The red lipstick that suits every woman: the Stylist Beauty Council finds the make-up shades to flatter all

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Shannon Peter
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The multitude of cosmetic colours on sale has made finding make-up to suit your skintone a daunting feat. Until now. Stylist’s 20-strong panel has found the four magical shades that flatter every woman

Photography: Republic of Photography

The beauty world has a problem. As our appetite for make-up has grown (sales of colour cosmetics have risen by nearly half-a-billion pounds in the past five years*), brands have expanded their offering to meet our demands. Tens of eyeshadow shades have turned into hundreds, blusher collections look more like a Pantone chart and even something as seemingly simple as buying a skintone-flattering red lipstick can prove more of a headache than working out which new Netflix original to watch (FYI, it’s Santa Clarita Diet). We have more make-up choice than ever before, but working out which shade is right for you? That’s never been harder.

During your quest, you’ve probably dabbled with the new breed of universally adaptable make-up products that rolled into stores over the past few years. From lip balms that react to your skin’s natural pH to cream blushers said to transform into the perfect bespoke flush, these products promise guaranteed shade perfection. However, their results are somewhat lacklustre, offering little more than a sheer stain or limp wash of colour. But all is not lost because hidden among the shelves of our most-loved make-up brands lies a small selection of unsung beauty heroes: shades of lipstick, blusher and eyeshadow that have the power to warm the complexion, brighten the eyes and flatter the lips, no matter what skintone they are applied to. It’s just a case of finding them.

Here on the Stylist beauty desk, we took it upon ourselves to identify the cosmetic realm’s most ubiquitous shades. Calling upon some of the industry’s most reputable make-up artists, we uncovered the colours the experts rely on to flatter every single face they touch – the shades that look equally as alluring on every single face in a line-up of 30 models backstage at fashion week, no matter the skintone, hair shade or eye colour. But we didn’t just take their word for it.

We assembled a 20-strong panel of Stylist Beauty Council members encompassing a spectrum of colourings to test them. Over a gruelling 10 hours (well, as gruelling as trying out make-up can be), we trialled 20 products narrowed down for us by the make-up artists, documenting the process in the Stylist photo booth to find the shades that impressed each and every single one of our guinea pigs. Get ready to discover the only shades of lipstick, eyeshadow and blusher any woman needs to buy, whatever their skintone or colouring. It’s OK, you can thank us later.

The suits-all shade of red (above)

The key to a universally flattering shade of red lipstick lies in the delicate balance of the colour pigments. A touch too orange and it can give freckled skin a yellowy tint, or a dash too pale and it can quickly make dark skin a bit pallid.

Revlon has found the sweet spot with their new lipstick, Love Is On, a malbec-red formed on a base of blue undertones, which they found was the key to it suiting all skin tones on the Fitzpatrick scale (a medically recognised chart that classifies skin types).

And our testers concurred. “This is a great everyday red lipstick that looked warm on my skin, but not too bright,” enthused Jess Tang. Where red lipstick can highlight any existing pink tones in fair skins, the blue pigment in this lipstick managed to neutralise paler complexions and, as for the darker girls, the creamy texture meant the colour payoff wasn’t compromised.

The universal neutral lipstick

You need warmth in a flesh-toned lipstick, so as not to wash out pale skin or make darker skin look ashen,” explains make-up artist Jaimee Thomas. So it’s little surprise that the most flattering lipstick was found at the more full-bodied end of the colour spectrum.

Make-up artist Georgina Graham promised Nars’ Pigalle, a warm, pecan-brown shade, “suits the world and her sister”. A strong claim that stood up to the scrutiny of the Stylist Beauty Council.

Its deep, brick-red base brings warmth to cool skintones while the pinky undertones balance sallow complexions. And the semi-matte finish gives it just enough of a nourishing sheen so that it didn’t look chalky on dark skin, as many matte lipsticks can. In fact, Stylist Beauty Council member Sam Nerminathan emailed us a day later to say: “I left the shoot and immediately bought this lipstick as it feels so comfortable on the lips, lasts really well and has that perfect Sixties vibe.”

The essential eyeshadow

The winner of this category didn’t just impress the make-up artists, it also managed to convince a handful of nervous Stylist Beauty Council members to experiment with eyeshadow. Meet Antiqued, Mac’s rich, reddened-brown pigment laced with soft metallic particles.

It was the gold flecks that convinced the Asian and olive-skinned women – it has an uncanny ability to make the face look instantly sun-kissed. And when buffed onto the eyelids on the paler-faced testers, the soft texture meant the colour framed the eye without looking too heavy.

Where the white undertones of the taupe shades in our test jarred on darker skin, the red base in this eyeshadow sculpted eyelids without looking powdery or old-fashioned. “The pigment is super-fine, so looks very expensive and is really buildable,” explained Stylist Beauty Council member Anisha Shah. Stylist’s beauty director even swiped one from the shoot.

The all-inclusive blusher

While soft, pink blusher tones look ethereal on the pale testers, they lacked any punch when it came to the black women in our experiment and in some cases, left ghostly stripes across cheeks. “Anything with titanium dioxide [an ingredient used to boost the opacity of colour pigments] too high on the ingredients list will look grey and ashen, especially on darker skintones,” clarifies Thomas. This in part explains why Bourjois’ gel blusher (titanium dioxide makes up the smallest proportion of the formula) in Berry Nice quickly became a clear winner.

Don’t let the first pump of fluorescent magenta scare you; unlike chalkier powder blushers, the gel formula quickly melds with skin to leave a wash of colour more akin to a sheet of tinted cellophane than a mask of opaque colour. Stylist Beauty Council member Hannah McMartin was particularly taken by it. “It gave a fantastic pop of colour and really woke up my tired face,” she said.

Make-up: Liberty Haynes, Julia Wren and Lauren Wright at, London’s new beauty service