How to Choose a Lip Color for Your Skin Tone

You know the right lipstick when you put it on. It complements your skin tone, gives you a healthy glow, and works to tie your whole ensemble together. But wandering down makeup aisles lined with tubes wondering what lipstick color is best for me? That can feel like an existential nightmare...especially if the color selection isn’t meant for darker skin tones.

Here at Mented, we are dedicated to makeup for women of color. We know that lipstick choices can be overwhelming if you don’t know what you’re looking for. We sought to change that by making perfectly pigmented lipstick for dark skin tones. To help find your perfect lip shade, start by learning how to train your eye to easily spot lip shades that flatter your deep skin tone with our in-depth guide on how to choose a lip color for brown skin.

What’s Your Skin Tone & Undertone?

It goes without saying that finding the right lipstick color for your skin tone requires that you first know your skin tone and undertone. Identifying your skin tone and undertone is key to not only choosing complementary lip colors, but the right foundation and eye color too. It doesn’t stop there either - with this knowledge, you’ll have a much better sense of which shades of clothing and accessories are flattering on you as well.

Skin Tone vs. Undertone

Skin tone is easier than undertone to identify. Your skin tone is the apparent deepness of color at the surface of your skin. It is usually described as light, tan, medium or deep.  

Your undertone, on the other hand, is the more subtle color that radiates seemingly from beneath the surface of your skin. The three basic undertones are warm, cool and neutral.

In general, women with tan and medium complexions tend to have warm undertones. Light or darker skin complexions tend to have cool undertones. That said, skin tone and undertone do not necessarily correlate, so any skin tone can be paired with any undertone.

How to Identify Undertone

There are three simple ways to determine your undertone:

  • Look at the Insides of Your Wrists
  • When analyzing your undertones, start by looking at your wrists in natural light. Do your veins appear blue or green? If blue, then you are a cool undertone lady. Green veins indicate you have a warm undertone. Can’t tell or you have veins in both colors? Then you might have a neutral undertone.

  • Try the Jewelry Test
  • Hold a piece of silver jewelry and a piece of gold jewelry up to your neck. Which do you feel gives you a head-turning glow? Silver jewelry looks better on cool toned women, while gold jewelry is better for warm toned gals.

  • Compare Your Skin to a Piece of White Paper
  • Again, for this text, be sure to use natural light, so head outside or stand by a window. Hold a piece of white paper up to your neck and chest. If your skin appears pinkish, reddish or bluish compared to the white paper, then you have a cool undertone. If your neck appears more yellow, honeyed or orange compared to the paper, then your undertone is warm. Once again, if it’s hard to say one way or the other, then you likely have a neutral undertone.

    In addition to these at-home tests, you can also try using a shade finder online, which can help guide you to identifying your correct undertone and skin tone match.  

    Examples of Famous Women & Their Undertones

    To give you a better idea of how undertones work, let’s look at real-life examples of famous women and their undertones. Having examples in mind can help you in the identification of your tones and also provide inspiration for style.

    Cool Queens

    Superstar actresses Lupita Nyong'o and Viola Davis have cool undertones that tend towards the reddish side of the color spectrum. As you may have noticed yourself, shades of purple and blue-green look dynamite on them because of these undertones. Supermodel Alek Wek has a bluish cool undertone, which makes her look especially picture-perfect in deep blues and reds. You may have noticed that stark white also suits all three women more than off-white does.

    Golden Goddesses

    Beyonce and Halle Berry are famous warm undertone goddesses. Ever notice how Queen Bey prefers gold and honey ensembles? It’s because she looks like, well, a queen in them. Of course, both women look stunning in anything, but off-white outfits typically look a tad better on Bey and Ms. Berry than ones in true white because of their undertones.

    Versatile Visions

    Songbirds Jennifer Hudson and Ciara are neutral undertone beauties. They can rock any hue with these undertones - emerald green, fiery coral, cobalt blue, peachy peach, off-white, classic white. Name the color and they are a vision in it.

    Use the Color Wheel for Guidance

    We won’t venture too deeply into color theory, but going over the main points can be helpful in choosing a lipstick color that's perfect for you.

    Start by looking at this color wheel and find your dominant skin color. This will be more specific than your undertone.

    Source: Bright Side

    As the name suggests, your dominant skin color is the single color found in the greatest quantity in your skin. A woman with a cool undertone, for example, may have blue as the dominant color. Those with warm undertones might be yellow dominant. If your eye isn’t there yet in honing in on your dominant color, there are color grabbing apps you can download to assist you.

    Once you’ve identified your dominant color on the wheel, you can use that information to help find your best colors. The first tip might be surprising: you actually want to avoid wearing your dominant color. You also want to skip cloaking yourself in your complementary color, or the color at exactly the opposite side of the wheel from your dominant color.

    What colors should you wear? The easy answer is to wear colors adjacent to your dominant color on the color wheel. For example, if your dominant color is blue, you’ll shine in green-blues and purples. You might not look your best in true blues or oranges. As another example, a yellow-toned, olive-skinned lady will catch onlookers’ eyes in greens and oranges. Lipsticks for olive skin can even lean towards yellow colors, but she’ll look drab in straight yellow or purple.

