How Do I Pair Blush with Lipstick?

I frequently get asked how to figure out what colors to pair together- most often people are puzzled at how to make a blush/lipstick combo look "right." It comes down to a few factors, and for beginners, I think it's best to start with learning the rules before you start to break them. That does not mean there aren't many exceptions to every "rule." But there are basic guidelines that help to understand and support wild experimentation, even if you like a very dramatic look and mismatched undertones.

This post is intended to help you if you apply your makeup and find yourself wiping off your lipstick or your blush because you had no idea what the colors would look like before you applied them, and you ended up hating the combination. If you catch a look at yourself in the mirror and think Is that my face? Makeup is not just face paint- not unless it's stage or special FX makeup. You want makeup to make sense in the context of your features and coloring.

All  of the following lip/cheek pairings are "off" in one way or another. Sure, they aren't wretched, but they are all combinations which can be improved by tweaking one or two elements.



1st Tier: Undertone

First step is to gather all your blush in one place and sort it into 3 categories: warm, neutral, and cool. Some folks find it hard to understand undertones when starting out in makeup, but that's ok. We live in the Internet age. Google "[blush name] undertone" and see how other (more knowledgeable) people describe the blushes you own. If you find that 10 trusted sources refer to your favorite blush as warm, you can assume it is, in fact, warm. Obviously if you want an extremely reliable source, you'll want to look up your products on Temptalia's site, as she makes a point of describing every shade she reviews with special attention to undertones.

Put your warm blushes in one box, cool in another, and neutral in a third. If you don't have any blushes in one of the categories, just skip the whole category.

L to R: Warm blushes, neutral blushes, cool blushes

Now do the same thing with your lipsticks and label all the boxes. If you are not confident identifying undertones now, you won't be comfortable identifying undertones early in the morning when you're trying to put your makeup on. Think of it like training wheels until you grow your understanding of color theory. Even if you don't "get it" instinctively right now, you can still use the structure until it becomes second nature.

Try putting together a makeup look- grab a random lipstick from one of your boxes, and a random blush from the corresponding undertone blush box. What you are looking for is whether the matching undertones alone did the trick to give a cohesive appearance.

If that didn't do the trick, there are secondary  and tertiary characteristics that will inform how nice a blush and lipstick pairing looks.

Of course there are competing undertone products that pair well together, but think of that as advanced color-coordination. You have to walk before you can run!

Here are two examples with a relatively similar lip and cheek, however one example shows a poorly matched pairing, and one shows a harmonious one:

The combination on the left is a vibrant true pink blush paired with a warm, coppery lipstick. The two colors are both vibrant and rather deep and so the competing undertones are extremely obvious. While it's not the ugliest thing in the world, most people would agree it looks jarring to the eye, even if they can't describe the reasoning.

Contrast this look with the one on the right- the blush is another vibrant true pink, but the lip has more pink and, while warm, has a good amount of harmony and crossover wtih the cheek color. The resulting pairing has a more cohesive feel.

Personalizing it: As a general rule, it's easier to wear a pair of matching colors that also match your undertones. Warm with warm tones, neutral if you're neutral, etc. That doesn't mean you can't try it another way, but if you are very new to makeup or have a hard time understanding color theory, this is the easiest way to go about it.

There's a ton of crossover for the following categories, but newbies can start here:

Warm undertones can easily wear peach, apricot, coral, orange, warm reds

Cool undertones can easily wear rose, true red, and purples

Neutral undertones can easily wear browns, beiges, and mauves

Me, a warm-toned girl, in warm lips and cheeks

2nd Tier: Depth/Drama

Now we need to take a look at the depth of each shade, for both blush and lipstick.  Unless you have a huge collection, sorting won't do you much good past this point- a lot of it is trial and error. Because of how most people's faces are structured, all things equal, a darker lipstick will be perceived as more dramatic than a lighter one, and same goes for blush.

Darker lipstick demands lighter blush. However too-light cheeks can also throw a look off-balance, just as too-dark ones can. You want to have contrast and balance, but not so much that the eye is drawn exclusively to the lips and the cheeks are left entirely blank.

