The Strength and Vitality of the Red Lipstick, According to Hollywood’s Most Trusted Makeup Artists

For thousands of years, red lipstick has acted as a powerful tool.

The vibrant, look-at-me shade coats the lips with the weight and fortitude of a strong piece of armor. Its packaging is just as intense. Not only is it encased in a sleek, slender tube the size of a pocket knife, but it swivels with the utmost precision like a Samurai slowly drawing their sword to reveal the weapon inside.

Red lipstick makes a statement without having to actually say anything,” KVD Beauty Global Veritas Artistry Ambassador Anthony Nguyen told E! News. “It’s a stand-out color that’s strong, sexy, bold, and exudes confidence.”

Out of all the makeup staples—mascara, eyeliner, blush and powders—nothing has stood the test of time quite like red lips. The intoxicating hue is so timeless Lady Gaga’s go-to makeup artist and Haus Labs Global Artistry Director Sarah Tanno perfectly summed up its allure, calling it, “the little black dress of makeup.

If anything, it’s become an icon in its own right.

I always signify red lipstick with something of great importance,” Tanno added. “You want to say something when you put on your favorite red lip.

Tanno couldn’t be more spot on.

Suffragettes armored themselves with the striking color as they fought for the right to vote. In 1912, beauty pioneer Elizabeth Arden handed them the bullets—tiny, but mighty tubes of red lipstick that were shaped like ammunition.

The bold move symbolized strength, independence and defiance all in one.

It wasn’t worn by everybody at that point,” Bésame Cosmetics founder and author of Classic Beauty: The History of Makeup Gabriela Hernandez told E!. “They were trying to say, ‘Hey, we’re independent, and we’re different and we wear whatever we want.‘”

The wild audacity of the suffragists showcased the ferocity of red lipstick, so much so that it became essential during World War II. At the time, beauty brands halted the production of its products, including lipstick, in order to use all of its materials for the war.

At first, they cut it out,” Hernandez noted. “But then they saw morale really slip—not only their morale but the morale of the soldiers who wanted pretty girls to come back to.”

Once again, Elizabeth Arden was linked to a historical moment. To help lift their spirits, she created a fire-engine shade called Montezuma Red—an homage to the Marine Corps’ hymn—and was given the exclusive right to sell makeup on military bases.

That color was marketed to women as a morale booster,” Hernandez explained. “You didn’t have pantyhose available. You didn’t have a lot of fabric. The only thing that stuck around were lipsticks.

Red lipstick’s popularity also skyrocketed due to Hollywood. Long before influencers hyped up (yet another) champagne-colored highlighter or life-changing eye cream, actresses like Claudette ColbertLana Turner and Rita Hayworth were the first to promote cosmetics.

Although women had emulated silent era movie stars in the Jazz Age—cutting their hair into boyish bobs and rimming their eyes with heavy kohl liners—Technicolor, which exploded in the late 1930s, truly revolutionized the industry.

Now that women could see the makeup the actresses painted themselves with—like the bright cherry stain left behind after passionately kissing their co-star—they clamored to look like them.

Reds were the shades that most actresses wore because it photographed well,” Hernandez pointed out, “And it was very definitive. You could see the lips.”

Back then, Hernandez said, actresses were assigned specific reds depending on the characters they were typecast as. In other words, Judy Garland mostly played girl-next-door roles, so she frequently wore soft and sweet rosy hues. 

A dark, vampy color was saved for the seductive types. As makeup artist Nick Barose, who works with Lupita Nyong’oWinona Ryder and Gugu Mbatha Raw, told E!, “It’s the color of blood, so when you wear it on your mouth, it adds a sense of femme fatale glamour.”

While the business model has evolved over time, it’s still a practice used today. Think of Euphoria‘s lead makeup artist, Donni Davy, who partnered with the creators of the hit HBO show and studio A24 to launch Half Magic Beauty.

Euphoria reignited people’s burning desire to experiment with makeup and Davy has supplied them with the tools they need to transform themselves. In the same way Davy maps out a character’s look to drive the story, her products are made with intention.

I named my classic red shade Self Help because I wanted it to embody that pick-me-up kind of dopamine effect that a red lipstick can have,” Davy told E!. “It gives self-respect.”

All in all, red lipstick is here to stay. As Barose so adequately put it, “The trends might change, but the very idea of red lips will always be timeless.”

Hernandez added, “Women will continue to wear red lipstick because it’s a defining feature on the face.”

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The Most Exciting New Makeup Releases That Arrived In February

CoverGirl Perfect Point Plus Liquid Liner

As protective face coverings are still very much a part of our day-to-day life, the eyes will continue to be the focal point of our makeup looks. Whether you prefer a sharp cat eye or a fun graphic look, CoverGirl’s Perfect Point Plus Liquid Liner is as bold as it gets. Designed with an easy-gliding felt tip for smooth, quick-drying application that lasts up to 12 hours, it comes in three shades, Black Onyx (true black), Charcoal (slate gray), and Espresso (rich brown) to pair with every look imaginable.

$8 (Shop Now)

Pat McGrath Labs Skin Fetish Ultra Glow Highlighter

Not only is the one-and-only Pat McGrath gracing the February Allure cover, but she’s also been busy behind the scenes bringing her latest Divine Rose II collection to life. Although every item, including the runway-previewed Mothership VIII Eyeshadow Palette, is sure to leave you breathless, I simply can’t wait to drench my skin in the ethereally rosy-golden Pat McGrath Labs Skin Fetish: Ultra Glow Highlighter in Divine Rose. This gel-meets-powder illuminator practically makes your cheekbones visible from outer space — and at the very least, spices up your Zoom dates.

