Lipsticks Designed for Medium Skin Tones

Bold looks, neutrals, and everything in between.

Salma Hayek
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Lipstick is my all-time favorite category of makeup. From bold, bright hues to deep browns to muted neutrals, I love experimenting with the endless possibilities that the lip category has to offer. But, like many elements of style, the lipstick color you choose can either make or break your look. There are few beauty woes as devastating as picking a formula that washes you out, isn't pigmented enough to show up on your lips, or makes your lips look like they've disappeared—all three of which can plague users with medium skin tones. So, to avoid these makeup mishaps, I've asked Jaime Perez, a professional makeup artist with Bobbi Brown, for her input on how to select the best, most flattering lipsticks for tan skin.

For starters, Perez advises, "Play with a few shades first so you have an idea of how much color you like and if you like a cool tone versus a warm tone. Your personal preference is very important to finding a shade you love."

Indeed, it's important to keep in mind that, beyond ensuring your formula of choice is of premium quality and strong pigment, pulling off a lipstick primarily has to do with your comfort level and confidence. Below, Perez talks how to find the shade that makes you feel best.

What to Look for

For starters, Perez says it's best to begin with the basics.

"I like to start with a perfect nude shade of lipstick for a medium/tan skin tone," she explains. "Look at the natural tones of the lips and find a lipstick that marries top and bottom lip tones together. Sometimes the lips are the same shade, and sometimes the top lip is lighter or deeper than the bottom lip. Going with the deeper shade of the lips helps to create a more natural look that enhances your skin tone." In other words, when finding an ideal nude, consider a neutral that's slightly darker than the tone of both your top and bottom lips.

Beyond neutrals, the world is your oyster. Perez says, "Great shades can be, but are not limited to, roses, browns, berries, and reds. These shades give enough color to complement a medium tan skin. These are shades typically found in their natural lip tones, cheek colors, and skin tones." Personally, I love berry and purple shades on my own lips.

What to Avoid

While many colors work well on medium skin tones, there are, of course, certain shades that tend to be less than flattering.

"I don’t recommend colors that are too close to skin tone, because they don’t complement your skin. It can look flat, unhealthy, and make your lips disappear," says Perez, and I agree. Personally, I also stay away from neutrals that are lighter than my skin tone, which can result in a sickly, ashen appearance. 

When looking for a lipstick, it's also worthwhile to assess your undertone. The most popular way to do this is to take a look at your veins: If they're blue, you have a cool undertone, and if they're green, you have a warm undertone. If they're somewhere in the middle, or you see a bit of both, you're neutral.

"Colors that are too cool tone (blue tone) can stand out too much for a warmer skin tone," warns Perez. "This takes away that overall healthy look of your makeup."

How to Test Lipstick

The best, most fool-proof way to know if your lipstick suits you is to give it a shot.

"Test lipstick colors in a store where you can see them all together to compare," Perez suggests. "When trying on, sanitize the lipstick with alcohol, wipe it on a tissue for a clean surface, and then apply. If you don’t want to try on your lips, you can swipe the color on your fingertip instead of the back of your hand, since that is the closest tone to your lips."

Or, if you're shopping online, see if the website you're on allows you to do a virtual try-on or a lip quiz. Perez points out that Bobbi Brown offers this, along with a virtual consultation session or chat. Brands like Pound Cake, Maybelline, MAC, and Revlon have online quizzes.

Meet the Expert

Jaime Perez
Jaime Perez

Jaime Perez is a professional makeup artist currently working with Bobbi Brown Cosmetics. A Massachusetts native, he's based outside of Boston.

Gabrielle Ulubay
Beauty Writer

Gabrielle Ulubay is a Beauty Writer at Marie Claire. She has also written about sexual wellness, fashion, culture, and politics both at Marie Claire and for publications like The New York Times, Bustle, and HuffPost Personal. She has worked extensively in the e-commerce and sales spaces since 2020, including two years at Drizly, where she developed an expertise in finding the best, highest quality goods and experiences money can buy. As a film school graduate, she loves all things media and can be found making art when she's not busy writing.