Here are 2 examples of the same red lipstick, one worn with strong blush, one worn with no blush:

For me, the example on the right strikes a better balance than the one on the left. While both lips and cheeks are fairly satin-y in finish and the color are harmonized and internally consistent within the looks, they still form a different overall impression. The example on the left has nothing in the cheeks "speaking" to the lips, so there's a certain sallow and flat quality to my face. I think the one on the right, with a hint of warm pink in the cheeks, adds enough balance without being clownish.

In this next example, both looks have a similar grape-like muted purple undertone, but one is slightly more attractive than the other:

The example on the left has a bit of a dirtier quality- the deeper blackened quality of the innermost area of the purple lip is emphasizing a heavy gray in the cheeks. On the right, I'm wearing the same exact blush but a lighter, brighter purple that has more rosy tones. This lifts the muted cheeks and balances them without too sharp a contrast, as they share the same base purple tint.

Above on the left is an example of the opposite problem- too little emphasis on every single feature. Because I'm wearing such a pale lip and cheek together (with no eyeshadow) there is an overall muting/washing-out of my face. The negative effect is subtle, but it's not one that I'd choose to repeat if given the choice.

Compare to the look on the right- about the same amount of makeup- brows, lipcolor, cheek color, and foundation, but my features and complexion look brighter and more defined. Because of the depth of the cheek and lip color both, my face has more definition and the overall effect is more flattering. The amount of makeup "definition" or contrast a person needs is highly dependent on face shape and coloring, so this is just showcasing my perfect level of contrast vs. not enough. You may need more or less color than me.

A lot of these little differences aren't immediately apparent, and they don't stand out to you until you've experimented a lot. At the times I wore most of these combinations, I liked them enough to not immediately wash my face or wipe my lipstick off. It's only in retrospect, and in comparison, that I see where I can improve, even if the improvement is only marginal.

Because the majority of my makeup falls on the muted side of the spectrum, most of the above examples are still leaning muted (i.e. with less white and more brown or gray in the undertones.) However, I do own some truly bright items that are an extension of the reasoning discussed above. For me, considering my more muted overall coloring (hair, skin, eyes) I have to be extremely careful to not pair very muted with very bright tones:

In the photos above, I think it should be painfully obvious which pairing works better. I admit the blush application on the left is technically sloppy, which accounts for some of the jarring visual, but it also has to do with the gray tones present in the blush that make it a more muted fuchsia. The blush on the right has what you call "pure" or bright tones, aka no real depth or murkiness. This pairs well with the nearly-neon lipstick, which needs to be balanced with a lighter hand of blush and a similarly-bright/light-feeling shade.

Above are two flattering warm looks that I like but the one on the left has a slightly skewed balance. The cheeks are a bit too deep and are fighting with the lipcolor. As you can see, they are not worlds apart but a subtle tweak in depth, even while keeping the undertones and shades very similar, can make a difference in how my overall face appears.

Please remember everything that has to do with color and depth is relative to your natural skintone. I have medium-light skin and warm greenish/grayish undertones, so what qualifies as "bright" on me or "dark" may be different for you if you are lighter than me, darker than me, or have different undertones. This guide is not going to teach you specifically choose colors that work on you as an individual, but rather how to make the different elements of your makeup speak to one another.

3rd Tier: Finish

While color is fundamentally important to making sure a blush and lipcolor pair harmoniously, the finish of both items is also critical. Finish refers to the visual texture of an item- most items fall into one of four categories, or are a blend between two categories: matte, shimmery, and satin.

Matte items have a flat, non-reflective finish. They are often very opaque in tone and can provide rich, vibrant color. The disadvantage is that they can appear dry or show blending mistakes such as streakiness or patchiness. Matte lipsticks can emphasize lines, dryness, and make lips look smaller.

Shimmery items have a visible shimmer i.e. particles that reflect light and bounce it. The effect can be anywhere from rather fine to more chunky and disconnected. Shimmery blushes tend to be generous in terms of application and hiding application mistakes, but the uneven light-reflecting surface they create can highlight skin imperfections or make oily skins look greasy. Shimmery lipsticks can create a full look but also depending on the application, can skew to looking messy.

