How To Do The Perfect Red Lip: My Personal Tricks and Tips

Me and my red lips. Photography: Lisa Minnini

For those who know me or have seen me around, you know I love to rock a bright red lip. I’ve been in love with red lipstick ever since I was a kid watching old Hollywood movies in Technicolor.

A number of woman have asked me what lipstick colour I wear, for tips on how I apply my lipstick and how it stays on all night without transferring onto my glass. So here it is, my tips on how to apply a perfect red lip and make it last, as well as a breakdown on the products I use.

It’s a bit of a timely post, because another gal who often rocks the red lip, Gwen Stefani is L’Oreal Paris’ new spokesmodel. I haven’t tried the new Infallible La Rouge lipstick yet, but the glossy look of these lips make me think it may not last as long as it claims.

How to do a perfect, long-lasting red lip:

Step One – Cleanse

I fell in love with Freeze 24-7’s Skin Glace’s Daily Detoxifying Cleanser & Mask during TIFF 2009 when I received it in a gift bag. It doubles as a daily gentle cleanser as well as a mask which you can use one a week or so. The green gel foams up nicely and lightly as soon as you apply it. There’s basically no scent and it’s not a soap either, so all you are left with is nice, fresh clean skin. It retails for about $65.00 for a 100mL bottle, well worth the price. My first bottle lasted for months. It only pumps out a small amount at a time, so you are guaranteed only to use what you really need.

Step Two – Exfoliate

Make sure your lips are perfectly smooth. I’d advise not doing a red lip if your lips are dry or chapped. If they are chapped, I’d recommend MAC’s Lip Conditioner Hydratant ($14.00) for a day or so before. The simplest and gentlest way I exfoliate my lips is by using one of my I-have-too-many lip balms and lightly rub with my fingers until my lips are perfectly smooth. Once this is done, be sure not to leave any moisturiser on your lips as this will affect the longevity of your lipstick wear. Wash any excess off with water.

Step Three – Foundation

Moisturise your face (but not your lips) then apply your foundation as normal taking care to only apply the lightest amount to the outer edges of your lips.  This will help give you a clean line to fill in after with a brush to define your lips. Right now I’m using Lancôme’s Teint Idole Fresh Wear ($40.00). So far, this is the best foundation I’ve ever used on my skin. (With a close second going to DaLish Cosmetics’ foundation kit.) It’s really light and gives a nice matte finish. Add a light powder to set the foundation. Hold off on the blush till your lips are done. Same goes for your eye makeup.

Step Four – Concealer

I’ve been using Cinema Secrets’ Ultimate Foundation Palette ($21.00) as a concealer palette ever since Hair & Makeup Artist Greg Wencel did my hair and makeup for a shoot back in 2008. It comes in five shades and is available  in a variety of colour palettes to match any skin tone. Apply a light layer of perfectly colour-matched concealer around your lip line to prevent bleeding. I prefer using my fingers as it warms the concealer making it smoother to apply.

Step Five – Base

Now this step is one of the most important steps to make sure your lipstick lasts all night (or day): the base. What I use as a base – but not as the actual lipstick – is Revlon’s ColorStay Overtime in Forever Scarlet. You may want to use another red that is closer to the lipstick you decide to use. (More on that in the next step.) Apply this very, very lightly on your lips, with the applicator. Don’t stress at this point on getting it perfectly around the edges as you will finish off your lip line with a lip brush afterwards. If you apply too much, it will flake later in the evening – not a good look, trust me, I’ve been there.

Step Six – Lipstick

Now for the lipstick! Selecting the perfect red lipstick isn’t as hard as most think. Sticking to blue-based reds will make your teeth look whiter. If you aren’t ready to brave a bright red, perhaps go for more of a wine colour. One major point to long-lasting lip colour is to stick to matte lipsticks, otherwise the danger of bleeding and the need to reapply is much greater. My absolute favourite red lipstick is not MAC as most people assume, it’s Lancôme’s Red Avent Garde ($28.00). I apply it directly from the tube – again very lightly, but not going completely to the edge of my lip line. If you’re not confident enough applying it straight from the tube, use a lip brush.

Step Seven – Define

I don’t apply any additional lip colour to my lip brush (MAC’s 316 Lip Brush) but rather use the colour that is already on my lips to fill in and perfect my lip line. Take your time with this step. I use a magnifying mirror to make sure that I fill in my lip line completely and also to make sure that the colour has been evenly distributed all across my lip. If you have an accident or go over your lip line too much, simply grab a tissue and wipe off that area towards the centre of your lips, reapply a little concealer and re-line your lip. If you take off too much, you’ll have to reapply the lipstick. Take a look using a normal mirror to make sure you’ve shaped your lips evenly on both sides. You can cheat a little by going a little outside the line of one side of your lips to make up for any natural unevenness – just don’t go too far, otherwise you’ll be looking a little more Priscilla Queen of the Desert rather than modern-day starlet. I generally don’t need to blot as each layer should be thin enough for you to not need to.

Step Eight – Complete Your Look

Once you are happy with your lips, then finish off your eyes. Unless you’re going for the  just-stepped-off-the-set-of-a-Robert-Palmer-video look, keep your eye makeup minimal. Even a simple coat of black mascara can be enough to complete your overall look. Keep the blush light also, if you decide to use any at all. Really, you want your lips to be the feature attraction, so keep the rest of your makeup simple. If you want to channel a more retro style, add some black eyeliner à la Dita Von Teese.

And there you have it: how to do the perfect red lip that will last all night – provided you don’t indulge in any oily food, or you’ll have to start it all again.

Big thanks to the awesome Anita Clarke from I Want I Got for passing along the Lancôme goodies to me.

Let me know if my tips and tricks help you in your red lipstick adventures, I’d love to hear your feedback.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: Caitlin Cronenberg posted this “How not to ” link on Twitter: I’m traumatized…

About Gail McInnes (320 Articles)
Originally from Glasgow, Scotland, Gail McInnes has made an indelible mark on the Canadian fashion and entertainment scenes; managing and guiding the careers of some of the country's most notable talents, including Lucian Matis, Hilary MacMillan, Stephen Amell (CW's Arrow), Natalie Brown (The Strain), Brad Goreski (E! Fashion Police), and more. Visit for more information or email

1 Comment on How To Do The Perfect Red Lip: My Personal Tricks and Tips

  1. Love it Gail! You have the best red lips EVER!!!

    Also, good on L’Oreal Paris for mixing it up with Gwen Stafani! It’s fun and fresh, and I LOVE IT! Hip hip hip…..Hurray! 🙂 “Cause she ain’t no holla-back-girl”

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