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What Colors Look Good with an Olive Complexion?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated May 21, 2024
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The colors that look good with an olive complexion depend on whether the skin's undertone is warm or cool. Using an artist's color wheel as a guide can be helpful for anyone trying to find suitable clothing colors. Contrary to popular belief, there isn't one particular olive skin type, but many different tones as well as degrees of darkness in these complexions. By closely examining the skin and comparing some different shades of clothing against the face, it's usually possible for a person with an olive complexion to find the best colors for him or her.

The first thing to keep in mind when picking colors flattering to the skin is that it's not usually true that a person, even one with an olive complexion, can't wear a general color such as yellow or orange. Rather, it has to be the right shade of the basic color based on the skin's undertone. A quick and fairly accurate way of determining whether a skin color is warm or cool is to examine the veins in the wrist in bright light. Olive and other complexions with a warm cast will often have greenish veins, while cool skin tone vein colors will be bluish.

Visiting clothing stores and comparing different colors near the face often helps confirm whether a complexion is cool or warm. For example, warm skin tones tend to be flattered by golden yellows and oranges with red or brown in them. For cool complexions, clear lemon yellow, which has a slight green base, is often best, as well as lighter oranges with a lot of yellow in them. The best pinks for a person with a warm olive complexion will likely have an orange base although most skin tones can wear shades of coral. Pinks that have a blue undertone are usually best worn by those with a cooler olive skin; sometimes, color names can be deceiving as hot pink is typically cool-based.

An artist's color wheel divided into 12 shades can be a helpful tool in finding the best colors for olive or other skin tones. This type of color guide goes through different yellows, oranges and reds as well as violets, blues and greens. It will have both the warm and cool shades of these general colors, plus the mid-value color placed in the middle of each group. Mid-value colors are those in the middle of the spectrum between cool and warm. These colors can look good on any color of skin, but can be especially flattering to a darker olive complexion, either cool or warm, because of their vibrant intensity.

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Discussion Comments

By pastanaga — On Jul 31, 2014

@croydon - If it's that much of a radical shift, you might try getting two foundations and mixing them together to get the right tone, rather than trying to buy one that will match each shade.

I do like that this article distinguishes between types of olive skin rather than just painting them with a broad brush though. I have olive skin and I tend to suit a dark reddish color in my hair, which isn't what most people would think. It's got a lot more to do with the tone than the actual color.

By croydon — On Jul 31, 2014

@Ana1234 - You can still experiment even if you've found a shade that really suits you. You might get different effects depending on what other makeup you're wearing, or the time of year. An olive complexion doesn't change as much with the seasons as a paler one would, but it can still darken in the summer (or appear to darken when you're wearing certain clothes).

I have relatively fair skin from my Irish mother, but it's got a yellow undertone from my Middle Eastern father, so I come close to having an olive skin tone when I'm tan. I try not to get that tan these days, because I don't want the sun damage, and it's a pain having to swap around my makeup as well.

By Ana1234 — On Jul 31, 2014

I always thought that warm and cool thing was just a made-up rule by women's magazines to sell copies, until I got a shade of lipstick that actually suited me. I had always stuck to cool shades because I thought they would look more classic, or just out of habit. But I tried a shade with warm undertones and it made a huge difference. I don't really understand how it works, but I try very hard to avoid cool undertones now. My skin needs more of a yellow based red than a blue based red.

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