Satin items are somewhere between matte and shimmery. They have a gentle luminosity and are often described as having a natural skin-finish i.e. they look like skin. They reflect light in a smoother manner, with no visible "breaks" between shimmer particles, which is usually more forgiving on uneven skin texture. Good satin-finish blushes have few faults and are probably the easiest texture to work with, especially for makeup beginners. Satin lipsticks are fairly easy to wear- they are usually flattering on fuller and thinner lips alike, but sometimes the longevity is not as good.

From L to R: Surratt Ponceau (matte), Hourglass Mood Exposure (satin), NARS Luster (shimmery)

Because shimmer level affects how distracting and dramatic a blush or lipstick is, it's an important factor to consider when pairing a lip and eye look. Even though you can mix and match more freely and the "rules" here vary wildly, generally speaking a very-shimmery blush with a very-shimmery lip will be more busy-looking. A matte lip with a matte cheek may sometimes appear flat. Mixing finishes is an easy way to make a look more or less formal, depending on the effect you're going for.

Also note that the more imperfections you have on your cheek area (acne, scarring, large pores) the more difficult it can be to wear shimmery blush. People with cheek skin texture may need to default to less shimmery blush, especially paired with a high-shimmer or dramatic lipstick, to look harmonious.

The following two photos are very close in terms of tone and balance, but the one big difference is the finish:

In the photo on the left, I am wearing an all-matte cheek and lip. The combination is a little dull, a bit dry, and provides no textural excitement. In the photo on the right, my lip and cheek are both a slightly more satin/glowy, which I feel makes the skin look more vibrant and awake. Even though both colors have the same warm apricot tones, the finish makes a difference in how flattering the overall effect is.

While too-matte can be an issue, too-shimmery can also be tricky:

In this set of photos, the one on the left pairs a warm shimmery cheek with a warm shimmery lip. Something in the quality of shimmer of both items is jarring when viewed together- it's too reflective and comes across greasy and makes my face look busy.

The one on the right uses a satin/lightly-shimmery berry blush and a shimmery berry lip but the strong shimmer on the lip is balanced with a slightly more restrained cheek texture, and overall the look is easier to take in. Because the lip takes so much focus and the cheek doesn't compete or match the texture as closely, the effect is more holistically pleasing.

Pulling It Together

It may seem like a lot to juggle these three categorizations but it becomes second nature after a while. In fact, your eyes probably recognize the discordant pairings and the harmonious ones above, even if you can't put that into words. The eye is drawn to a certain balance- it likes contrast but not too much, it likes vibrancy and visual interest, but not so much that it becomes busy. Also, as they say, there's no accounting for taste! You might like more shimmer or more high-contrast looks than I do, in which case you might be drawn to some of my "bad" examples above. That's ok. As long as you can recognize and interpret the objective differences and similarities in tone, finish, and depth, you can inform your subjective opinions using that information.

Tweaking to Suit Your Style

Despite the fact that this post is aimed at being balanced and a middle-of-the-road guide, I do have my personal style quirks which I think some will disagree with. I love a completely empty cheek area (no color) with a bold saturated lipstick. I think the look is editorial and striking, although it demands precision and a very clean, flawless base makeup.

In the above photos, the one on the left is arguably more successful since it has a balanced feel without too much emphasis on one feature. But I personally like the one on the right, even though I can tell my face looks a bit tired and washed-out, because I find the vampy lip look to be interesting without blush. That's what I mean when I say "personal style quirks."

Adding Eye Makeup 

Whenever you add eye makeup, you get a third confounding factor that can upset the balance of your lip and cheek combo. Eyeshadow can range from the neutral to the very colorful, which complicates things with a lip and cheek pairing. I will most likely write a future post on this triple-combo challenge, but here are some of my favorite bold eye looks with harmonious lip and cheek companions:

In the photo above on the left, I have taken a jade-green eye look and matched it in pastel depth with the lips and cheeks. I'm not going to wear green face makeup, but the soft and neutral quality of the pink I chose for the lips and cheeks matches the mood of the green eye.

In the photo above on the right, I've gone for a saturated smoky eye and kept the cheeks and lips light again, but because there are strong orange tones in the eye, I continued the orange theme by wearing a peach blush and an orange-toned nude lipstick. I'm still using all the knowledge from the previous sections to juggle finish, undertone, and depth.

