By: Victoria Dawson Hoff
Photo Credit: Katie Friedman
Getting a consistently bright, A-list-worthy smile can be a difficult—not to mention expensive—task. But there are certain tricks to amp up your grin in an instantaneous, wallet-friendly way—and since we’re always game to test out a beauty hack, we decided to put one to the test. Drawing on the theory that certain lipstick shades can make teeth look whiter (while others do exactly the opposite), we put our pout through the paces by trying more than 20 lip colors to actually see which ones would serve as an instant whitening treatment. Here, we give you the photographic results of our experiment—as well as a definitive guide of which shades to choose and avoid based on our results.
1. RED: Pick blue-based formulas over orange-y reds.
There’s a reason why MAC’s “Ruby Woo” has remained a cult favorite for makeup fiends, industry insiders, and celebrities alike: The scarlet hue is already flattering for most skin tones, but with its perfectly proportioned blue base, it’s also like a whitening treatment in a tube. Why? It’s a matter of color wheel logic: Blue and orange/yellow sit across from each other on the color wheel, so blue tones tend to cancel out orange or yellow tones when juxtaposed together, and vice versa. Therefore, lipsticks formulated with a blue base will help cancel out any orange or yellow tones on your teeth. With this theory in mind, while orange-reds are certainly having their moment in the fashion world, just remember that orange and yellow bases tend to bring out those same hues in your smile.
Choose this: MAC Lipstick in Ruby Woo, $16; maccosmetics.com
2. LIGHT PINK: Stick with cool undertones rather than coral or orange.
Pinks tend to be trickier than reds, since they lack the dark contrast that can really make teeth pop. But still, same rule applies: Be wary of orange, and go for softer, berry-hued pinks.
Choose this: MAC Mineralize Rich Lipstick in Elegant Accent, $22; maccosmetics.com
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3. DARK PINK: When in doubt, go with a berry hue.
Huzzah! That’s a wide spectrum of shades to choose from. Because berries are generally a riff on pink or purple-y reds, the blue tones are fairly strong—which, again, does wonders for a bright smile, whether you choose a light raspberry or a deep plum. Another thing to keep in mind, as evidenced above: Slightly sheer, glossy formulas also amp up the wattage of your grin, as opposed to a lip that’s more matte. (More on that later.)
Choose this: Clinique Different Lipstick in A Different Grape, $16; clinique.com
4. DARK: Pick dark berries and purples over browns.
Sorry ’90s resurgence devotees, but brown hues don’t do teeth any favors—in fact, they just highlight any brown tones in your smile (yuck). The contrast helps, sure, but you’re much better off sticking with a dark berry. Purples and deep reds offer the double whammy of being simultaneously blue-based and providing high contrast for teeth to look their very brightest.
Choose this: Nars Audacious Lipstick in Liv, $32; narscosmetics.com
5. NUDE: Sheer formulas with a hint of gloss are the way to go.
It might seem counterintuitive to go so au naturel, but as Giorgio Armani’s Tim Quinn has assured us in the past, sometimes it just takes a little gloss to make those teeth shine. These days, we’re obsessed with Lipstick Queen’s Butterfly Ball colors, a range specifically designed to brighten teeth. They’re formulated like lipsticks, and truthfully, look terrifying in the tube—they have a pretty alarming blue shimmer. But it turns out that’s the very genius of it—it somehow goes on sheer with just a hint of iridescence, and the blue is undetectable to the eye. Your teeth, however, are suddenly radiant. Brilliant. On the flipside, there are a couple of red flags to look for when choosing a neutral or nude lipstick: color, of course, but also texture. The formula shown above is simultaneously peachy and matte, which can be tough to pull off—unless, as Quinn says, “the teeth are already Chiclet white.” Matte formulas can also create the illusion of dry lips, another smile no-no.
Choose this: Lipstick Queen Butterfly Ball in Float, $24; lipstickqueen.com
BONUS: STEER CLEAR
At the end of the day, you do you. (Again, orange lipstick has never been cooler.) But when it comes to faking a megawatt smile, these are your enemies:
Frosty shimmer: Yes, a wee bit of shine can work wonders. But if you go too icy, you run the risk of making your lips look whiter—which will make your teeth look dingy.
Orange: Oh, you get the picture, we’re sure.
Neons: There are certain fuschias that can work—that is, those with more obvious blue undertones. But much like Day-Glo clothing (and nail polish) tends to make skin look tanner, these hues have a similar dulling effect for teeth. (The pictures don’t lie.)