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What is an Olive Skin Tone?

Mandi R. Hall
Mandi R. Hall

The term "olive skin tone" refers to a darker pigment of Caucasian skin. It is also known as a warm or tan complexion. Inhabitants of numerous countries are known to have this warm skin tone, which is produced when a somewhat average amount of melanin exists within the skin. This lighter brown complexion exists between pale skin and dark skin.

Olive coloring is technically a yellow pigment. Green olives appear to be murky green in color, but they are still a shadowy shade of yellow. Additionally, many Mediterranean olives are brown and black in color. Akin to its namesake fruit, olive skin tone comes in a variety of yellow shades from light to dark.

Olive skin tends to look best with pink or apricot blush.
Olive skin tends to look best with pink or apricot blush.

Skin color is typically genetic. Two parents with warmer skin tones will generally have a child with a warm skin tone, as well. Such skin tones often tan easily, so the skin colors often appear even darker in the summertime than in the winter due to sun exposure.

Although there are many exceptions to the rule, people from tropical locations are often darker in skin tone. People from more moderate altitudes and colder climates typically have lighter shades of skin. This is due to the proximity of the sun, as well as how much sun exposure the people get. People with darker olive skin have more melanin, which reacts to ultraviolet (UV) light by allowing the skin to get darker. Tanning is the skin's way of fending off the harmful UV rays.

People with olive skin may have green eyes.
People with olive skin may have green eyes.

In general, populations from European or Nordic regions have light skin and burn easily. People with olive skin tone are typically from Mediterranean, Asian, or South American regions. Of course, people with warm skin tones are found all over the world, as are people with lighter or darker skin tones.

Though not scientifically accurate, the Von Luschan chromatic scale classifies people according to skin color or tone. This scale has nothing to do with race or population, but groups people according to natural skin color. From Type 1 to Type 36, pale skin is compared to dark skin. Olive skin tone is in the middle of the scale.

Skin tone is typically genetic.
Skin tone is typically genetic.

Although Von Luschan's scale is not used for scientific purposes, a more condensed version of it is used to determine burn factors in sun tanning. The lower on the scale, the more likely a person is to burn. Olive skin tone tans quite well without burning because it is in the middle of the scale. The higher amount of pigment in the skin means that it's also less susceptible to photoaging — damage caused by the sun.

Discussion Comments


Strange that Caucasians feel that olive skin refers to them. First of all, olives are either green or black. What in the world are you people talking about when you refer to an olive complexion?

OK, here's a little tidbit of history: In the past, an olive complexion referred to soft and smooth, dark brown to black skin. (Hence the term olivecomplexion). I love how it now refers to anyone that seems to have a little bit of a tan. Some on this blog have even mentioned "pale olive skin." What is that?

As for southern Italians, the reason they are darker than most Caucasians is most are mixed with dark brown or black blood. It's not quite rocket science.


@OeKc05 – I know! People with olive skin tones are lucky that they don't have to deal with the things that pale people do. I have dealt with rosacea and pimples all my life, but my best friend has olive skin, and she looks as smooth as butter.

There may be exceptions to this, but in general, I believe that olive-skinned individuals have a better complexion. My best friend looks like she is from an exotic location, and in fact, her grandparents moved here from Italy. Even though she was raised here in America, she looks different than Caucasians.

I don't even think she wears foundation. She puts on a little bit of eye makeup and lipstick from time to time, but she doesn't really need it to look glamorous.


I accidentally bought a foundation made for olive skin tones once, and as soon as I spread it across my cheek, I could tell that it wasn't going to work with my skin. I have a cool skin tone, and even though I'm not pale, the makeup did not look good on me at all.

It made me look jaundiced. It was so yellow that I appeared sick. I had to just go without foundation that day, until I had a chance to buy the right shade.

I think it's weird how people with olive skin do not look sick at all, yet the makeup designed for them can have that effect on me. I'm sure a person with this skin tone would look totally normal with the foundation that I used.


Wow, I wouldn't have guessed that an olive skin tone would lie all the way down the middle of the skin tone scale. I know several people with a skin tone that I would classify as olive, and they aren't that much darker than I am.

I suppose there are light, medium, and deep olive tones, though. Most of my friends veer more to the light end of the scale.

They appear naturally more tan than I am, even in the dead of winter. I have Irish ancestors, so I am white with a cool skin tone. My olive friends' skin looks so different than mine, and I suppose their ancestors were from elsewhere.


I have a friend with a pale olive skin tone, and I've always thought she was so lucky. She tans quickly in the summer without even trying, while I burn if I stay out in the sun for more than fifteen minutes without sunscreen.

She wears a low SPF sunscreen, just to be safe, but she tans through it, anyway. I guess it protects her from burning in the long run, but it still allows enough sun to get through to turn her skin even darker.

If she lays on a tanning bed, she quickly develops the look of an island princess. If I use a tanning bed, I break out in hives and itch all over.

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    • Olive skin tends to look best with pink or apricot blush.
      By: Subbotina Anna
      Olive skin tends to look best with pink or apricot blush.
    • People with olive skin may have green eyes.
      By: arturas kerdokas
      People with olive skin may have green eyes.
    • Skin tone is typically genetic.
      By: micromonkey
      Skin tone is typically genetic.
    • Tanning is easy for those with olive skin.
      By: Liv Friis-larsen
      Tanning is easy for those with olive skin.
    • Parents with warmer skin tones will generally have a child with a warm skin tone.
      By: altanaka
      Parents with warmer skin tones will generally have a child with a warm skin tone.