pretty simple

A Step-by-Step Guide to Applying Perfect Red Lipstick

With help from a celebrity makeup artist.

Michael Kors top, $88 at Photo: Heather Hazzan
Michael Kors top, $88 at Photo: Heather Hazzan

In 2013, Lupita Nyong’o burst onto the scene with an Oscar-winning performance in 12 Years a Slave and a personal tour de lipstick. One night, she’d appear with aquamarine eyes and cherry bold lips; another night, her lips would be blue. Her embrace of bold colors was thanks in part to Thai makeup artist Nick Barose, a former Kevyn Aucoin assistant who’d worked with her from the very start.

Now, Barose is here to help the Cut with Pretty Simple, a series dedicated to answering the most basic beauty questions in the best possible ways. Barose, whose clients also include Rachel Weisz and Amy Poehler, has a knack for makeup that looks great on the red carpet and in real life. Here, he shows us the best ways to apply lipstick — including a few tips to take it from looking amateur to professional.

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Step One: Moisturize

Flakes are only a good thing when it comes to croissants. If you’re going to put makeup on anything — your face or your lips — moisturize it first. Barose started by applying a light lip balm on Tara, our model. If your lips are really dry, you can see use an exfoliating wipe to gently buff out flakes.

Make sure that your lips are moisturized but not too greasy. If you need it, you can pat a light tissue over your lips to remove some oil before applying lipstick — but don’t overdo it to the point that your lips get dry all over again.

Step Two: Go for It

Michael Kors top, $88 at Lady Grey ring, $144 at Jennifer Fisher ring, $220 at

Apply the color straight from the tube, Barose recommends. It’s not only the easiest, most straightforward way to do it, but it delivers the most rich color. If you’re not sure how to start, Barose learned a great trick from his mom (which he also passed on to Lupita): “Start from the center and work your way out,” he suggests. It makes your application more precise. And don’t forget to smile as you apply! Your lips stretch and move as you talk, so you want to make sure the lipstick stays even. In this case, Barose had Tara apply More Than a Woman from M.A.C’s collection with Aaliyah.

Step Three: Put a Pencil to It

If you want your lipstick to be super long-lasting, find a lip pencil of around the same shade (here, he’s using Lancome Le Lipslique in Raisinberry). The contrast in textures prevents the lipstick from bleeding out. You might be tempted to outline your lips like they’re a figure in a coloring book, but Barose recommends against this.

He picked up a tip from Kim Cattrall, who suggested that you lightly shade (using back and forth drawing motions) the lip’s outlines. It allows you to enhance the curves of your lips and gently shape them (if say for instance, you wanted to overdraw outside your lip line a bit to make them look bigger). It also creates a softer line that doesn’t make the lipstick look harsh.

Step Four: Press It

If you want to take your lipstick application to professional level, you can add this extra step. Barose takes a fluffy brush, dips it into loose powder, taps off the excess, and then lightly swishes it around the lip’s edges. This further prevents bleeding. You might be tempted to powder your lips too, but don’t –—Barose says that it makes the lipstick look dry and it can get cakey.

Step Five: Use Your Fingers

Michael Kors top, $88 at Jennifer Fisher ring, $220 at

You don’t have to invest in a lip brush. Makeup artists like Pat McGrath and Barose agree that the best lip tool is free — your ring finger. Rub it in lipstick and press it into your lips, using the fleshy part get into your lip’s full curves.

This is important because it makes your lips look like they were naturally infused with the color, not like it is just sitting on top of your lips. It gives your lips a just-bitten, pressed effect, Barose says. It also make them look more lush and vibrant.

The Final Look

A Step-by-Step Guide to Applying Perfect Red Lipstick