How I Learned…Color Theory of Skin Tones

Whenever I try and purchase a foundation or concealer, there is always the mention of undertone. They usually have some description saying cool, warm, yellow, or neutral. But what exactly does this all mean? I started to do some research and found this article. At the bottom of the article, there is a book about color theory and why it is important to learn. Now eventually I will get into learning and practicing color schemes, but for the purpose of this blog post I kept it to skin tones. 

Since I am a visual learner and I wanted to learn more about color theory, I decided to first look at these videos on youtube and developed a sense of what I needed and combined this to what I already knew about color theory. Since there was a bit of a learning curve for me, I also looked at various makeup brand’s websites and read their descriptions for their deep and light skin tones. I then went to the paint store and purchased: primary red, primary blue, primary yellow, white, and black. Now, let’s begin:

So I first started with dark skin tones. I made a base color to work with, and this consisted of an orange mixed with blue. When I added the blue to my orange I realized I used too much yellow to create the hue, so naturally the color turned a dark green. I used a color correcting method and added red to balance this out and the result was a dark chocolate brown. Then I mixed four colors that would serve as my undertone color. I had a light red, a bright yellow, a dark green, and a dark purple. 

Undertone Colors and Base Brown (far right)

I first added white to the base, to try and lighten the brown a bit. However instead of lightening the color, it created a grey toned desaturated version of the brown. It ended up being a really nice contour color for a medium to deep skin tone. 

Next I used my base with the light red. This brightened the brown and added warmth to the color, but was almost too red as if it were a sunburn. 

Using the bright yellow with the base, brought out the brown hue better, while it also brightened the look of the color. This made sense to me as most highlighting concealers for deep skin tones are yellow. 

When I added the green mixture to the base, it looked as though someone was nauseous. I avoided further mixing with this undertone color, but in retrospect I think adding either red or yellow would have given me better results. 

Using purple definitely created the darker of tones but it was harder to make it look really deep with just purple alone. When I added black to this, it just deepened the existing hue. When I used the base with purple, and a small mix of light red and bright yellow, this actually made it a very warm and very dark color. But because there’s was still purple in the original mixture it had an overall cool undertone. 

Mixing the brown base and bright yellow with white, lightened up the color and made a really rich medium to deep skin tone. 

Next, I took my base and mixed it with a primary yellow, this brightened the overall brown color but maintained its darkness without lightening the shade. This also occurred when I used a primary red, only it was warmer and less bright. 

Lastly I mixed the brown base with just black and the color deepened in value slightly, the results could have been better if I added more black. And here is the finished palette:

Dark Skin Tones

I then moved onto light skin tones. For my base, I mixed a lot of yellow and white, then a very small amount of blue and a medium amount of red. For my undertone colors, I made a light yellow, a pink, and a bright green. 

Base Brown (far right, and Undertone Colors

First I used my base color and mixed it with varying amounts of white to make the color lighter. I used this method for all of the undertones I mixed with. The results of this mixture were different shades of beige, and it was a direct tint scale of the hue.

Using the pink undertone was similar to the dark tones, wherein it mostly deepened the brown hue of the mixture. This was challenging to create a gradient with each amount of white that I added. The results ranged from a red beige to a salmon, to a light beige and then a very light ivory pink. This was by far the most unique tint range. 

When I mixed the light yellow undertone to my base, this was the easiest. It created a similar gradient like the white alone did. Yellow is definitely a neutral undertone and an easier skin tone to color match. 

For the olive skin tone (using the bright green undertone) I found that the gradient was slightly similar to the yellow undertone, only naturally, a more cooler hue. The second to lightest shade was the hardest to mix without it looking too green, though the more white and base I mixed, the better the result. 

Lastly I added black to the base brown, as expected this created cool grey toned color, which is the perfect contour shade for light skin tones. And here is the finished palette:

Light Skin Tones

This concludes my first post for my How I Learned series. I found it really useful to mix using the primary colors. I now feel that I understand the concept of undertones better. When I was making up a client, the day after I did this, I found that it was a lot easier to mix foundation and concealer due to my new understanding of the color theory of skin color. I hope this helped you learn about skin tone. 

Until Next Time, 


3 thoughts on “How I Learned…Color Theory of Skin Tones

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