakurenai (amazing!) and armani 400.

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    1. I love Chamade, but it doesn't love me. It turns a vibrant, warm pink on my lips. I have always been interested in Suqqu Karakurenai (I think I saw it reviewed on Front Row Beauty and maybe Glossed in Translation), but it looks a little warm on them, and it's such a risk to order. Do you find Karakurenai to lean warm, neutral, or cool?

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    2. I pull everything more pink or cool (I am between N10 and N15 btw), karakurenai is not warm on me. chamade looks like a pink red on me (for reference). hard to choose by online swatches (I know). I think when you turn chamade into a warm pink, karakurenai may look wee bit warmer on you than on me for sure. from what I can tell from your online-screen-skincolour (lol) I can't imagine it would look off or unflattering on you :)

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    3. Thanks for the info, Claire. And wow, you are fair! It must be really hard to find foundation. I am curious what you use, and if you have already commented about that I apologize.

      My issue with colors that lean even slightly toward the neutral camp is that my skin will scream out any warmth contained in them. Colors that look fantastic swatched on the back of my hand are a whole different matter when they get to my lips. In fact, there are many lipsticks that look good on my mouth, but when I stand back and look at that color in context with my face, I am often disappointed.

      It's one reason I seek out totally cool colors, but I have to be careful in my choices lest I end up in Mimi territory. If I wear fuchsia, it has to be soft and/or clear. I also can't do Barbie pinks,which are all too light for me. I need blue-based reds, roses, and pinks. Period. The second a hint of yellow or orange (or even brown) creeps in, my lips get stuck between a rock and a hard place. :)

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    4. Laura Mercier Sweet Cherry looks great on you! It doesn't shout RED LIPS the way red lipstick appears to in the celebrity pics you posted.

      I don't wear red lipstick mainly because I have a small mouth and I look like a cartoon character in bold lips. I also don't like to make a statement with my makeup; I strive for my face but better.

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    5. Emma, you have such a finely attuned eye for color. Did you know Sweet Cherry was the one to make Maytee swoon? She actually bounced up and down in her chair when the removed the cap!

      In the celebrity collage I made, I think Isabelle, Diane, and Ashley (bottom left to right) look the most natural. It was hard to find celebrities over 40 wearing red lipstick (a few of them above are not yet in their 40s).

      You have a mouth twin in Jamie Lee Curtis. Every picture I could find of her, at least current ones, it would appear she also eschews lipstick. Anyway, your skin and eyes are so gorgeous, who even needs a mouth??

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    6. zuzu, I know what you mean: I am the opposit - every red turns more pink on me and it is so hard to find a great neutral red / classic red for me as well. my closest match is mufe mat velvet #15 (bit too yellow though), illamasqua skin base #2. what I love about all bold red colours: you can wear them as a stain and they look toned down but still beautiful <3

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    7. How cool that Maytee loved and swooned over LM Sweet Cherry! I hope you bought back-ups.

      Right, Isabelle, Diane, and Ashley look the most natural of the bunch.

      Thank you for the lovely compliment! I wear lipstick, unlike Jamie Lee Curtis, just not bold reds or anything dark (or cool or brown). I suit clear peach and coral and have been loving Clinique Sugared Grapefruit lately. My top lip is thin, my bottom lip is normal, and my mouth is small from side-to-side.

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  4. I wear red lipstick, but only on special days:). Sheer for work, matte for the rare real dress up night out.

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    1. You appear to be cool toned to me, so I bet a nice cherry red harmonizes beautifully with your light skin and ashy hair.

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  5. What a fantastic article, Zuzu!! It's so insightful and informative! I am just starting to warm up to red lipstick. Warm reds look horrible on my cool true winter skin- so they have to be true blue-based reds. The three that I have and have been playing with lately are Susan Thompson Cosmetics Joplin, Sunday Riley American Rose, and MAKE UP FOR EVER Rouge Artist Intense #45.

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    1. Thanks, lola, your comments always make me smile.

      Believe it or not, I do not have a single red lipstick you meantioned, and I am plugging my ears. I think I am about to start a finish-it-up-before ... plan. We'll see how I do. :P

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    2. :-)! Then I may have to conjure a post comparing the three- just for you! But then you know that your eyes will never be able to unsee them! MUAHAHAHAHAHAHA! xoxo, L

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    3. You can't make me! *stamps foot* When will the post go up? lol

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    4. I might have to get that going soon!!! It will be inspired by you!

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    5. This one is for you, Zuzu! As I dug through my stash- I realized that I had more red lipped than I had imagined!

      http://lolassecretbeautyblog.blogspot.com/2012/05/red-lips-anyone.html

      Have a wonderful weekend!

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  6. Rouge Coco Shine in Monte Carlo is an awesome sheer red. Maybelline Color Sensational in Red Revival is really pretty too.

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    1. Jyoan, I agree about RCS in Monte-Carlo. Chanel calls it a pink red, but it warms up on me, which is the only reason it didn't get a mention.

