The way it instantly elevates any look, goes with any outfit and makes your complexion look fresh and vibrant—it’s a no-brainer that nude lipstick is a makeup-bag staple. But finding a shade that looks great on you—well, that’s what’s seemed not so black and white for too long.
But, according to celebrity makeup artist Matin, the answer has been right in front of us all along: our skin tone. “In everyday life or on the red carpet, nude colors on the lips to be a shade or two darker than the skin,” he says, adding that sporting a lip color that exactly matches your skin tone can give off more of an editorial look.
Sue Katz, cofounder of AMAZINGCOSMETICS and former makeup artist, adds that we should be looking at the natural flush of our lips, too, in order to make the best choice. “For the most natural-looking nude lip, choose a shade that’s a touch darker than your natural lip color,” she says. Here, the best nude hues based on your skin tone, as told by the experts.
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If your skin tone is porcelain like Amanda Seyfried or Zooey Deschanel, Tim Quinn, Giorgio Armani celebrity face designer, says to look for a soft and sheer light pink nude. While definitely not a hard and fast rule, avoiding matte nude lipsticks may be a good idea, as they can have a ghostly effect on those with very light skin tones. Our picks that check all the boxes: Buxom’s Va-Va Plump Shiny Liquid Lipstick in A Muse Me ($20) or Too Faced Sweet Peach Creamy Peach Oil Lip Gloss in Peach-Sicle ($19).
For fair skin tones (think Emma Stone and Reese Witherspoon), Katz says your best bet is usually a rosy pink. Be sure to stay away from any lipsticks or glosses with yellow undertones, as these can wash out your complexion and make you look too pale and one-dimensional. For a wash of color that looks hydrated and chic without looking overdone, Matin (and our wallets) favor ChapStick Total Hydration Lip Balm in Pink Nude ($5). For a more refined version of the classic, try MAC’s Tendertalk Lip Balm in Candy Wrapped ($21).
For medium skin a la Jessica Alba or Blake Lively, Quinn says beige nudes are the way to go when shopping for a neutral lip (these can look similar to a dusty rose). For this skin type, anything with cool undertones run the risk of washing out your complexion. His pick: Rouge d’Armani Lipstick in #103 Nuda ($38). Or, for a hydrating and glossy option that’s perfect for a night out, opt for YSL Volupté Tint-in-Balm in Dream Me Nude 2 ($34).
For olive skin like Chrissy Teigen’s, Quinn says to stick to caramel-toned and mauve lipsticks. Another solid option: Nudes with peachy bases, which complement the green undertones in your skin. For a glossy glow, turn to Estée Lauder Pure Color Envy Paint-On Liquid Lip Color in Bronze Leaf ($28); for a sexy matte look, try Anastasia Beverly Hills Matte Lipstick in Staunch ($18).
For dark skin tones like Kerry Washington and Issa Rae, look for a nude in the plum family. To keep your look from looking flat, try to opt for nourishing finishes instead of matte ones, or topping it off with a clear gloss. Hourglass’ Lip Stylo in Liberator ($32) features a blend of shea butter and jojoba, sunflower seed and mimosa to keep lips kissable and smooth with the perfect flush of color. Marc Jacobs Beauty New Nudes Sheer Gel Lipstick in May Day ($30) offers the same nourishing power, plus long-lasting pigment.
If your deep skin tone resembles Viola Davis’ complexion or Lupita Nyongo’s flawless skin, look to brown lipsticks with berry or red tones, and know that your perfect shade won’t look like the typical “nude lipstick.” That’s because it should mimic the natural flush of your lips. Laura Mercier’s Velour Extreme Matte Lipstick in Fatale ($28) delivers intense, deep-red pigment that lasts for hours; Bobbi Brown Luxe Lip Color in Crimson ($37) keeps your pout hydrated and comfortable even after you take it off. For a monochromatic look, Pat McGrath MatteTrance Lipstick in Divine Nude ($38) is the perfect choice.
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