From Marilyn Monroe to Rihanna, why red lippy is the pout and out sexiest

WONDERING how to ramp up your sex appeal after months of living in your PJs, make-up free? 

Well, here’s a secret – all you need is a slick of red lipstick. 

Several studies have found red to be the sexiest shade of lippy, with women feeling more confident wearing it and men paying more attention to those with ruby red lips.

According to the shopping app,Nars, Charlotte Tilbury and Dior are among the most wanted brands.

Mac’s Ruby Woo has been hailed as the best-selling lippy of all time, with seven tubes snapped up around the world every minute. 

Psychologist Jacqueline Burns says: “Red lipstick has stood the test of time as the most alluring shade.

“It can be mysterious, flirtatious and feminine, yet screams confidence at the same time.”

We look at how red became the hottest hue.


For your favourite lip product in our Beauty awards and win some amazing prizes, including a Caribbean holiday and £17,000 worth of beauty goodies. 

Choose from:

  • Avon x Lisa Armstrong MATTEiculous Lipstick 
  • Revlon Super Lustrous Lip Gloss 
  • Milk Makeup Electric Glossy Lip Plumper
  • NARS Afterglow Lip Balm
  • Fenty Beauty Pro Kiss’r Luscious Lip Balm in Latte Lips
  • Charlotte Tilbury Hyaluronic Happikiss


WHILE sales of many luxury items have dipped recently, our penchant for painting our pouts has not wavered, with MUA Cosmetics reporting a 1,000 per cent rise in lippy sales during lockdown. 

And even now, with mandatory face masks hiding our mouths, web searches for lipsticks were up ten per cent week on week last August, said 

The term “lipstick effect” was coined by economists in the 1930s during America’s Great Depression, to explain our desire to buy small luxury goods to lift our mood during economic hardship.

And the shade that lifts us the most is a sed­uctive crimson. 

Ruby reds have become associated with sex symbols such as Betty Boop, Marilyn Monroe and more recently Rihanna and Gwen Stefani.

A British Heart Foundation survey found 26 per cent of women felt more confident wearing a fiery tone.

And a 2010 study by the University of Manchester found men fixated longer on scarlet smiles, gazing for 7.3 seconds compared to 2.2 seconds for those with naked lips. 

In fact, the shade is so alluring that in the 1770s politicians considered a law under which women could be put on trial for witchcraft if they were  accused of seducing men with cosmetics such as red lippy. 

It was not until 1915, when suffragettes in red lipstick took to the streets of New York to demand votes for women, that it became a true emblem of female rebellion. Only then did red lipstick gain its true power.

In the 1930s Vogue magazine crowned it a fashion must-have — and sales boomed. 

Cartoon character Betty Boop, the decade’s popular sex symbol who was inspired by singer Helen Kane, matched her lips to her Ferrari-red mini dress. 

In the 1950s, screen stars Lucille Ball, Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor followed suit.

Blonde bombshell Marilyn’s signature ruby red pout was down to five coatings of Guerlain’s Rouge Diabolique lipstick.

Marilyn was alluring and flirtatious and enhanced it with red lippy

Psychologist Jacqueline Burns says: “Marilyn’s character was already alluring and flirtatious.

“She just enhanced it further with a kissable red lip. 

“Her penchant for this bold shade made her ooze confidence.”

Colour consultant Jules Standish says: “This vibrant shade made Marilyn seductive and enchanting.

“She stood out in a mysterious way.”

Over the decades trends have come and gone but red lipstick has remained the ultimate fashion accessory — and a symbol of ­femininity and power. 

From the sexy animation Jessica Rabbit, with her hourglass figure and fiery red bubble pout, to Madonna during her Blond Ambition Tour and Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction, there are countless examples of its power of seduction in popular culture. 

More recently, a French study found that waitresses with red lipstick received tips from male customers 50 per cent of the time, but that fell to 30 per cent for those with pink or no lippy.

But receiving tips is not the only reason to love red lips. ­

Jules says: “A woman who wears red oozes energy and an innate fearlessness. She knows what she wants.”

It is no wonder then that scarlet-lipped Hollywood star Elizabeth Taylor, who worked her way through seven husbands, once gave this piece of advice: “Pour yourself a drink, put on some lipstick and pull yourself together.”

Whose lipstick hue is your favourite?

Want your lips to look red-hot like a celebrity? 

Here we give you some star styles to choose from…

Marilyn Monroe – Sexy

Although Marilyn’s favourite lipstick, Guerlain’s Rouge Diabolique, is no longer available, the same brand’s Kiss Kiss shade is said to be a dupe.

  • Guerlain Kiss Kiss lipstick, £29.50, John Lewis – view here

Zendaya – Outgoing

The Greatest Showman star opts for orangey-red hues. 

Colour consultant Jules Standish says: “A poppy colour reveals an outgoing, vibrant personality.” 

  • Nars jungle red lipstick, £22, Nars Cosmetics – buy now

Rihanna – Mysterious

The singer likes a deeper autumnal red, such as Mac’s Viva Glam, along with her own Fenty range.

Psychologist Jacqueline Burns says: “It’s powerful  – it shows femininity with a fierce edge.”

  • Mac’s Viva Glam, £17.50,  Look Fantastic – buy now

Elizabeth Taylor – Romantic

Jules says the Hollywood legend’s strong scarlet lips “showed a romantic side and made a red lip charming”.

  • Get her look with Elizabeth Arden scarlet lipstick, £22, from Boots – buy now

Gwen Stefani – Rebellious

Singer Gwen likes Mac’s Russian Red and Revlon’s Lustrous Lips. 

Jacqueline says: “She is punky, fun and playful, thanks to her bold lippy.”

  • Revlon’s lustrous lipstick, £7.99, Superdrug – buy now

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