Valerie Monroe
Photo: Jonathan Skow
Q: How can I find a neutral shade of lipstick that looks good on me?

A: I went straight to the queen of neutrals (and celebrity makeup artist), Bobbi Brown, for an answer to your question, and I'm glad, because as usual, she was full of surprising information and happy to share it. I asked her to please give advice about which neutrals look best with which complexions and haircolors. “It's a fallacy that you should choose a lipcolor based on your skin and haircolor,” she said. “What matters most is the natural color of your lips.” At this point in the conversation, I said what I always say when Bobbi tells me something that never occurred to me. "Really?" I said, as if it couldn't possibly be true. “Yes,” Bobbi said patiently, “and that's why if you try on a lipstick that looks beautiful on a friend—even a friend with a similar complexion—it might not look as beautiful on you.” Some women have very red lips, some have pale pink, and the same lipstick will look very different on both. When you're shopping for a neutral, don't wear makeup, because a shade that looks great without makeup will also look great with it.

Try on lipsticks in daylight, says Bobbi, just as you would if you were trying on a foundation. And never choose a neutral that's lighter than your lips, because that will make you look washed-out, she says. Really.

Bottom line: To find the perfect neutral, look for one a shade more intense than your natural lipcolor.