We apologize in advance for the high school flashbacks, but it turns out all those hours spent in art class weren’t just for watching the clock or getting into paint fights with your friends. Colour theory plays an important role in makeup (it is an art form, after all!) and it all comes back to that infamous colour wheel. Colour theory is key to creating create striking makeup looks that your suit individual features and colouring. Read on for your guide to mastering makeup colour theory to make your features pop.

Colour theory terms you need to know about
Primary colors

These include red, yellow and blue and are the three colours used to create all others on the spectrum. The ratio of the mix of these three colours determines the base of the colour. It’s the base of any colour that you will primarily be resorting back to when matching to your own features.

Complementary colors

These are colours that are opposite each other on the colour wheel. Their contrast typically creates vibrancy and make each other ‘pop’.

Color temperature

Warm tones have more red, yellow and orange in their undertones. Generally, they’re brighter and more energetic colours, but can also be deep and rich. Cool tones have more blue in their undertones and are more soothing or flat. It’s important to remember that any colour, whether red, blue or yellow based, can be warm or cool toned. A warm red is created by mixing red with yellow whereas a cool red is created using red and blue.

Tints and shades

A tint is a colour that has white added to make it lighter in appearance. For example, peach colours are a tint of orange. Shades are the opposite being colours that have black added to make them a darker hue of that colour. For example, navy is a shade of blue.

5 Easy Color Theory Makeup Hacks

Once you understand the basics, here a few simple ways to incorporate colour theory into your makeup routine. Heads up, this article includes affiliate links and we will receive a small kickback if you purchase. You read our privacy policy here.

1. Choose a complementary eyeshadow to your eye colour to make them pop

 The beauty of complementary colours is that they give each other life and movement. If you want your eye colour to really stand out, gals with green eyes should go for pinks and purples, blue eyes look striking with reds and oranges and as brown eyes are neutral, they can pull off just about any colour.

2. Match your foundation with the undertones in your skin

Generally speaking, we all either have pink or yellow undertones in our skin. Matching your foundation shade and its own undertones to yours is the key to getting a seamless colour match. The quickest way to determine your own undertone is to look at the veins on your wrist. If they’re blue, you probably have pink undertones. If they’re green, your skin most likely has yellow undertones. The only exception to this is if you use a fake tan. Most fake tans create a yellow based bronze so using a yellow based foundation will neutralize your own pink base and blend better with your tan.

3. You can correct your skin tone by applying complementary colors

Those bright purple, peach and green concealers you see at makeup stores are designed to correct variations in your skin tone such as redness, dark circles and sallowness (also referred to a dullness). The theory is simple; complementary colours cancel each other out when mixed. Take under eye circles, for example. These are a mix of blue and purple hues so peaches and orange pink hues neutralize the dark circles, allowing you to put foundation or regular concealer over top and blend it in with the rest of your face. If you have redness, use a green concealer, and if you have sallowness, where your skin looks a little yellow and dull, use purple. Using the reverse of this theory, if you use too many colours that are similar to that of your problem, you will draw attention to it. For example, if you have dark circles, using a purple or blue based colour on your lips will make them stand out even more.

4. Matching your skin tones colour temperature to that of your makeup colours will brighten your face

If you have warm undertones in your skin, warm colours such as reds, oranges, lime or vibrant greens and red-based purples will brighten your overall complexion making you look more youthful and awake. On the opposite end of the spectrum, those with cooler undertones should stick with purples, blues, teals and blue based reds for the same reasons.

5. Tinted hues create softer makeup looks, while shades create bolder looks

For simpler daytime looks, choose tints — that is, colours that have been lightened with white. If you want to create a really bold, high impact look, shades will give you a really rich and luxurious feel. This same theory is also why browns are better than black on ageing skin, as they are softer and offer less contrast. Less contrast means fine lines, pigmentation and imperfections fade into the background.