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What is Olive Skin?

By Alison Faria
Updated May 22, 2024
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Olive skin, a term often used to describe a complexion with green or yellow undertones, strikes a balance between warm and cool tones. This skin type is prevalent across various ethnicities and is particularly adaptive to a range of climates. The versatility of olive skin allows it to harmonize with a spectrum of colors, from earthy plums to crisp whites. 

Although the risk of skin conditions like melanoma is lower in olive skin tones, the Skin Cancer Foundation highlights the importance of vigilance, as occurrences can be more aggressive. Understanding what olive skin is can guide you in choosing skincare and fashion that enhance your natural beauty while maintaining skin health.

Color Range

When people say "olive skin," they generally are talking about a slightly darker complexion, usually in the light brown range, that has a naturally-tanned look. The term applies to a broad range of colors, however, with some people being very dark and others being almost pale. The key in defining the phrase, therefore, is looking at undertones, which generally are greenish or golden. Some individuals call it a Mediterranean coloring, because many people from that area of the world have it, but it also is common to people from Mid-Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

olive skin


Makeup artists and stylists often categorize people into cool, warm or neutral categories based on the underlying colors they see. Pink, red or bluish tones fall into the cool group, while yellow or gold ones are warm. Neutral is a mix of the two, and most experts classify an olive complexion as falling into this group.

Another classification method is the Fitzpatrick Skin Typing Test. Thomas B. Fitzpatrick, a dermatologist associated with Harvard, developed this test in 1975, breaking down coloring into six major categories. People who score at level I are very fair and get a sunburn easily, while those at level VI are very dark. Olive tones receive a score of 25 – 30 and fall into level IV.

People typically rely on the cool, warm or neutral label when they want to figure out what shade of clothes, footwear, accessories and makeup will complement their natural coloring. The idea is that by finding the right tones, a person will look healthier, energetic and more attractive to others. The Fitzpatrick scale is more for determining what skin care routine is best and what someone might expect when going out in the sun.

olive skin

Tanning and Cancer Risk

People who have an olive tone can tan easily because cells called melanocytes produce more melanin, the pigment that provides color. This does not, however, mean that they are immune to the problems that prolonged ultraviolet (UV) light exposure causes. A common issue is a lack of moisture, which often leads to cracking and flaking. If a person develops melanoma, then the risk of surviving tends to be lower, simply because the darker shade of the complexion makes detecting the cancer harder.

Blemishes, Wrinkles and Jowls

An olive complexion usually hides blemishes, unless the the spots contain darker contrasting pigment. It also tends to develop wrinkles more slowly, but if they form, the lines generally are deeper. Additionally, olive-toned skin often has a thicker dermis, or inner layer of cells, and subcutis, the fatty layer just beneath the dermis. This might create the appearance of jowls in older people, but a good care routine might make wrinkles or sagging harder to notice.

Oil Production

People with an olive tone tend to have larger pores, or openings that allow oil glands to lubricate the skin's surface. As a result, protection from the environment typically is good. Dryness isn't usually a problem.

Some individuals produce a lot of oil, which can lead to clogged pores. This shows up as blackheads or pimples and is a source of embarrassment for many people. It is especially a problem during the teen years when hormones shift. Gently washing the face in the morning and at night with an exfoliating cleanser, as well as following up with a non-alcoholic toner, typically can lessen the problem.

Makeup Selection

In general, oil-based makeup of any kind is not good for those with olive complexions. The skin already produces and releases plenty of oil, so adding more through cosmetics can cause acne and irritation. Powders usually are the best bet because they absorb the excess and reduce shine.

Colors to Wear

Warm colors such as plum, bronze, brown, deep green or maroon typically suit olive complexions well. White is often excellent for a dramatic look because it generally makes the skin look even richer. Individuals frequently wear neutral shades such as caramel on the eyes. Lip gloss might be neutral, too, but it's not unusual to blend in a darker lip liner to complete the look.

What Does Olive Skin Look Like?

Depending on who you consult for skin advice, olive skin is either light to medium-tanned skin with green undertones, or it is a skin tone that can have any amount of melanin with a greenish undertone. For most beauty professionals, olive is strictly labeled as an undertone. Strangely, for most beauty products, olive still refers to skin color. These disconnects in the beauty industry have long been frustrating for people; matching foundations is a hassle for almost everyone.

The Fitzpatrick Scale

The Fitzpatrick scale was created by a man named Thomas B. Fitzpatrick in 1975. He was a dermatologist looking to categorize the responses of different types of skin to ultraviolet rays or UV light. This typing test is a numerical scale that helps classify skin color by its most essential characteristic, the amount of melanin produced. The amount of pigmentation produced can help doctors identify the overall risk of UV damage, such as spots, wrinkles, or cancer.

The Fitzpatrick scale lists olive as skin type four with light brown skin rather than an undertone alone. Thomas B. suggested that those with light brown or olive skin would likely have brown eyes and dark brown hair. Skin type four rarely burns and doesn’t freckly but tans easily and often, and Fitzpatrick does not account for undertones in his typing scale.

What Colors Look Good on Olive Skin?

Interestingly, if you subscribe to the idea that olive skin is an undertone, you will need to look for that specific information to determine which colors best suit your skin. Undertones play a big part in how colors contrast or complement your skin. Alternately, if you believe, as Fitzpatrick did back in the ‘70s, that olive is instead a level of skin pigmentation, many people consider olive to be either warm or neutral in classification. When in doubt, make a choice that you feel is flattering to you.

