this thing's incredible

I Own 4 Tubes of This $15 Red Lipstick, and I’ll Buy Another

Photo: Courtesy of Tembe Denton-Hurst

Before finding the red lipstick, I thought red lipstick might just not be for me. It was too garish, I thought — clownish, grown. Finding a flattering red lipstick is difficult generally, but becomes even more challenging as a Black woman, because many of the ultrapopular legacy-brand reds weren’t created with me in mind. But still, I persisted. I’d get excited about a new red when it rolled across my desk, applying an apparently “made for all” shade with glee. But almost always, it yielded the same, inexact result: sometimes too dark, other times too bright, occasionally the undertone overpowering the red altogether. I’d feel disappointed, though not surprised, and the cycle would begin again.

Things changed a few years ago. One day, while scrolling through my Instagram feed, I spotted a photograph of an editor friend casually wearing the most stunning shade of red lipstick I’d ever seen. It was exactly what I was looking for: an opaque true red that looked both special and approachable. Naturally, I hopped into her DMs to ask where she got it. It was a Sephora Cream Lip Stain, she said, in the color Always Red. I got my hands on a tube hours later, and the fact that I’m writing about it now should tell you everything about how obsessed I’ve become since.

I knew things were different from the first swipe. It’s bright right out of the tube, so the first pass on my mouth made me nervous, but once it was fully applied and dried, I quickly realized that I’d found the one. It’s a true red, not too orangey or purplish, and looked bold, without making me feel too outside my comfort zone. It was sophisticated, subtle but not too subtle, and immediately made me realize why people are so attached to red lipstick in the first place. Soon I was applying it with abandon, for special occasions, to the office, with other makeup and without. Wearing it often also made me realize that it was more than the color that sold me — it was the formula. In addition to being fairly opaque (I have two-toned lips and it covers my brown lip just as well as my pink one), it actually stays on, but not in an uncomfortable, moisture-sucking way. It’s also ridiculously easy to apply: The formula isn’t too light or too chunky, and the pointed doe foot makes it easy to trace your lips without the help of liner (If you do want to use one though, I highly recommend the Lime Crime Velvetine liner in Bittersweet or Fangs). Once it’s dry it doesn’t transfer much, so you can do things like drink and talk without worrying that it’ll move. Eating might require a little reapplication (especially if you’re eating something greasy), but generally, it holds up really well.

But what I find most interesting (and impressive) is that it looks good on absolutely everyone — from my fair-complected roommate who was also red-lipstick shy to other beauty writers with skin a few shades darker than mine. The Cut’s beauty director Kathleen Hou calls it the best-kept red-lipstick secret, noting that it’s used often on Vogue China covers because it works well on Asian skin tones and is basically “Ruby Woo in liquid form.” I like to think of it as the makeup equivalent to those magical jeans in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants — where it makes everyone feel good, but truly nobody really understands why. I suspect it has something to do with it being slightly cool-toned, because blue-based reds look good on a wide range of people (I have neutral, slightly golden undertones for reference). But still, I’m amazed every time someone else tries it on and it suits them, too.

It’s become the only red I’ll wear, to the point that I’ve since bought a few to keep in every bag just in case I’m in a red-wearing mood. And at $15 a tube, it’s affordable as far as red lipsticks go, so buying more than one feels like a small luxury rather than a full-on splurge. And though, lately, my mouth has been practically invisible thanks to frequent mask-wearing, I’ve been inspired by my colleague Rio Viera-Newton (who tends to wear a bright red at every Zoom meeting) to break it out again.

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I Own 4 of This $15 Red Lipstick, and I’ll Buy Another