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What Are the Characteristics of Light Olive Skin?

By Elizabeth West
Updated May 21, 2024
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Light olive skin is most often seen in individuals of Mediterranean, Central European and Hispanic/South American descent. Skin undertones in this complexion are typically greenish-yellow, and are likened to the color of an olive. People with light olive skin may have any color of hair or eyes, and may sunburn easily if they are very fair. It can be any type from oily to dry. Olive and darker-complexioned people have a tendency to scar more easily after injury, something to keep in mind if they are considering cosmetic surgery.

Melanin is a pigment found in the epidermis that is produced by a reaction between sunlight and an enzyme called tyrosinase. This is what creates a tan, and is produced in cells called melanocytes. Those whose ethnic heritage originated in sunnier climates make more melanin, where it acts as a natural sunblock. Although light and dark olive skin can both burn, they are more likely to tan and do so more deeply than fair complexions. They are still prone to skin cancer and dermatologists recommend using a sunscreen rated with a minimum sun protection factor (SPF) of 15, daily.

Without makeup, this skin tone may appear quite sallow. A tan can make the skin more golden, but as many experts point out, no tan is safe even on darker skin. Damage isn’t as apparent on light olive skin as it would be on fairer complexions due to the minimal protective effect of melanin, but eventually blotchiness will appear. An olive complexion tends more toward oiliness; together with the extra melanin, it may age slower than lighter skin. If it is on the dry side, it may look ashy if not kept moisturized regularly.

Light olive skin may scar more easily and is more prone to forming keloids. These thick deposits of excess scar tissue result from an overgrowth of collagen when the skin is scratched or broken, as in a surgical incision. Those with light olive and dark olive skin may wish to consider this when choosing cosmetic surgery options.

Lip, eye and cheek colors for light olive skin can be more intense than those worn on fairer complexions. Darker lipsticks and shadow make features pop and add a dramatic and glamorous effect. Colors such as brownish roses, corals, clear red tones and shimmery peaches and coppers warm the yellow tones to golden. Acne and blotchiness are less noticeable on light olive versus fair skin, but can be a problem if it tends toward oiliness. There are a number of good cover-up products that can help conceal blemishes and deep under-eye circles.

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Discussion Comments

By anon991276 — On Jun 08, 2015

@bluedolphin: I also have cool olive skin, I find that neutral toned foundations tend to work best for it. I know L'oreal has a line of foundations that have all different undertones, if you are looking for a drugstore brand. You can also try putting on a green primer even if your face is not red, if you feel like the foundation is lacking olive hues (you could try adding a little bit of the primer to the foundation too to see if that would help).

By anon930713 — On Feb 05, 2014

I also have a light olive skintone that tans well in the summer and gets pale in the winter. I never really knew how to pick make up to suit it, but now I'm a make up artist, so I finally know what to pick to suit it.

I'd try a primer or BB cream first. It's a quick and easy way to make skin look glowy. Avon brands are cheap and work well. If you can find a little room in your budget, I'd try Smashbox primer. It makes skin look super glowy, which is nice, since olive skin can look sallow. I'd also consider bronzer.

For make up colours, I love green eyeshadow. I like to pair pale sparkly green eyeshadow with bronze liner just on the top lids. Or try essence eye crayons in jade. Also, purple eyeshadow is beautiful with olive skin.

By serenesurface — On Sep 24, 2013

I wish I had light olive skin. I have a Native American friend with olive skin and her skin is gorgeous. She also rocks colors that never look good on me like orange.

By ysmina — On Sep 23, 2013

@ankara-- I have light olive skin too and I have the same problem. I think olive skin tends to have yellow undertones and so you need makeup with yellow undertones. Many American cosmetic brands make foundation with pink undertones because this suits white skin best.

You might want to check out brands that cater to ethnic skin types. I personally use Asian products because the makeup tones work for my skin better.

By bluedolphin — On Sep 23, 2013

I have light olive skin with a cool undertone. I'm happy with my skin because it adapts very well to sun. In the summer, my skin gets a nice, natural looking tan. I never turn red or get sun-burnt. In the winter, my skin lightens up, particularly my face.

The only problem is that it's difficult to find makeup that suits my skin color, especially foundation. Most foundation ranges do not have a tone that matches my skin perfectly. I can't afford to buy high-end makeup so I buy my makeup from the pharmacy. The skin tone ranges are so limited with pharmacy brands.

Does anyone here have light olive skin? What do you do about makeup?

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