$48 (Shop Now)

BioBlender by EcoTools 100% Biodegradable Makeup Sponge

After years of research and development (alongside John Nanos, who holds a Ph.D. in organic polymer chemistry), the BioBlender by EcoTools 100% Biodegradable Makeup Sponge is finally available to the masses. Made out of just five vegan ingredients and packaged in 100 percent plantable paper, this eco-friendly beauty tool degrades within four months in a home compost setup, compared to regular makeup sponges that waste away in a landfill for over — wait for it — 50 years. It’s even embedded with a “plant me” message to remind you to do your part.

$5 (Shop Now)

Giorgio Armani Beauty Sí Intense Eau de Parfum

Originally launched in 2013, Giorgio Armani Beauty has finally launched a revamped Sí Intense Eau de Parfum that essentially feels and looks like a warm hug. Just look at that inviting, honey-like hue. Blackcurrant nectar, Isparta rose, and patchouli ramp up to the bottle’s most intense note, vanilla, making this the perfect cozy winter (or spring) scent.

$136 for 100 ml (Shop Now)

Kevyn Aucoin True Feather Brow Marker Gel Duo

If you prefer to cocktail your brow routine with different formulas, Kevyn Aucoin’s True Feather Brow Marker Gel Duo was made for you. Infused with mung bean and red clover extract to promote fuller-looking brows, the tinted marker is equipped with an ultra-fine brush tip to create precise, realistic-looking hairs and fill in sparse areas. On the flip side, an invisible gel fluffs up your filled-in (or naked) brows and provides flexible hold. Choose from four different shades: Ash Blonde, Warm Brunette, Brunette, and Dark Brunette.

$28 (Shop Now)

Colourpop x Animal Crossing: New Horizons Collection

Save up your bells because you’ll want to spend all of them on Colourpop’s hyped-up Animal Crossing: New Horizons Collection. Inspired by iconic characters, such as Tom Nook, Isabelle, and the Able Sisters, this latest beauty-and-video-game crossover is stacked with pink-, green-, brown-, and purple-themed eye shadow palettes in a variety of matte, matte sparkle, metallic, and pressed glitter finishes. If you’re looking for unadulterated glitz, you can choose between Balloon Pop Super Shock Shadow (a metallic pink-silver single eye shadow) and Bellionaire Glitterally Obsessed (a gold, self-sticking glitter gel) — or frankly, pick up both.

Rounding out the launch are two baby-pink and coral powder blushes reminiscent of the cosmo flowers and wildflowers found on the island. And whether you lean towards pink, coral, or caramel tones, you’re bound to find a fruit-tree-inspired Mini Lip Tint Duo that fits your mood to a T. 

$7 to 12 or $125 for the full collection (Shop Now)

Glow Recipe Blueberry Lip Pop

Glow Recipe is no stranger to reformulating its products, and the Lip Pop is the latest to undergo an upgrade of its own. Now 35 percent bigger in size (3.1 grams to 4.2 grams, to get hyper-specific) and available in a permanent blueberry-infused shade, you don’t have to worry about ordering refills as frequently. This three-in-one wonder gently exfoliates, hydrates, and adds a gorgeous berry-pink tint to your lips. Go forth, swipe, and reap the multitiered benefits.

$22 (Shop Now)

Velour Beauty Vegan Luxe Lashes

Velour Beauty Vegan Luxe Lashes is the brand’s biggest step towards going 100 percent mink-free in 2021. Swipe on a layer of adhesive glue or the Best of Beauty-winning Lash & Go Eyeliner and plop on any of the 13 new styles, like Run The World for a gradient lengthening effect or the spike-patterned She-E-O for extra drama. Just like that, you’re the proud owner of soft, fluttery lashes.

$27 (Shop Now)

One/Size Secure the Blur Makeup Magnet Primer

Patrick Starrr’s latest product, the One/Size Secure the Blur Makeup Magnet Primer, creates a mattified base that’ll grip onto your foundation for all-day hold. A powerful trio of niacinamide, witch hazel, and glycerin minimizes the appearance of large pores, evens skin tone, and controls shine, so all you’re in charge of is showing off your flawless beat.

$30 (Shop Now)

Freck Noir

As the newest addition to the faux freckle family (which also includes Freck OG and Freck XL), Freck Noir was specifically created to complement mid-to-dark skin tones. Simply stamp on a small cluster of dots, and then, quickly tap your fingers on the not-yet-dry pigment to create subtle copies wherever you’d like on your face. If you’ve been in the market for a product that’ll change up your look with minimal effort, this is it.

$28 (Shop Now)

Bésame Cosmetics The Disney Mary Poppins Collection

Although your makeup bag might not be magically bottomless, there’s definitely room for Bésame Cosmetics’ The Disney Mary Poppins Collection. Based on Mary’s signature floral design and actual lip and cheek colors used in the beloved films, the Practically Perfect Powder, Poppins Red Lipstick (rich red), and Mary’s Cream’s Rouge (dark pink rouge with a hint of coral) might just make you break out in song. 

$25 to $68 (Shop Now)

Lawless Forget The Filler Definer Liner

Formulated with a silk-like ester for a one-and-done kind of glide (no tugging involved), Lawless’s Forget The Filler Definer Liner checks off all of the boxes eco-conscious beauty lovers might have. It’s certified “Clean at Sephora,” sustainably sourced — it’s made out of FSC-certified (Forest Stewardship Council) wood — and vegan. You’ll find your perfect my-lips-but-better shade in Burnish (mid-tone nude with a hint of red), Coco (cool-toned deep brown), Honey Rose (pinkish-mauve), or Pink Sand (universal neutral pink).

$21 (Shop Now)

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