Bullet Proof: The infinite appeal of the red lip

A slick of red lipstick can make you feel bolder and instantly in charge, but what really gives this shade such strong staying power?
Bullet Proof: The infinite appeal of the red lip

Make-up maverick Elizabeth Arden flipped public opinion in 1912 when she handed out pillar-box red lipsticks to 15,000 suffragettes marching for equal rights on the streets of New York, using the colour as a symbol to promote strength and solidarity. More than a century later, red remains the ultimate power player on any dressing table – the most timeless embodiment of confidence-boosting make-up.

“The shade has always been synonymous with confidence because it represents some kind of specific intention,” explains Terry Barber, MAC Director of Make-Up Artistry. “It can be glamorous, professional, sophisticated or seductive. It’s never shy.”

Aside from its obvious aesthetic appeal, the red part of the spectrum is ingrained within our psyche to represent a multitude of emotions, which can affect our actions and how we perceive certain situations. Look at the ‘colour psychology’ brand of science, which researches direct links between different hues and human behaviour. Simply seeing red can speed up reaction times, while wearing it when doing sport has been shown to improve performance. But what is it about scarlet shades that means they’re so intrinsically powerful, in make-up and beyond?

We’ve been conditioned to believe that pared-back make-up indicates professionalism, but, as it turns out, it could well be quite the opposite. A study by Procter & Gamble and Harvard University found that women pictured wearing dark lipstick were perceived as more competent in the workplace. And this extends to our work wardrobes, too. “Wearing red is a great tool if you are hosting a presentation or meeting, as research shows it can lead to peers treating what you say as more accurate,” adds consumer psychologist Kate Nightingale.

Sisley Phyto-lip Shine at Wojooh, Dhs 185

In the animal kingdom, red skin (caused by increased blood flow to the surface) is a way to display dominance to peers and predators. Similarly, psychologists found athletes wearing red kit were, on average, five per cent more likely to win than their blue-bibbed counterparts, because opponents perceived the reds as more dominant. And bold mouths? “The ‘power lip’ has been linked to both wealth and control ever since the shoulder-pad days of the 1980s,” says Terry.

Bobbi Brown Luxe Lip color in Crimson at Net-a-Porter, Dhs 180

A study of 1,000 women by Harvard University and CoverGirl found that those who wore lipstick four or more days a week had significantly higher confidence levels than those who went for a bare-lipped look. The study also found that those who favoured red lipstick posted the most selfies – a whopping three a week. That said, don’t force it. “If you’re feeling shy or self-conscious, red will draw attention towards you and could add extra pressure, which will have an adverse effect on confidence,” says Nightingale.

Dior Rouge Dior ultra rouge lisptick in Ultra Love at Wojooh, Dhs 184

Red returns to the runways every season without fail, and for SS18 it reigned supreme everywhere from Max Mara to Dolce & Gabbana. With conventional matte textures challenged by popsicle-like stains and high-shine glosses, we’re also being inspired to find new ways to wear it. “This new wave of red is far friendlier,” promises Terry. “Simply blotting the edge of your mouth with a tissue or blurring lipstick with a cotton bud immediately makes it look like it fits your face without making the lips look thinner.” For those afraid of going bold, take Terry’s advice and “try putting a red lip on a naked face to see how little make-up you can get away with elsewhere, as it’s more effective when the colour is not fighting with other details.” Another top tip: “Try a red mouth with a fresh blush instead of a smokey eye for something more soft and romantic.”

L'Oreal Color Riche Matte Lipstick in Paris Cherry at Souq, Dhs 40

Photo: Jayson Lloyd Evans and supplied