Channel 90s supermodel energy with a brown lipstick this winter

Written by Nateisha Scott

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With expert insight from celebrity make-up artists Pat McGrath and Monika Blunder, here’s how to find your perfect brown lipstick shade.

Push aside your festive inspiration, bold colour combinations and neon explosions because brown-hued make-up is back. 

A nostalgic nod to the 90s, brown make-up, and especially brown lipstick, is the iconic pared-back beauty look we saw on A-listers and supermodels throughout the decade. From Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington to Victoria Beckham, Drew Barrymore and Jennifer Lopez, a dark lip was one of the most popular styles worn by the famous crowd. 

But, why the surprising return, especially with the current beauty climate so set on embracing colour? 

Singer Jennifer Lopez and supermodels Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington were repeat brown lipstick wearers in the 1990s.

Probably because brown lipstick is the elusive “nude” shade, an inclusive and universally flattering earth-toned shade that suits every single skin tone. Yes, you may have to play with the pigment to find the perfect match to your undertone and skin tone but it warms up any beauty look that it’s paired with.

Whether a subtle shade is your play on the trend or you lean into a richer and more dramatic finish, here’s what the experts have to say about finding the perfect brown lipstick shade for you.

There’s a wide spectrum of brown lipsticks

As versatile as brown lipstick is, there are basic factors to consider, like the undertones of the brown you’ve selected. 

Celebrity make-up artist and founder of Monika Blunder Beauty, Monika Blunder explains more: “Brown is a mix of a lot of colours, so pay close attention to the undertones. You can have cool browns and that will work for people who prefer blue-based reds or warm browns which is great for people who like an orange-red colour. 

“On clients, I usually opt for a bricky-red brown, I find that plays nicely with the tones in most skin types. There are also many shades of lighter brown if you don’t want to commit to something as bold as a deep true brown”.

Consider your undertone when picking a brown lipstick

With such a wide shade range on offer, it can be difficult finding the perfect shade to work with your undertone. Dame Pat McGrath, renowned make-up artist and founder of Pat McGrath Labs recommends “to play with a warm chocolate undertone for medium skin tones and a coffee or burnt undertone for darker skin tones.” 

Fair skin tones: reach for a taupe/rose type brown with cool blue undertones.

Lighter skin tones: look out for orange-reds and burnt reds as Blunder recommends and consider playing with orange and red undertones.

Olive skin tones: find a warm chocolate undertone to compliment the lips.

Darker skin tones: follow McGrath’s recommendations for a coffee or burnt undertone displayed in a paler or deep chestnut brown.

Think about the staying power of your brown lipstick

For both Blunder and McGrath, there’s an art to creating a lipstick with a long-lasting hold. 

“As with most products, layering is key. I like to start with a liquid lipstick or a stain, and then layer a traditional cream lipstick over top. A good long-wear liner around the lip line will also go a long way,” Blunder shares. 

For McGrath, it’s all in the application and formula: “If you prep thelips with an exfoliant, then dab on a hint of lip balm to ensure a smooth surface, a high-quality matte finish lipstick like my MatteTrance Lipstick collection, will keep its colour for longer without drying. Then, sculpt and set your lips with a high-quality liner.”

PRO MCGRATH TIP: Choose a liner a couple of shades darker than your lipstick for a legendary 90s inspired brown lip.  

15 brown lipsticks to suit every skintone

  • HIGHR Collective Lipstick in Rhapsody 21

    The richest brown hue that melts into the softest shade of brown on the lips. According to the brand founder, Molly Hart: “Rhapsody 21 is a modern take on a 90s brown lipstick. After pouring over imagery of 90s starlets, we quickly realized that in retrospect the warmer browns were much more flattering. Rhapsody 21 was mixed to be a warm rich honey brown, the most flattering tone we tried on all skin tones.”

    Shop HIGHR Collective Lipstick in Rhapsody 21, £22

    buy now

  • Victoria Beckham Posh Lipstick in Fringe

    Encased in a luxurious tube, this ultra-creamy and nourishing lipstick is a mellow brown that provides the perfect tint when initially applied, building up to a beautiful earthy tone. On darker skin tones, it is the perfect everyday “nude”, for lighter skin tones it warms up the complexion.

    Shop Victoria Beckham Posh Lipstick in Fringe at Cult Beauty, £34

    buy now

  • Pat McGrath Labs MatteTrance Lipstick Collection in Christy

    “​​Brown suits every complexion, its earthy depth gives the skin a gorgeous warmth. For lighter skin tones, opt for a divine fawn colour like my MatteTrance Lipstick in Christy (£36) – named in homage to the mesmerising supermodel, Christy Turlington,” says McGrath.

    “For medium skin tones I recommend MatteTrance Lipstick in Flesh5(£36) and for darker skin tones, try a coffee or burnt red shade such as MatteTrance Lipstick in Flesh3 (£36) for a flawless 90’s lip re-created.”