      Drugstore lipsticks have come such a long way, haven't they. I also wear Cherry Tart in Revlon's new Butter shine formula, but the finish is just a tiny bit too sticky for me. I have become so spoiled by the super-slick lipstick/balm/gloss hybrids, it's hard to wear anything else.

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  7. Awesome post, Zuzu. I do find that people run in the other direction when red lipstick comes out. I used to be one of those people! But then I decided, what the hell, when I go out with lipstick on, I will probably never see all of those people again in my life anyway. I also tend to be one of those people who just wears whatever red I feel like and don't pay too much attention to the rules. If I try it and I like it, I wear it. I've gotten much bolder with my lipstick choices since I started my blog, I think! Or maybe since I "joined" the online beauty community.

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    1. I love you in red lipstick, Larie. You have the perfect complexion for it—high contrast with your creamy skin and dark eyes and hair. Some of your test wedding photos were outstanding. I slightly prefer the cool-based reds on you. They make your teeth and corneas sparkle.

      What a weird compliment. Hey, toots, you have really nice corneas. lol

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  8. I love CBK's red lipstick; she was my inspiration for wearing it in the first place. If I recall correctly, her favorite was from Bobbi Brown. My favorite BB is Raisin (plum red), but I'm tempted to try some of her other reds.

    I finally figured out I can wear Julie Hewett's Coco Noir if I put her Camellia Balm underneath-- and then I don't need a brush. Otherwise it's too drying. I have to have some brown in my red (but not orange-brown-- I am very much a goldilocks type when it comes to makeup) for it to be wearable. But I love all the pictures you posted and wish I could wear bright red. Alas, it wears me.

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    1. I am very impressed and envious by any of you who can be a devotee to BB lipstick. This past winter, I had finally found my PERFECT color in her line, but it was just too drying, and putting balm underneath made it patchy. It's a shame because I deeply loved Rose Blossom.

      Funny, but I used to think I needed brown in my lipsticks, but it turns out I was wrong. If you are really a SSu, then a bit of brown makes absolute sense. The more I understand your preferences, the more I really think that's the season you lean. Coco Noir was almost goth on me, but so was ... I am drawing a blank. Sin Noir? The one that looks like Chanel Vamp. I had to blot both down to a stain and then rub some of that lovely Camellia balm on top. (ADORE that stuff and should probably get the red-tinted one.)

      I can't wear bright red either. It can be *a little* bright, but it must be clear and sheer. It's my opinion that True Winter and Clear Spring types best pull off bright reds. And maybe even we did when we were younger. :)

      Are you still wearing Ellis Red? I finally gave up because of either strong brown or orange undertones in them. The most flattering of the trio (L101) doesn't have the finish I love, and life is too short to suffer through lipsticks I don't love. It bums me out that her glazed formula of Ellis Red is the warmest of the bunch. I can't wear it at all.

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  9. I think that this is such an interesting post - I always used to wear red lipstick but the mattest of matte (this was circa 1982)- I would line with an Estee Lauder liner, apply a theatrical brand lip product and then use a Bourjois red blusher to set. I am now revisiting lipsticks and reds in particular because I feel because I don't wear a lot of eye makeup (my eyelids being like tent awnings) I am in danger of disappearing if I keep on embracing the natural look on my lids. There are some lovely recommendations here although LM lipsticks always have a burnt caramel scent to me which I cannot abide. Thankyou for this.

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    1. Tent awnings! I call mine crumpled tissue paper and for the first time in my life, I have hooded eyes. It took me forever to figure out why my eyelashes were no longer holding a curl.

      I never noticed a burnt caramel smell to the LM lipsticks, but I do understand how sensitive some of us are to scented makeup products, and what smells like wild figs to me could smell like moos poop to you. To my nose, her Gel Lip Colour formula smells like the item for which it's named. I could do without scented makeup at all (I don't mind Chanel), but Sweet Cherry smells a tiny big fruity. I wouldn't call it cherry-scented, but there's a fleeting sweetness to it.

      I have given up on complicated eye makeup. I just can't be bothered, but I do feel I need a little something and am currently loving RBR Sweet Dust Seriema, NARS D. Gorgeous, and Chanel Gris Exquis the best ... not all at once, but they give some structure back to my eyes.

      I just took a peek at your excellent blog and noticed you did, indeed, embrace the red. I'll comment over there.

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    2. Ha Ha I like the crumpled tissue picture, and I will definately look at your suggestions - I am too old to rely simply on touche eclat. Thanks for your lovely comment.

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  10. I find it hard to wear lipstick - I am very pale (prob nw10 or so) but my lips are quite pigmented and mauve. Therefore all the nudes clash hideously and some of the midtoned colours refuse to show up! the darker brighter colours look quite bright against my skintone - but hey!

    My favourite red is guerlain rouge automatique in la coque d'or - sheer juicy red. Other lipsticks I like are tom ford pure pink, revlon wild orchid (nighttime only) and guerlain gemma (has just the right amount of mauve).

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    1. Lucky you, baby! My lips are only medium pigmented and I am not quite as fair as you. Also ... my lip color is fading. Sad but true, so enjoy your pigment while you have it because I think we all fade by small degrees year by year.

