How to Wear Bright Lipstick Like You Know What You're Doing

Amanda Montell - Bright Lipstick


Amanda Montell

If you've always worn natural lip colors (or no lip color at all), the prospect of suddenly waking up one day and slathering a shock of neon orange or purple across can feel impossible. Yet some people seem to regularly rock bright lipstick as naturally as if flamingo pink were the lip shade they were born with. What oh what is the secret to pulling off bright lipstick?

First of all, as corny as it sounds, there's no such thing as an ability to "pull off" bright lipstick—there's simply the confidence to wear a color that might say something like "I'm not afraid to draw a little bit of attention to myself" or "Yes, I put a little bit of effort into my makeup today, and I'm comfortable with other people seeing that."

But getting to that place sometimes requires a little help, so to assist us, we tapped makeup artist to the stars Molly R. Stern, who's decorated the lips of Julia Roberts, Maya Rudolph, Lucy Boynton, and more. Below are a few of Stern's best and easiest tips for pulling off bright lipstick like you wear it all the time.

1. Exfoliate first.

A bright color can feel intimidating if you're worried about it flaking off your lips, so this step is key. "Nothing can kill a good-looking pout like dry lips," says Stern. "Make sure your lips are scrubbed and moisturized." Stern's favorite (cheap!) way to prep the lips is with a homemade concoction of coconut oil and brown sugar solidified in the fridge. "Then use a clean mascara wand to exfoliate the surface," she says. (In a bind, scrubbing a toothbrush over your lips also does the trick!)

2. Prep with lip balm (but sparingly).

You'll want to follow up your scrub with a light layer of lip balm to lock in moisture. They key word there is light—slather on too much slippery product and your lipstick might bleed or smudge. It's also important to do this step before lipstick, as opposed to dabbing balm on top after, to prevent bleeding or transference of lip color onto the teeth.

3. Use a nude lip liner.

Lip liner is an important step for defining the edge of the lips so you don't go off the rails when you move in with your lipstick. But finding a liner that matches your lip color can be tricky, and it's not difficult to screw up the line (either by overdrawing or not getting the shape right), so Stern recommends this instead: "A makeup artist tip is to line the outside of the lips with a nude pencil," she says. "That way you can define the lips without them look too harsh, and let the boldness of the color shine." Clear lip pencils will work here too.

4. Choose a color that "sparks joy."

There are so many lip shades out there—from true reds to bubblegum pinks to electric purples—and sure, there's prevailing wisdom about which shades will look best on your skin tone, but at the end of the day, when picking the right bright shade for you, it's best to conjure Marie Kondo: "Choose a color that actually sparks happiness in your heart," says Stern. Finding that shade (or several) might require some experimentation, but hey, that's what testers at Sephora are for. Stern's happy color is Chanel Rouge Allure Liquid Powder in 954. For me, it's Tatcha's Kyoto Red. But it will likely be something totally different for you!

5. Keep calm, and heed these easy application tips.

If you have anxiety about your lipstick coming out symmetrically or looking too over-the-top, here are a few last tips to remember:

1. A good rule of thumb for symmetrical application is to start by placing your lipstick at each corner of the mouth and gliding it up and over toward the Cupid's bow. If you mess up, just dip a cotton swap in some eye cream, wipe off the rogue lipstick, and try again.

2. If you're a bright lipstick beginner, stick with formulas that are less on the matte side and more on the creamy side—these generally feel more comfortable and hydrating on the lips, and are more forgiving.

3. Consider applying your color with a lip brush or even dabbing it on with your fingers if you want a subtler effect.