Beauty on the Cheap: Drugstore Red Lipsticks and Glosses

By Voxy  

Last week, LadyStarlight posed the following perplexing puzzler:

So I was in my local WalMart looking at makeup (because I was alone, ie, no boys of any age with me) and saw Cover Girl lipsticks on sale and thought “I would like a red lipstick but… 1) How do I choose a shade that flatters me and 2) Are there any drugstore available glosses or lip stains that aren’t as…noticeable, I guess, as a lipstick?”

And so, I hitched the dogs to the sled, packed up provisions for the long journey, put my affairs in order, and set off on the quest to find some good drugstore red lippies.

(OK, I am being just a tiny bit melodramatic. I got in the car and drove to ULTA. Satisfied?)

I talked a bit about Question #1 in this post, and it fundamentally comes down to the warm vs. cool issue again, just like it does with foundation. If you are cool/pink-toned, look for a neutral-to-blue-tinted red. If you are warm/yellow-toned, look for a neutral-to-orange-tinted red. The true neutral reds, which are hard to find, can usually be worn by either cool or warm skin tones. It can be difficult to tell just by looking at a lippie by itself whether it is blue-tinted or orange-tinted (red just sort of looks red, after all, until you figure out what you are looking for), so I suggest you look at at least two lippies at a time for comparison. The white paper trick is also still a good one. Also remember that your lips are at least a little bit (and in some cases a lot) darker and more pink than your skin tone, so unless you’re planning on covering your lips with foundation before putting on lipstick, you can expect it to look a little different on your lips than on your hand.

It will also depend on the lightness of your skin; dark- and olive-skinned women can wear some gorgeous shades of red that are overpowering on my pale skin. (You lucky ducks!) As I mentioned in my last foundation post, I’m an NW20 — light-skinned, slightly cool. I look best in reds that are neutral to slightly cool. This is not a very wide range (others may have better luck), but within that narrow pie wedge, I can wear things from sheer to full pigmentation and in a range of tints from light to dark. So it’s less limiting than it sounds. I am still a big fan of buying some inexpensive lip palettes and mixing colors just so you can see what looks good on you; then you can take that color to the store and try to find yourself a match in a brand you like.

OK, let’s get to the goodies. I have four products to recommend; I’ll cover them from the most sheer to the most pigmented, starting with the glosses. By the way, the reason I’ve been in such a snit over my missing Lancome Rouge Magnificence gloss is that it’s a lovely, soft, sheer, subtle, neutral shade of red gloss that looks good on top of anything. If you decide to go high-end, I recommend it. I’m sure the lipgloss-eating monster under the front seat of my car would also give it a strong endorsement, since he’s had it for at least two months now. Stupid monster. I’m sure he looks very pretty.

#1. Revlon Super Lustrous Lipgloss in shade #80: Cherries in the Glow ($6.99 at

OK, so pardon the horrible, horrible skin tone here. I appear to have been zombified when I wasn’t looking. The lighting was bad, I swatched it right over the tendons and veins on the back of my hand, and I was taking the photo with my iPhone;  in correcting the image to accurately render the color of the gloss, I have now made myself a candidate for the next Twilight movie. My apologies. Please don’t let it put you off; this is a good product!

This is, I think, an excellent “starter red.” Because it’s a gloss, it’s nice and sheer. It can be worn over bare lips or, if you’re feeling a little more bold, over another lipstick or lipstain to intensify and redden the color.

I think they’re undergoing a packaging change, but the product should look something like this (minus the “tester” sticker):

#2. Neutrogena Moistureshine Lipsheers in shade #50: Ruby Bliss ($8.99 at

This is packaged like a lipstick, but has a sheer texture, like a lip balm stick. The color is more intense than a lip balm, though; it may be applied very sheerly or built up for more intensity, so it is a good “intermediate red.” It looks moist, like a balm, but does not have an obvious glossy shine.

I looked on a lot of sites and didn’t see any swatches that actually represented the color of the product, so don’t be alarmed if you go to the website and say, “uh, that can’t be it; it looks too pink/brown/green.” (OK, not green.)

#3. Revlon ColorStay Mineral Lipglaze in shade #545: Stay Ablaze ($8.99 at

I love this. I very nearly bought all four of the products in this post, but this was the most tempting. This is a beautiful, rich red that is on the warm side, but because it is darker and not fire-engine bright, it will flatter many different skin tones. It has the shine of a gloss and the pigmentation of a lipstick.

(P.S. — Dear Revlon: Your website sucks. I will not send any of my readers there. Plz fix. Love, Voxy.)


#4. Cover Girl Outlast Double Lipshine in shade #265: 14-Carat Ruby ($9.29 at

OK, now don’t be scared of this one, but if you are new to red lippies, you will probably want to work up to this one via glosses and less pigmented products, like those listed above. This is a gorgeous, gorgeous red. The Cover Girl Outlast Double Lipshines are double-ended products with a long-wearing lipstain on one end and a clear gloss topcoat on the other. I only swatched the lipstain side here. I was really impressed by both the shade and the amount of pigmentation. The only problem with these kinds of long-wear products is that sometimes the lipstain portion is drying (which is why you get the gloss; that’s meant to keep the lips moist). I didn’t test it on lips, so I don’t know. I do have some other products of this type and in general I like them a lot.

You can also “thin” the application of the stain if it’s too intense for you by putting on the gloss first. Then dab the stain on the center of your bottom lip; rub lips together. Dab additional dots where you need it; rub lips together. If you need more precision to get the cupid’s bow right, use a small lip brush.


So, there you go. Four good drugstore options for red lippies, from gloss to lipstains. Please let me know in the comments if you pick up any of these products and if they work for you, or if you have other drugstore reds you’d recommend!

Photo: / CC BY 2.0
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  1. Posted March 8, 2010 at 8:53 am | Permalink | Reply

    Hey, thanks for the blog roll love!

    A classic red lip that can work with both warm and cool undertones is MAC Russian Red. It’s definitely a blue based red, but subtle enough that even I (NC30-35ish) can pull it off.

    The color payoff is amazing so if you’re color-shy, you can apply and blot the color into a stain.

    Nice site… I’ll add your link when I get around to it. :)


    • avatar Voxy
      Posted March 8, 2010 at 10:36 am | Permalink | Reply

      Oh, I enjoy your blog a lot! I will definitely be adding a link.

      Agreed on the gorgeousness of Russian Red as well (though I wish I were not quite so pale so I could pull it off better — on me it looks a tiny bit like the lipstick is wearing me rather than the other way around! I have to apply really sheerly and slap a gloss on top of it, usually).


  2. avatar LadyStarlight
    Posted March 8, 2010 at 8:21 am | Permalink | Reply

    Oooooo! Preliminary reconnaissance has, unfortunately, turned up none of these recommendations. *is sad* I persevere, however! (It’s either that I live in a small town with limited choices or that Canadian and American lines are different.)


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