Who doesn’t want to look radiant with sparkly eyes, glowing skin, and the appearance of a full night’s sleep? That’s exactly what the right color can do for you. The colors you choose to wear have the ability to either wash you out (yikes) or highlight your gorgeous features, and that’s powerful. Discovering which colors flatter your skin tone is not an easy task, but it is possible with the help of color theory for skin tones.
We’ve discussed the basic principles for skin tones here before. But as a refresher:
“There are three main chemicals that determine everyone’s shade: hemoglobin, which is red; melanin, which can be either blue-brown or red-yellow; and carotene, which is yellow-orange. Your DNA determines how these chemicals are combined to create your unique skin tone. The amount of melanin determines whether you are cool or warm, while hemoglobin and carotene will determine your variation within cool or warm, such as whether you are Dark Cool or Light Cool, or Dark Warm or Light Warm.”
Cool skin: blue undertone, blue-brown melanin is dominant
Warm skin: yellow undertone, orange-brown melanin is dominant
To put the color theory to the test, we asked four women who represent the four skin-tone categories to model T-shirts in colors that flatter their skin—and to model colors that aren’t as flattering. See for yourself what a difference it makes!
Dark Cool // Maria
The majority of women are dark cools, meaning that blue-brown melanin is dominant in their skin. An easy way to tell if you’re a dark cool is to look at your natural hair roots (because melanin affects your natural hair color). If you have black hair or dark to medium brown hair with absolutely no reddish or orange undertones, you are most likely a dark cool. You can also look at the veins in your wrist. If your veins look blue, you are likely a dark cool. Those of the dark cool tones have a large range in skin colors—from fair or olive skin to medium brown or dark brown skin.
The most flattering colors for dark cools are bright jewel tones. Notice how a creamy warm peach (opposite of jewel tones) washes Maria out. Her skin and hair look muted. Look at the difference when she wears bright indigo blue. She looks striking—her dark hair is even more pronounced, and her skin glows against the vibrant hue.
Flattering Colors for Dark Cools
- Stark black and white
- Royal blue
- Deep purple
- Emerald green
- Carnation red
Light Cool // Courtney
Light cools are also blue-brown melanin dominant, but they have a lighter value of blue-brown melanin than dark cools. Again, the easiest way to tell if you’re a light cool is to look at your natural hair color roots. If you have light brown or dark blonde to light blonde hair with absolutely no reddish or orange undertones, you are most likely a light cool skin tone. A light cool is likely to be fair-skinned without freckles and tans easily in the sun.
The most flattering colors for light cools are less saturated or pastel, cool-toned colors such as heather gray, light blue, and lavender. Courtney is a stunning example of a light cool. See how warm olive green washes Courtney out and creates the appearance of sallowness? On the flip side, she looks extra bright and glowing in the pastel blue color. Her face almost looks luminescent!
Flattering Colors for Light Cools
- Heather gray
- Pastel blue
- Baby pink
- Seafoam green
- Mint green
Dark Warm // Lauren
The opposite of cool skin tones are warm skin tones. A dark warm skin tone has orange-brown melanin rather than blue-brown melanin. Check the veins in your wrist. If they appear green rather than blue, you are a warm. And again, check your roots. If you have brown hair with auburn or reddish undertones, or you have deep auburn to medium red or copper coloring in your hair, you’re a dark warm. Dark warms often vary from fair-skinned to olive-skinned to medium brown–skinned.
Because dark warms have rich, earthy colorings of deep auburn, brown, and gold in their skin and hair, wearing colors of similar earthy tones is the most flattering for them. When Lauren is featured in bright red (a color more suited for a dark cool), note how it slightly washes out the gold in her skin and competes with the vibrancy of her hair. Her skin and hair appear dull against the cool red shirt because it clashes with the warm red of her hair and the gold in her skin. Conversely, when Lauren is wearing a muted olive green, it brings out the rich earthy gold tones in her skin and makes her auburn hair more noticeably vibrant.
Flattering Colors for Dark Warms
- Forest green
Light Warm // Nicola
Light warm skin tones also have orange-brown melanin. What differentiates a light warm from a dark warm are translucent and rosy skin undertones. Often, a light warm will have strawberry blonde, golden blonde, or carrot orange hair. Their eyelashes and eyebrows are also very light blonde. A light warm’s skin is typically creamy ivory or peachy pink that burns easily in the sun.
The goal for complementing this skin tone is not to overpower it with harsh colors. Note how Nicola’s coloring is lost against the stark black—the color is overpowering her fair skin. The flattering light pink shirt, however, complements her skin tone and strawberry blonde hair, making her coloring appear brighter. The pink of her shirt brings out the rosy tones in her skin and highlights the golden tones in her hair.
Flattering Colors for Light Warms
- Bright peach
- Bright purple
- Light teal
- Soft yellow
- Creamy ivory
Photo Credit: Will Hughes Photography