Color Wheels

Professional make-up artists and beauty professionals consult the color wheel to make confident color combinations perfect for all skin tones. To use the color wheel, you can work with your skin type and undertones, add different layers of complementing color and find beautiful contrasting colors.

Remember, your complexion has to do with your skin’s surface but can sometimes affect the undertones if you have acne, scarring, or other hyperpigmentation that causes an excess of another color range. In that case, complement your combinations on the color wheel too. All skin is good skin when it’s acknowledged and honored.

Finding Undertones

The beauty world can agree that olive is definitely not a cool skin color or a cool undertone. The rest of the information seems to shift depending on which person you consult for advice. To help discover yours, try some popular hacks that people use to determine which undertone they have.

Shirt Check

Put on a bright white shirt. Stand in full natural light and check yourself out in the mirror. If your skin looks yellow, your undertone is likely warm. If you think you look rosy, you’re likely cool-toned. Are you getting green vibes? Don’t worry; you’re likely not nauseous. It’s probably just your olive undertones. If you can’t determine a color tinge, you might have a neutral tone; investigate further to find out more.

Vein Color

If your skin type is light enough, people recommend using your veins as a loose guide for attempting to determine your undertones. It works for many people, while others cannot specify a noticeable vein color, whether fair or dark.

For this method, look to your wrist. If you can see through your skin, you may be able to benefit from this method. Locate your veins in your wrist. If they appear to be blue, your skin tone is most likely cool. If your veins appear to be green, they are most likely warm. If the veins look brown or just dark, you likely have an olive skin tone. If you see dark yellow or purple, you might have neutral undertones. Use the vein test as a starting point, and then consult a beauty specialist to verify for the best results.

What Hair Color Looks Good on Olive Skin?

Because olive skin shuffles between warm and neutral tones, the best hair colors are those that complement and contrast it. Naturally, Fitzpatrick suggested that those with a skin type four, the olive skin type, have dark brown hair and eyes. However, with an olive undertone, dark brown hair is beautiful, as is bright golden hair. Recently, platinum tresses have been a trending hair color to accentuate olive undertones.

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Discussion Comments
By anon1003021 — On Apr 18, 2020

I've never met anyone with greenish skin, whether Arabs, or Italians.

By anon1000253 — On Jul 24, 2018

Olive skin isn't darker skin or complexion. It's the color of the skin. People with olive complexions have a yellower skin whether they are tan or not. Versus redder complexions of northern Europeans.

By anon997901 — On Mar 14, 2017

I am lucky then because I have olive skin, I guess???

By anon993577 — On Nov 25, 2015

Olive skin doesn't suit much make up. I think fairer tones are far more attractive.

By anon983421 — On Dec 29, 2014

I wish I had olive skin. I am burning white/red/orange.

By anon979129 — On Nov 23, 2014

Yes, I believe you're wrong about your skintone. You might just have fair skin with neutral or warm undertones. You can check your undertones by looking at the color of your veins -- if they're green, it's warm, if they're blue, it's cool, and if you can't really tell the color, it's neutral. But olive skin isn't just an undertone, it's more of a skin color. If your skin is translucent, it sounds like it's too light to be olive.

By anon940572 — On Mar 19, 2014

I have olive skin but I burn easily and my skin is translucent where it looks ghostly but I still have olive undertones. Do people with olive undertones really tan easily and I'm wrong about my skin tone?

By anon349212 — On Sep 24, 2013

So now I know why I've been plagued by this skin problem: oily skin, bigger pores, whiteheads and pimples. It has some perks, though. You always seem to look younger than you really are. Gee, now I'm beginning to love the skin I'm in.

By anon301219 — On Nov 02, 2012

I find this article really intriguing, as it really rings true! You're absolutely correct about the wrinkles, pores and oiliness - my father has a tanned olive complexion and he always looked young for his age! He also happened to have rather greasy skin and larger-than-average pores - something which I have inherited, to my dismay, as well as a slightly lighter olive skin tone! But I do love the look of olive skin (although I wish I was slightly more tanned), even if it does mean large pores and oiliness!

By galen84basc — On Nov 05, 2010

I think that one of the most striking looks a person can have is to have olive skin with blue eyes. This is especially true if they also have darker hair.

It's a great look because it's so unique, but it doesn't look weird, just striking. Of course, it can make the whole makeup thing a little difficult, since you can't really wear the same make up for olive skin with blue eyes as you would for olive skin with a darker eye color.

However, if you're willing to do a little experimentation, you can find a truly great look for your skin tone and eye color combination, and be a total show stopper.

By CopperPipe — On Nov 05, 2010

Olive skin may not show small blemishes as much, but I can tell you, it can tend to look greasier because of the more open pores. It's also harder to find a make up that won't clog your pores because they're so open.

You are definitely right about olive skin and wrinkles too. It's weird, because it's like one day you'll have the skin of your 20s, then the next day wake up with a canyon on your face. I, unfortunately, found that out the hard way.

So although I love my medium olive skin tone, and wouldn't trade it for the world, it does come with it's own little issues, just like any other kind of skin tone.

By TunaLine — On Nov 05, 2010

I happen to have light skin, but I wish I had an olive skin tone! I think that true olive skin is just so beautiful, and it never looks old.

My ideal body would have medium olive skin with black hair...but instead I'm pale with dark blonde hair.

I know that you're supposed to love your body just the way it is, but I really love the whole look of olive skin, and how it so rarely shows blemishes. And of course the makeup for olive skin is gorgeous too!

So if any olive skin toned people are reading this, just know that I am totally jealous to your gorgeous skin!

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