Beauty Fact or Fiction – Can Lipstick Make Your Teeth Look Whiter?

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Should we question long held beliefs about makeup?

I’m sure you’ve heard that wearing a blue toned lipstick is supposed to make your teeth look whiter, and I’ve  held this belief without question since I bought my first purplish pink lip-gloss at the Benefit counter, over 10 years ago.

I’ve been thinking about this piece of beauty advice for a while now, and the more I mull it over, the less sense it makes to me. I studied Art in University, and I’ve been a Makeup Artist for nearly 8 years, so if there’s one thing I can confidently say, it’s that I understand Colour Theory.

Basically Colour Theory is understanding what colours enhance each other, and what colours lessen the impact of each other. Today I’m going to talk about “complimentary” or “contrasting” colours. These are the colours opposite each other on the colour wheel and they are they enhance each other.


You can see that yellow and purple complimentary colours, and so are orange and blue, red and green, etc.  So how does that translate to makeup? Well, we use it everyday in makeup application. If you have green eyes, chances are you love to wear copper eyeshadow because you can see it enhances the green and makes your eyes look bright and vibrant. If you have blue eyes you probably own heaps of bronzes and warm browns, because orange is your complimentary colour.

Conversely, most makeup artists would tell you to avoid blue eyeshadow if you have blue eyes, and green eyeshadow if you have green eyes. The reason being, rather than enhancing your natural eye colour, as a complimentary colour would, it will compete with it, and distract.

Have a look at this picture. The red poppies really stand out against the green grass. Can you imagine if the poppies were green too? You would barely see them.



So what does this have to do with making your teeth look whiter?

Lets look at the colour wheel again. Remember, the saying goes that Blue toned lipstick makes your teeth look whiter. colourwheel01


What the what?? Blue and orange are complimentary colours! So if anything, blue toned lipstick should make teeth look more yellow!

Consider it in the opposite direction. The much maligned orange colour, which we believe to make your teeth look more yellow, should in fact bring out the blue (which would definitely make them look whiter).

Hmmmm… So have we had it backwards this entire time? Does orange toned lipstick in fact make your teeth look whiter?

I decided to test it.

Exhibit A

orange lip


Apologies for the extreme close-up

Here I’m wearing Vegas Volt Lipstick by MAC, a very orange toned colour. I even pressed orange eyeshadow over the top to really amp up the colour. My teeth look OK, I don’t think they look overly yellow, or overly white. (I am very lucky to have fairly white teeth naturally though)

blue lip

And here I am wearing an Inglot Lipstick #15, which you can see has a very blue purplish undertone in it. And you know what? My teeth look whiter!

Nope, I don’t understand it either. I was completely certain I had debunked a makeup myth and was going to change the way women chose lipstick forever. But no. I just proved it even further.

So there you go. I can’t tell you why or how this happens, it makes no sense at all from a colour theory perspective, but at least you can confidently wear your blue toned pinks now,  knowing that your teeth do indeed look whiter.

What do you think of all this? I’m so confused…….

Sharon xxx




Sharon x

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  • Torie

    I have no idea why this happens, but I’ve definitely noticed it too. I find that the best colour for my teeth is a blue-toned fuschia that I have!

    • ♥Nancy♥

      I’ve noticed that fuschia works for me too, Torie. As much as I love a red lip, I can’t pull it off.

  • Petja

    Hi dear, I have the same dilema actually and was just thinking that maybe the blue tone (or yellow) from the lipstick reflects on teeth because they are reflective and that maybe why … just an idea but maybe it can be something about it 🙂

    • sharon

      Well that’s sounds about right, I never thought of that before. I bet that’s exactly what’s happening. Thanks Petja, that was really annoying me! xx

      • Ana Cristina Fonseca Dos Santos

        Actually, I have asked a physics teacher about this, and she said yes. Purple shirts or purple lipsticks look purple because they reflect purple light, hence, wearing a blue shirt reflects more blue light towards your eyes, and make them look bluer, and purple lipstick reflects purplish light towards your teeth, so they look cooler toned, hence whiter.

  • TheMoreYouKnow

    Great article!

    (I’m so sorry for this, but I think you mean “complementary” [as in they complete each other] and not “complimentary”)

  • natalie

    Hi. I have been searching for a purple lipstick/gloss that makes my teeth whiter but I have never found one. They ALWAYS make my teeth look a disgusting yellow shade. No other colour does that. I can wear gold, red, pink, orange… but purpley (bluey) pink is my favourite colour and I cant open my mouth! Any suggestions?

  • Jan

    I think Petja’s reflection theory makes sense. I’ve never been a lip-colour-wearer but am contemplating taking the plunge hence searching for articles on this subject. So I don’t have experience with lipstick, but I do have experience with home decor. My bathroom has yellow walls, a yellow shower curtain and in the evening is lit by a bulb that has the standard yellow tint that most bulbs have. While I’m doing my makeup in there, regardless of the time of day, my teeth look terrible (to me; not judging people with stained teeth, I generally don’t even notice), they look so yellow. They definitely reflect ambient colour.

    When it comes to lip makeup I think I’m just going to have to experiment!

  • Xero

    The top picture with the orange lipstick honestly looks whiter to me.

    • Amber

      I think the orange makes your teeth look whiter! You do have nice white teeth either way. 🙂

  • Tracy

    I have stained teeth from my nebulizer inhalation treatments and I always wondered if I could pull off purple lipstick. I am going to try a MAC color called Heroine which I love. It has a lot of red tone behind it’s purple color. Seeing as red always helps my teeth look brighter and whiter, I am hopeful this will work well, also. Thanks for your article! It has given me the faith to try it out!

  • Diamond

    Good article. However, you had the correct logic but it pushed you into the wrong method. Look at it like this: Our teeth have a tendency to become yellow with stains and wear and tear. Purple, the opposite of yellow, should neutralize the color of the teeth and make it appear whiter since the yellow is countering the purple. If you use orange, a color similar to yellow, they will enhance each other, like an echo. I am no MUA, but that is how it makes best sense to me. Some blue toned lipsticks can make your teeth look yellow if there is an element of green. I stick to true blue tone based lipsticks, purple tones, and red tones that do NOT have an orange base unless it is sheer.

  • Tessa

    So I’ve been wondering the same thing for quite some time. I am a scientifically minded sort and think there are really two questions here:

    1. Do blue based tones actually make teeth seem whiter if you poll the general public without telling them what your hypothesis is?

    2. If yes (which my own experience also frustratingly leads me to believe), is it a matter of the teeth actually reflecting back blue/yellow tones (meaning the color of the teeth is in a way actually different) OR does it have to do with the WAY the teeth look next to the color of the lips?

    I think the only way to be sure would be this:

    Find enough (say 5-10) beauty bloggers who photograph lip closeups in consistent lighting. Next, Photoshop all the lip colors to a uniform shade (grayscale? Neutral pink? Whatever, so long as it’s consistent). Then, IF people still say that the teeth that were photographed next to blue bases look whiter, we’d know that the teeth themselves are reflecting the blue tones. If not, somehow it’s just a perception — a difficult to explain one!

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