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Understanding The Colour Wheel: How To Find The Best Make-Up Shades

Fashion & Beauty

Understanding The Colour Wheel: How To Find The Best Make-Up Shades

Understanding the colour wheel and its application to make-up shade decisions, will empower you, give you confidence, and do wonders for your make-up bag. It’s a common saying among us women “I can’t wear that shade, it’s too bright or dark for me.” I beg to differ, all you need is the right undertone of any shade, to suit your skin shade. Let’s get into it and waste no time.


Here is the colour wheel above there are three types of colour:

Primary: The first colours of the wheel yellow, red and blue.

Secondary: Orange, violet and green.

Tertiary: The colours we get when we mix the primary and secondary together. Yellow/orange. red/orange, red/violet, blue/violet, blue/green and yellow/green.

What’s Your Tone: Warm Vs Cool.

In make-up application, the colours of the colour wheel represent the undertone of our skin, or a beauty product.   When it comes to our skin are you warm, cool or neutral? Knowing this will help you be confident with make-up selection. For example what kind of red or pink lipstick to select or what kind of blusher with the right undertone to suit your skin.

When you look at your skin what undertones do you see?  It’s common that the darker the skin the warmer, the fairer the cooler. Very deep skin is often cooler or neutral. You can tell your own by looking in the mirror what do you see, other than the colour of your actual skin, what is underneath it, what colours make it up. Here’s some tests:

  • In the sun do you burn and go red and not take the sun well? Chances are your cooler skinned. Or do you look a lovely brown shade after some sun with no redness? Chances are you’re warmer skinned. This test applies to all Even if you are of an ethnic background. When I go in the sun, after a week in Jamaica or Las Vegas in the summer I look a lovely warm delicious brown. No redness etc I “toast” nicely into a nice rich brown colour. Same applies to fair skinned ladies and porcelain skinned ladies with fair hair. Do you toast or go red?
  • Veins, on your wrist are they green= warm or blue= cool. Or in between = neutral toned.
  • Do you look better in gold or silver jewellery? Gold= warm silver = cool, either= neutral.
  • When you buy foundations what ones do you go for when selecting the shade name. “Bronze, beige, cream, honey = warm skin. Ivory= cool. Do you select products with NW if you use MAC which stands for Natural Warm, or NC which stands for Natural Cool.

Place yourself on the wheel, for example when I look at my skin I see warm, bronze, browns, oranges = warm. However, I don’t see yellow= gold (still warm) in my skin it’s more orange. If I was lighter but still from an ethnic background or mixed race, I might see yellow. If I were darker I probably would be a little warmer and see more red, if I was very deep in skin tone, I’d likely but not always see violet /blue tones. It’s crazy to think of your skin this way. However, you need to see behind the brownness or paleness of your skin’s actual colour, to see what makes it up underneath. Clever us make-up artists, aren’t we?  And people think, all we are doing is messing around with make-up. There is a theory to be learned as well. Generally from yellow- red is warm. From purple/violet to green is cooler and neutral.


Opposites Really Do Attract.


Once you have an idea of where you sit in terms of undertone on the wheel, now we apply the simple theory of the wheel to select shades of make-up with the best tone for you. For example, I sit in the warm tone, orange & orange red side of the wheel for the undertones of my brown skin’s shade. Therefore, when it comes to lipstick, shades with a violet – green cool undertone, not colour is best for my skins undertones. Take for example a berry red shade, berry red comes in varies types of red, from true bright red to more purple. I’d pick the berry red that is more purple/cool in tone than a berry red that is more true red/warm as it will clash against my already warm skin and tone, it’s too warm. If I were selecting a nice nude pretty pink (which I often do) I’d go for a more cool pinky/ mauve/purple, than a true baby pink for example. A pink that has a mauve feel to it would suit better on warmer skin.

If you are pale skinned and probably more cooler in tone, you may sit over the other side of the wheel from me. This would mean your berry red you would pick could be a more warmer, less cool berry/purple. More like a true red.


Kim’s Berry Red: warmer/deeper skin


Cooler / Lighter/Pale Skin’s Berry Red:

This is not to say that warmer skin could not rock a red for cooler skin or vice versa, but it would complement you more with the right undertone of the berry red.


What About Blush?

Same theory applies. Warm skinned ladies should (try) to stay away from too warm a blush. First it may not show up, depending on how warm in colour your skin is, second, you’ll look slightly orange possibly. Select a cooler toned blush like a nice soft rose with mauve undertones.

I love MAC’s shade “Razin” for a blush, it’s peachy coloured, long lasting but warm in tone. With warm skin I can use it, it’s okay and I do use it but does not do for me what MAC’s “Fever” for example would do it would complement  warm skin more. It’s a better tone using the colour wheel theory. That said, I do rock them both as I love Razin for more natural looks on days where less is more. Cool toned ladies you need warming up! So, do go for a peachy warm tone shades.

Very pale skinned ladies I would go easy on the very warm, brown blushes. You may look like you have mud on your face. Keep it close to your own skin’s undertone rather than warm bronzes… some may disagree but my advice.

Remember:  Tone does not = shade. Shade = lightness or darkness of the skin where we fit a foundation colour. Tone is what’s beneath the skin, it’s “skin deep” as they say, what shows through under your shade of skin. Hence, we call it “undertone.” Don’t confuse the two.



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Kim is born in 1983, and from London in the UK. She’s a mother to a beautiful toddler, a proud award- winning author (awarded Best Romance Novel 2017 for the novel A Stranger In France), and the editor of Conscious Talk Magazine. As a writer Kim enjoys creating stories with a diverse and multi-cultural line up, within the romance, romantic suspense and general thriller and crime genres. When she’s not reading, or writing stories of her own her other passions include practising her French, learning about society, history and culture, fashion, drawing, make-up artistry, spending time at her sewing machine dressmaking, watching make–up and beauty tutorials on YouTube, letter writing and being a mum.

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