3.3 Colour theory

To be able to provide sound advice to your clients about which colours will work best for their skin tone, it is important for you to have a good understanding of the colour wheel and colour theory. Many of us learned the basics of colours at school, and you may even remember songs about the colours of the rainbow! The easiest way to think about the colour wheel is to look at the categories of colours. According to colour theory, there are primary colours (red, yellow and blue), secondary colours (green, orange and purples) and tertiary colours (blue-green or red-violet).

When it comes to selecting colours of lashes for clients, you need to consider their eye colour, skin colour and the look they are going for. Colours that are opposite each other on the colour wheel are categorised as complementary, and they will result in a vibrant, strong contrast. For example, if you have blue eyes, wearing an eyeshadow that has an orange hue will make them pop!

Key phrase | Hue: another word for the term colour and refers to the dominant colour or ‘colour family’ on the colour wheel. For example, the hue of sky blue is blue, the hue of terracotta is orange, and the hue of emerald is green.

Key phrase | Saturation: tells us how colourful colour is in terms of intensity. If there is high saturation, this means the colour will be more intense, and in reverse, if the saturation decreases, the colour will be paler or appear washed-out.

Key phrase | Tonal value: refers to the amount of light that is reflected off the colour, resulting in how light or dark a colour is. For example, fluorescent yellow is brighter than a mustard yellow, so fluorescent yellow would be higher in value (brighter) than the mustard yellow.

Depending on the sort of look your client is going for, you will need to carefully consider the type of hue, saturation and tonal value needed to achieve the look. Additionally, you will need to determine whether or not the colour they have chosen will be complementary. To do this, we can further categorise colours into warm, cool and neutral. If we draw a line and chop the colour wheel in half, cool tones are to the left and warm tones are to the right:

As you can see, cool tone colours include greens, blues and blue-based purple. Warm tone colours include orange, yellow and red. Neutral colours tend to include black, white, brown and grey. There are certain colours that will look better on certain skin tones and undertones.

Key phrase | Skin tone versus undertone: Skin tone (overtone) is the surface skin colour (fair, medium, dark), whereas skin undertone is the subtle hue underneath the surface (warm, cool or neutral).

Knowing which colours work best with your own skin tone and undertone is an excellent place to start when learning to apply colour theory professionally. Most of us know our skin tone in terms of whether we have fair skin, medium skin or dark skin. Our skin tone can change throughout the year, depending on how much sun we are exposed to, whereas our undertone never changes.

Key phrase | Melanin: a natural skin pigment found in hair, skin, and eye colour in both people and animals. Variation in colours depends on the type and amount of melanin they have.

A good way to think about the impact of a client’s natural melanin is to compare an olive skin client (more melanin) and a fair skin client (less melanin). The sort of coverage and colours you will need to select for each skin tone (melanin level) will obviously vary between someone who is very fair versus someone with a darker complexion. We will look more at colour matching later in this module.

As a general overview, consider the following recommended colours, which can apply to makeup, clothing and the bronzer/dye colour in the tanning solution with regard to skin tone:

Skin toneRecommended coloursColours to avoid
Fair and light skinDark brown, burgundy, grey, blues, deep purples, lavender, lilac, sapphire, and emerald greens.Yellow and orange, as well as any pastel shades or soft colours as they may wash you out.
Medium skinDusty pink, soft rose, peach, jade green, taupe, grey, off-white and blue.Bright red, bright yellow and neon colours as they can look overpowering.
Olive skinOrange, red, golden yellow, amber, warm greens, blue, turquoise, moss green, magenta, purple, chocolate brown and creamy whites.Colder blues, soft greens and yellows as they can be too similar to the undertone of your complexion.
Dark skinPurple, pink, peach, orange, yellow, jade green, cobalt blue and bright colours in general.Brown, navy and lots of black – these dark colours won’t contrast nearly enough with dark skin and can blend in rather than be complementary.

Determining your undertone can be a little tricky and can sometimes seem like a bit of a guessing game.To determine your undertone, consider the following questions:

What jewellery looks best on you?

People who look better with silver jewellery tend to have cool-toned skin, and those who wear gold usually have warm-toned skin.

What colour are your veins?

People with blue or purple veins are generally cool-toned, and those with green coloured veins are usually warm-toned, and if your veins are blueish-green, then your tone could be neutral.

What colour are your eyes?

People with green or brown eyes tend to have warm undertones, and people with blue or grey eyes tend to have cool undertones.

If you are still struggling to identify your undertone, carefully examine your skin and see what hues appear. If you have pink or red hues, then it is likely you are cool-toned. If you have yellow or golden hues, then you are likely warm-toned. If you have a balance of hues or have olive skin, then it is likely you have a neutral undertone.

Practical exercise – determining skin tone

Look at the celebrities below and see if you can determine who has warm, cool or neutral skin tone:

How did you go with your undertone assessment? If you assessed the celebrities toward the left to be warm toned and those on the right to be cool toned, then you are correct!

As a quick reference guide, identify skin tones by looking out for:

Veins on the underside of the wrist appear green
Suits gold jewellery
Skin tans easily
Veins on the underside of the wrist appear blue/green
Suits silver or gold jewellery
Skin tans well but may not burn
Veins on the underside of the wrist appear blue/purple
Suits silver jewellery
Skin burns easily and rarely tans

If you are interested in learning more about determining skin tones or if you haven’t quite managed to determine your own undertone yet, watch the videos linked below:

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