The top three red lipsticks (that I’m thinking of right now)

I never used to wear red lipstick. Never.

To wear red lipstick was surely to court attention. To assume a certain level of confidence in one’s appearance. To take up visual space.

And then I got over myself. (Or maybe just got older). I drifted down the red lipstick railroad, making stops at some of the suburban outposts like Lipstick Queen’s Medieval and other great red lipsticks for people who are scared of red lipstick. I still like to visit these at weekends. But since then I’ve taken the plunge into central scarlet. I love a rich, matte finish, a painted pillarbox with precise edging and vibrant pigments. If it has just a touch of softness, so much the better.

Here are my current favourites – but, in the words of the Haunted Mansion’s Ghost Host, there’s always room for one more, so I’d welcome any recommendations.

  1. Besame 1941 Victory Red, $22

besame 1941.PNGA fairly new addition to the Besame family, the brighter 1941 shade supplanted even Agent Carter’s 1946 ruby Red Velvet in my affections. A slightly thicker formulation – Besame mixes are forgiving on the lips due to their softness, but messy to apply and a little prone to feathering – it wears better than the Red Velvet and is a better daytime shade, with just a hint of a sheen over a matte base. It’s quite an all-comers shade as I’ve seen it look beautiful on a variety of skin tones and with various hair colours, including my own paradoxical Mediterranean look: deeply dark brown hair with very pale skin. Taking Besame’s advice to apply, blot thoroughly, and re-apply gives it greater staying power, but you’re likely to need a couple of top-ups during the day, particularly if you’re an all-day tea-sipper like me.

The only problem with Besame is it’s very hard to come by in the UK; a very kind friend in LA sent me the Victory Red when it was released, along with a lovely special edition pin which was a launch gift, and I’ll be stocking up on Besame cosmetics when we’re in the US in a few weeks. If you have American pals near a Sephora – or the flagship store in Burbank, California – it might be quicker to beg a favour than wait for the infrequently updated European website to be stocked!

2. Illamasqua Sangers Blood Red, £19.50

illamasqua.PNGThis was a very kind birthday gift from another friend (I pick them super well, do I not?) and I absolutely love it. It’s much more matte than it appears on the website images (though full marks for showing different skin tones), and has a very thick, crayon-like texture which means you feel like you’re applying it with a trowel. It is mildly drying, but it clings on impressively – I rarely have to do much more than a quick post-meal reapplication, and it survives my habitual tea-drinking admirably. The shade is very similar to the Besame, and I have been known to mix them together to take advantage of the more silky feel of the Besame on the skin, without losing the staying power of the Illamasqua.

3. Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revolution Red Carpet Red, £23

I got a handful of CT samples when I bought a foundation and lip pencil from the shop in Covent Garden and this was among them. It is such a beautiful, classic Hollywood shade, with just a hint of softness and sheen so it’s never harsh – like combining a matte lipstick with a touch of highlighter. I immediately popped in again to ‘give it a try’ and wandered around town for the afternoon feeling like an absolute superstar. Because of the price I delayed splashing out on my own tube, but after suffering an epic cold / sinus drama over the last three weeks I needed something to cheer me up, and it had to come home with me this weekend as a post payday treat.

Because I still look bleary, I haven’t yet got a good picture of myself in it – but I’ll be sure to Instagram on both my day-to-day and style ‘grams when I do.

As ever, I hugely welcome tips. I’ve yet to find a shade of pure red I like in the NYX liquid lip ranges, but I feel they should get an honourable mention here are a favourite of mine – an absolute bargain at £5.50 each, so I have three other colours instead.

Disclaimer: None needed – the gifts were from brand-neutral IRL friends, not PRs, and I spent my own cash on NYX and CT!



Red lipsticks for people who fear red lipstick

Mother and daughter make faces. There is also a lipstick in here somewhere.

Mother and daughter make faces. There is also a lipstick in here somewhere.

My name is Alex, and for years I feared red lipstick.

There are a whole lot of reasons for this. Some  of these issues could be resolved simply by finding the right lipstick – like a shrubbery it has to be a nice one, not too expensive – but others I just needed to get over (like being noticed and taking up space and wearing things because I like them and not because it’s expected, or not, as the case may be). Anyway, I now have a few red lipsticks that I love, and that do not generate The Fear, and I thought maybe they might help those who also face internal reticence about being brazenly scarlet-lipped in public.

Some of these I actually use and swear by myself; others are on my to-try list and I look forward to any comments telling me your thoughts if you’ve already dared to branch out.

Tried & Tested

1. Lipstick Queen in Medieval




So, this is barely a lipstick and more of a sheer lipstain. It’s like a gateway drug to hardcore red lipsticks, but thoroughly addictive in and of itself. Plus, being a sheer colour that you can layer as brightly or subtly as you like, it suits practically everyone and basically just deepens your natural lip colour, with a hint of shine. Lipstick Queen is not particularly affordable, with shades like this at about £20-25 a pop (and Velvet Rope – more on this in a moment – at a squeak-inducing £35), but I found a trio of their finest for £20 on Amazon and snapped them up while I was feeling flush.

2. Boots No 7 Stay Perfect in Love Red




My first go-to red and for a while my only red (hence looking a little battered). It’s a pure pillarbox shade without a hint of orange, which is just as well as I tend on the very pale olive side with dark hair – which means I generally need to tread carefully with olive. I’ve seen this look great on a variety of girls with very different skin tones to me, so I think it’s a bit of an all-purpose winner. And at £9.95 and available in any Boots, much easier to try and / or buy.

3. L’Oreal Color Riche Collection Eva’s Pure Red 




Having just said that, this is one of the few shades with a hint of coral I’ve found I’ve been able to pull off – even though my skin tone is some distance away from Eva Longoria’s (it’s the one in the photos of us gurning). A brick-ish red which tends to last; after a good 10-hour run I did find it was starting to bleed slightly though it was still clinging on well for the most part. An astonishingly bargainous £6.99, and if there’s a 3-for-2 type offer, J-Lo’s nude shade is also very lovely.

Next Up…

4. Lipstick Queen Velvet Rope in Black Tie

I haven’t yet made the jump to spending £35 on a lipstick, but I’m working up to it. My fine and very beautiful friend Jen recommends it as the go-to, badass, effortlessly light, moisturising and incredibly persistent lip colour she goes back to any time she wants to basically take on the world and win. I can’t really argue with that.

5. Besame 1946 Red Velvet

This is one I’m definitely going to try as soon as possible – just waiting for it to arrive from another country after a friend kindly picked up some for me when it sold out for a while here.  A vintage-inspired shade, it’s the very lipstick used on Hayley Atwell in Marvel’s Agent Carter (hence selling out) – which gives you a pretty good idea of what a pure, deep red it is. Also, there are few entertainment-related things on this earth I love more than Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter. And if you happen to have similar colouring it should give you an idea how it will look (not as cool as her because no-one possibly could be, but close enough).  30EUR ordered direct from Besame’s European site; best to try and nab some before season 2…

6. MAC Russian Red

Beloved of vintage hounds everywhere and recommended by this ‘ere sultry temptress, this is apparently near immovable and a very true red. I’ve always found MAC stores to be a bit overwhelming, but many of my beauty-loving friends swear by a whole host of their products. Also, they’ll famously swap you a brand new lipstick for free for every six empties you return for recycling. Maybe I need to try more than one shade… after all, I’ve heard good things about Lady Danger, too. £15.50

If there are any more than should go on my list, I’d love to hear about them – so please do comment away.

No disclosure needed; no gifts or PR samples included here. L’Oreal has worked with my employer, but I have never worked on that account.