The above two photos showcase two different purple smoky eye looks. The look on the left uses more blue-toned cool purples, and I matched that with a very subtle pink on the lips and a lavender-toned pink blush. I did not want to introduce a lot of extra warmth, which I already have in my skin, so I stuck to the purple hues.

In the above right photo, however, I used warmer purples with golden shimmer, and several orangey shades to blend the eye makeup. Therefore, I wore an orangey nude blush and a warm nude lip with some hints of orange to tie into that warmth. It's a balancing act, because if my lid shade were slightly cooler, the effect would likely read as disjointed.

And here are some failed combinations...

In this look, there is a bit too much contrast between the tones, depths, and finish of the lipcolor, blush, and eyes. While the cheek and lip are acceptable and would look fine alone, all together it's quite clunky. I have a shimmery/metallic neutral-warm eye paired with a matte neutral cool lipstick on the lips in a very dramatic tone. The contrast of medium depth and warmth on the eyes with vampy depth and matte lips all falls flat. The subtle warm cheek doesn't help at all- it might have worked if I either added a more dramatic berry cheek to tie in the tones of the lip, or made the eyes and cheeks both cool to pair well with the deep berry lip.

For another "failed" example of eye-lip-cheek combinations, let's look at an easy one, showing an identical eye makeup look with two different, internally consistent lip/cheek pairings:

These two photos have nearly-identical eye makeup, both cool muted grays. The left lip/cheek are neutral pinks. The face and lip are harmoniously rendered in muted tones, to match the muted eyes.

The photo on the right shows what happens if you stray too far to the other end of the mismatched spectrum. Sure, both the eye and the cheek/lip have a cool tone, you would think the pairing might be successful. However, the relative brightness of the cheek and lip mean that the muted gray eye becomes a bit sunken and dull looking. Here you can see how two disparate elements, which might be flattering separately can look very bad together.

A Note on Application

As I'm sure some of you noticed, some of the more egregious "bad" examples above suffer from a two-fold issue- shoddy application (resulting in a patchy or streaky appearance) and some sort of textural/color discordance. In fact, most of these blushes were applied with the same application "skill" level and brushes. Yes, there is variation day to day in how clumsy or careful I am, but what strikes me when I look back at the hundreds of FOTDs I've done over the last couple years is that the combinations I like best are the easiest to replicate, over and over, even when I'm sleepy or rushed. That is to say the ones that look the most poorly-applied are actually applied ok, but the textural and color mismatch emphasizes any and all technical errors.

You'll find that the "highly challenging" combos (with respect to mismatched undertones, high levels of contrast or very low levels of contrast) that I discussed above as looking "bad" can look good, except that they are more susceptible to being messed up when you're short on time.

Think of the suggestions for pairing blush and lipstick as your Easy Mode choices. Once you've mastered those combinations and have them earmarked for lazy days, you can experiment with more difficult or finicky combinations. These are good to practice over your existing makeup right before washing your face at night, or on the weekend when you have nowhere important to be. The more you practice, the more you can understand what your particular features and coloring can handle.


  1. I just want to reiterate how delighted I am that you've started a blog! I know your real name now, but I fear I may always think of you as "lgbtbbq," the best reddit name ever.

    I love this detailed analysis of undertones, especially because the focus is on the finished looks and not the individual products. Though I almost always match the undertones of my blush and lipstick, I really enjoy pairing a warm-toned cheek and lip with a cool-toned eye (my favorite combination is peach and gray), or a warm-toned eye with a cool-toned cheek and lip. All-over cool tones can look '80s on me if they're too bright, while my skin isn't quite warm enough for all-over warm tones (though I sometimes wear them anyway).

    1. Ha! You don't ever have to call me my real name if you prefer my BBQ moniker. It always made me giggle too.

      You've always been so supportive and constructive when discussing makeup minutiae with me. There's absolutely a hint of "dated"ness to wearing the "wrong" colors on your skintone...blue and fuchsia tones recall the 80s when worn by warmer girls. I think in the future if someone cool wears orange tones, someone will disparagingly call it "so 2010s!" because it seems like orange is the thing the last few years.

      I love to mix and match within my makeup as well- it's a point of pride to be able to juggle those mismatching issues now since in the past, I had no way to frame colors or understand WHY they worked/didn't work!

  2. This is brilliant. Thank you!