    If you are the adventurous sort who would don purple or orange lipstick, then insight from the color wheel can steer you from a major makeup bust towards a daring fashion win. Even if you play it straight and prefer traditional lip colors, the color wheel can point out subtleties concerning lip color selection. For instance, maybe you have a warm undertone but are orange dominant. You’ll know that peachy, gold and rose tones look great on you, but you should stay away from colors with too much orange mixed in them.

    Find the True Color & Compare

    Now that you have a clearer picture of which colors look good on you and which might not, how exactly do you apply this to selecting lip color? It’s time for the true color test.

    The true color test is doubly beneficial. First, it will guide you towards the right lipstick shade. Second, it will help train your eyes to spot cool versus warm tones in the same color family - an advantage when selecting colors for other makeup types and clothing. Here are the steps:

    1. Find the truest shade of a certain color. Let’s use red as an example.
    2. Swipe a swatch of the true red on the inside of your arm.
    3. Swipe another shade very similar to the true red. Look at it closely. Does the color tend towards orange - meaning its warmer - or towards burgundy - meaning its cooler?
    4. Swipe a third shade on your arm. Notice how it compares to the other two colors, appearing either more orange or more burgundy.
    5. Continue adding different tones in the same red color family to your arm, creating a pallet from warmest to coolest. At some point, the shade will become obviously too warm or cool for your skin tone.

    Lipsticks Made for Women of Color

    Whether it’s a flashy red, subtle nude or classic pink you seek, finding quality lipsticks is not always easy for darker skinned ladies. Historically, lip colors were created with fair skin in mind. Due to this, the outcome for women with other medium to dark skin types was lip color that either looked too light or gave off the wrong tone. Nude lipsticks are a perfect example of this problem.

    Until recently, the infamous nude lipstick color - a color supposedly mimicking a bare skin tone - has always come in a color range narrowly skewed towards the light end of the spectrum. Since dark lips can noticeably alter lighter lipstick colors, a nude lip color can appear stark with a pink or orange cast on pigmented skin.

    The great news is that the days of struggling to find the right lipstick shade have ended, with companies like Mented now making quality lipsticks specifically pigmented for dark-skinned women. Our line of lipsticks, including our brown matte lipstick, Brown Bare, are color calibrated with the right amounts of browns and pinks, so what is supposed to be a red, nude or pink lipstick looks just as it should on lovely deeper skin tones. A foolproof way to find lipsticks flattering on darker-skinned ladies is selecting from makeup lines that were made specifically for you!

    Trying On Lipstick

    By now, with all the knowledge you have about your skin tone and undertones, you’ve zeroed in on a lipstick you’re pretty sure is the right one. It’s time to try it on. You’ll want to get the truest sense of how the color looks on you by:

    1. Trying on the lipstick without other makeup. The tones created by the makeup will pick up or throw off the lip color differently.
    2. Trying on the lipstick in natural light. Daylight usually has cooler tones than the artificial light in a department store. That’s why the lipstick sometimes looks different on you when you bring it home.

    If you’ve done all the setup work right, then you’ll be looking in the mirror nodding your head thinking, this is the one! If the color isn’t speaking to you, then try a shade variation more complementary to your skin tone and undertone. A shade that looks too cool and deep should be swapped for one with warmer undertones. Conversely, a color that looks too pinky or orangish should be traded in for a cooler hue.

    Have Fun & Embrace Creativity

    When you’re empowered with the knowledge about your skin tones and how to select the best lip colors accordingly, this is when it’s time to have a little fun. Your ideal personal lip shade will complement your glowing melanin and represent the final touches on a whole look. However, finding ways to be playful and bring out your personality using lip color is just as important.

    An easy way to experiment is to combine lipstick colors to create your own shade. You can do this by simply applying a different lip liner and lipstick color and blending them together. You can also take it to the guru level and blend lip colors on the top of your hand with a lip brush. Doing so allows you to create the precise shade you like before dabbing it on your lips. If a shade comes out too drab, amp it up with a vibrant tone. Or maybe that fuchsia hue you created is too much for the workplace? Tone it down with a natural lip color like neutral or beige color.

    No matter what color you decide to go with, perfecting your lipstick application is another great way to play and learn more about your makeup. Start by learning how to apply matte lipstick and then dive into more skills like lip liners and more.

    Go Out & Find the Best Lipstick for You

    By now you should be able to more easily answer the question - what is the perfect shade of lipstick for me? Supplied with the above handy tips, trips down the makeup aisle should seem less daunting. Hopefully, too, your eye is sharper at spotting your complementary colors for not only lipsticks, but eye shadow and clothing colors as well. If you’re looking for your next great lipstick color, keep these tips in mind and check out Mented’s line of velvety, easy-to-apply lipsticks specifically created to complement your deep shade of beautiful.