Here’s a secret: the perfect lipstick shade doesn't exist. It's much more likely that the shade you loved in an ad, or that you paused the TV to take stock of, is a custom-blended concoction whipped up behind the scenes. Makeup artists know that not all of the shades in their kit will complement a specific model or actor’s complexion all of the time. So usually they come prepared with one big container into which they’ve depotted 12-plus individual bullet lipsticks. The custom palette pictured above, for example, belongs to Lisa Eldridge. Lisa keeps hers labeled with color names, but some artists don't even bother—it's all about the mixing anyway!
Imagine if you took the same approach with your lipsticks. The wrong shade, bought online or without trying it on, might be too pink, too bright, too light, too orange, too blue…. But with a palette of edited tones, like, say, Rouje’s classic quad that’s an easy fix. If you decide the poppy red is a tad too bright, just smudge your finger in a little brown-ish mauve to tone it down. Mix both reds and you’ve got a classic cherry. Lighten the brick with a touch of peachy nude. This thing is so darn customizable that you’re guaranteed to get a ton of use out of it no matter your skin tone or the season. (It makes a great gift for that reason, too.)
Instead of having a makeup bag that looks like a box of Crayola 64s, you only need one lip product if that product’s a palette. Here are the best ones on our radar:
The shades in MAC’s Editorial Reds Pro Lip Palette, Westman Atelier’s Les Rouges Lip Suede, and Rouje’s Chaleur assortment are so similar—each one has a mix of reds, rich corals, and playful fuschias. If you’re wondering, “Why splurge?” The main difference is that the pricier options come in smaller, prettier compacts with mirrors, the better to throw into a bag for on-the-go application. That being said, you really can’t go wrong with any of these.
If a palette’s most helpful for any type of lip, it’s nudes. Variety saves you from the concealer-pout look of a wrong color match; using multiple shades together helps your nude lip look dimensional, rather than washed out. Serge Lutens’ Lèvres en Boite Nude Bright palette is a creamy, dreamy splurge, but L'Oreal’s Nude Colour Riche palette is a close budget replacement. Il Makiage’s Color Master palettes look like Trivial Pursuit pieces in the pan, and in Chocolate Addiction and Striptease are great options for deep and light skin tones respectively.
A palette of berry shades is tempered by chocolates and lighter pinks, which lets you punch up richer shades for summer or chill them out when you don’t want to make a statement. Borghese’s version is the most sheer, and balances a bright plum with muted nudes. MAC’s Select Plums palette leans more pink-y mauve, while Serge Lutens dims the brightness scale down a few notches with super rich wine shades. It’s not a total dupe, but Elf’s berry palette goes quite dark too, and it’s literally a sixteenth of the price.
The Ones That Do Everything
Rouje’s palette is a can’t-go-wrong staple with one version of most-used colors. The gold palette is so chic, you’ll want to whip it out over dinner. Maybelline makes a version that fills in its in-betweens with four extra shades. But the mac-daddy of do-it-all lip palettes is the Makeup by Mario Master Mattes. It’s got 12 unique colors, plus yellow, blue, black, and white completely customize any tone (as long as you have your color theory mastered). In addition to a mirror and mixing tray, it also comes with a brush.
Photo via ITG