    Shop Pat McGrath Labs Matte Trance Lipstick Collection in Christy at Selfridges, £35

    buy now

  • Uoma Beauty Badass Icon Concentrated Matte Lipstick in Tracy

    More on the pink/taupe end of the brown spectrum, this lip shade by Uoma Beauty creates a pared-down nude for all skin tones. For lighter skin tones, layer this colour with a dark-rose lip liner to intensify the colour. For darker skin tones, press the colour into the centre of a lip and pair it with a brown lip liner and clear gloss for the perfect nod to the 90s.

    Shop Uoma Beauty, Badass Icon Concentrated Matte Lipstick in Tracy at Cult Beauty, £21.50

    buy now

  • NARS Cosmetics Audacious Lipstick in Deborah

    There’s chocolate brown and then there’s Deborah – a deep and rich flattering brown shade that’s unapologetically bold.

    Shop NARS Cosmetics Audacious Lipstick in Deborah, £26

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  • Bobbi Brown Lip Colour in Brown

    A middle of the spectrum shade when comparing a pink-brown to a true-brown, this lipstick is the perfect central ground. A pink-brown edging into cooler colours makes this shade ideal for fairer skin tones – with a creamy lightweight finish that’s more a balm than pigmented lipstick.

    Shop Bobbi Brown Lip Colour in Brown, £26

    buy now

  • Patrick Ta Monochrome Moment Precision Lip Crayon in She’s Strong

    A cool-toned nude brown that works beautifully on all skin tones with an equally lovely creamy formula. Packing nothing but pigment this lip shad is a lovely mauve-brown on darker skin tones and a vivid cool-tone brown on lighter skin tones. Designed to cover and define every section of the lip, it’s a colour you’ll want to explore.

    Shop Patrick Ta Monochrome Moment Precision Lip Crayon in She’s Strong at Cult Beauty, £22

    buy now

  • Glossier Ultralip in Trench

    A toffee nut brown balm formulated with heaps of hydration and a light touch of colour. The barely-there 90s looks you noticed on the red carpet? Trench is the go-to shade for carrying off the look, topped off with an unmissable gloss.

    Shop Glossier Ultralip in Trench, £14

    buy now

  • Laura Mercier Velour Extreme Matte Lipstick in Rock

    A true, rich brown (especially for darker skin types) – this is an intensely, pigmented brown hue that’s irresistible for an evening look. On lighter skin tones, bring this shade together with a wash on the eyes, too. 

    Shop Laura Mercier Velour Extreme Matte Lipstick in Rock at Space NK, £20

    buy now

  • Anastasia Beverly Hills Matte Lipstick in Rust

    With a decidedly more purple undertone, this ABH lipstick shade boasts the autumnal hue we strive for with our beauty looks. A deep plum-red in one light and a warm brown in the other, this shade only needs a single swipe across the lips for a long-lasting finish.

    Shop Anastasia Beverly Hills, Matte Lipstick in Rust, at BeautyBay, £12.60

    buy now

  • Fenty Beauty Gloss Bomb Cream Colour Drip Lip Cream in Cookie Jar

    Lipsticks aren’t our only options, we can also play with glosses, lacquers and balms to create highly pigmented looks. On the more vibrant and striking side of glosses is this beauty by Fenty. The iridescent wash leaves a pink-mauve to a rich brown on lighter to darker skin tones. Still saturated with colour but adding a high shine for a sophisticated, sleek update.

    Shop Fenty Beauty Gloss Bomb Cream Colour Drip Lip Cream in Cookie Jar at Harvey Nichols, £14.45

    buy now

  • Natasha Denona I Need a Nude Lipstick in 4B Naya

    Perhaps the most universal ‘nude’ brown for all skin tones this lipstick has a firmly neutral undertone and comes across as highly similar across all skin tones. On darker skin tones, pressed into the centre of the lip and dispersed outwards creates the most natural-looking finish on the lips.

    Shop Natasha Denona I Need a Nude Lipstick in 4B Naya at Cult Beauty, £22

    buy now

  • Suqqu Sheer Matte Lipstick in 07 Koikurumi

    A cool mauve-brown, this shade calls to mind the matte 90s nude. Don’t be put off by how matte the shade is in the bullet – on the lips it translates as a sheer and subtle nod to an autumn brown. Extremely versatile for both day and night looks, it’s creamy in texture with no snagging and little transfer.

    Shop Suqqu Sheer Matte Lipstick in 07 Koikurumi at Cult Beauty, £33

    buy now

  • Giorgio Armani Rouge D’Armani Matte Lipstick in 200

    In a maroon-red shade, this lipstick by Giorgio Armani reads with an inviting warm brown that almost looks red, making it more versatile for as many beauty looks that you have in mind.

    Shop Giorgio Armani Rouge D’Armani Matte Lipstick in 200 at Selfridges.com, £22.50

    buy now

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