      I would love to have standout features that required no makeup. I guess that's what being 19 is all about. ;)

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  11. Some of us just really can't wear red lips. And by "us", I mean me. I have tried, oh how I have tried. No matter what, I feel like my whole face is screaming "look at me". And I just can't do it.

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    1. And there's the rub. You've got to love it and feel comfortable in it or it just isn't worth it. I feel the same way when I try to wear light-colored lipstick, I feel like I am trying to prove I am some mod retro-60s chick.

      The beauty of lipstick is there's a color for everyone!

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  12. I love red lipstick. It's a staple in my makeup collection. My favorite fall, errand-running look is red lipstick, powder, and pair of sunglasses. I wore Chanel Rouge Allure Velvet in La Fascinante to the office most days this fall and winter. Though widely talked about as a matte lipstick, it has a bit of shine, giving the lips a moist look. My skintone is medium (NC45), but even so, I wore just a bit of blush and neutral eye with with this deeply toned red. For spring I like to wear Giorgio Armani lipgloss 400, a true red with a high shine. I think red looks pretty on all complexions, even though the wearer may not feel comfortable wearing it.

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    1. Ava, I LOVE the look of powder, lipstick and sunglasses. That's actually more my summer look, sine I tend to wear no or very little eye makeup on summer days at home. In summer, if I am not wearing the sheer Sweet Cherry red, my version of red will be a clear, sheer red-tinged rose, like Rouge Coco Shine Antigone or Romance.

      Meanwhile, I looked up Chanel Rouge Allure Velvet in La Fascinante last night online. Bad, bad idea. I had to reign myself in from buying more lipsticks I don't need, as well as Glossimers and ... :)

      I've read great things about Armani 400, but I can't wear true reds, so as I am getting low on my current lipstick arsenal, I will be definitely looking into La Fascinante.

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  13. great advise. I rarely if ever wear lipstick at all but I do like lip stains or very sheer lipsticks and I always go for reds. I just think it looks more natural in a way as everyone expects lips to be red

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    1. Hi Jessica, I love lip stains, as well. I should have added to my list that my current favorite is Vincent Longo Lip Stain in Baby Boo.

      I do agree that on many of us, red or rose is our natural lip pigment color, so red lipstick is a color that can be expected, but there are also women whose natural lip pigment is peach, greyish, beige, cafe a lait, or even brown. So red might look a bit jarring on them unless they have the high-contrast coloring and/or confidence to carry it off.

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  14. I was just getting into red/bright lips after being a colour wuss for much of my life (loved those neutrals for way, way too long)... then all the crazy stuff happened and now I still find it hard to get back into the swing of things re: makeup. I want to start it up again, though. That Laura Mercier lipstick does look very sweet and I love it on you!

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    1. Thanks, Liz. And never discount the ability of a new lipstick (or makeup love of your preference) to lift the spirits. All things considered, it's one of the cheapest mood boosters I know of. :)

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  15. Well, you had to know I'd have a comment for this one!! I actually look like Snow White...pale, clear skin, dark eyes and black hair. I wear reds because, honestly, they almost look natural on me. The more "natural" colors look very washed-out on me. Luckily, my lips are still pretty full and defined, so I can still wear the deeper and more vivid colors.

    I know the day will come soon enough that the reds don't work as well for me, but until that time comes, I plan to rock them as often as possible!! My theory concerning red lips is...if you can, you MUST. :)

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    1. I agree totally with your red theory, but I can't imagine red ever not working. If a color harmonizes with your skin tone now, it always will ... we just have to look for reds that aren't quite so RED! Same color sheered out.

      Many older women wear red lipstick to their death beds, and whether or not I am still be in love with red when I have one foot in the grave, I will surely be wearing lipstick, even if I live by myself at the edge of a cliff where no one but the birds outside ever see me. :) I do it for me.

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  16. I love a red lip. I think Tom Ford Cherry Lush is my current favourite, although I do still love Julie Hewett Femme and Rouge Noirs. I like a RED red :D Shiseido Dragon is another great classic red.

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    1. I am sorry I chose TF Red Smoke over Cherry Lush, so I will have to remedy that soon! Too bad I won't be able to get it in that lovely ivory packaging.

      I have Julie Hewett Rouge Noir, but it's a little too warm for me, so I just took advantage of her 30% sale and bought Femme, which I once had in a pencil (loved!) but now can't find it. I also repurchased Oona Noir (sheer cherry red) and can't wait!

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  17. I have the same skin tone that you say you have- the pinky skin along with red hair and light green eyes. But I do love red lips! I think they look so elegant and polished. Im still in high school and I do think that if you find the right color, you can easily wear red lips everyday. I just picked up See Sheer (more wearable) and Viva Glam 1 (deeper)and I have to say I'm in love. I just love red lip :) Oh, and I liked all your tips, Ill have to try them out. Right now, for me atleast, I find the most wearable way to wear red lips is to apply the color, blot, then apply lip blam over top.

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    1. Hi Emily. I love Viva Glam I. It was one of the first higher-end reds I purchased as a adult. Such a beautiful blue-red with brown undertones.

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