Colour Guide for Make Up and Beauty

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Colour Theory

    Why put a section on colour theory into a website on make up? Make up is all about light and shade (contouring) and colour. We use colour to emphasise features, detract from them or coordinate with them.

The main reason understanding colour is so helpful in make up, is that it allows  us to understanding why using certain colours, shades and textures will create different moods and looks.

As a rule of thumb for colour correction in make up, the following applies:

Colour correctors

Here's a quick guide to colour corrector/enhancers so you get that all-important match:

    * Green: Cuts and tones down redness
    * Apricot: Brightens cooler skin tones
    * Peach: Brightens cooler skin tones
    * Rose: Lifts sallow complexions and gives a glow
    * Lilac: Cuts excess yellow in the skin and lifts sallow complexions
    * Blue: Takes down orangey skin tones, also corrects bad self-tan applications!
    * Bronze: Brightens and lifts nearly all skin tones. Gives a healthy sun-kissed look
    * Gold: Accentuates golden skin tones and suntans
    * Silver: Brightens cooler skins. Usually only done in the evening!

The Traditional Colour Wheel

A colour circle, based on red, yellow and blue, is traditional in the field of art.

Red, yellow and blue

In traditional colour theory, these are the 3 pigment colours that cannot be mixed or formed by any combination of other colours. All other colours are derived from these 3 hues

Green, orange and purple (in make up terms: these colours are usually fairly muted but the theory is the same eg olive green, peach, lilac)

Yellow-orange (think highlighter), red-orange (blush), red-purple (think lipstick), blue-purple (smoky eye shadow), blue-green (aqua) and yellow-green (lime).

These are the colours formed by mixing one primary and one secondary colour.

Colour Harmony

Harmony is something that is pleasing to the eye. It engages the viewer and it creates an inner sense of order, a balance in the visual experience.

When something is not harmonious, it's either boring or chaotic. In make up this is not really something we want.

At one extreme is a visual experience that is so bland that the viewer is not engaged. The human brain will reject under-stimulating information. For example a redhead with terracotta make up will not be as visually exciting as a redhead with olive or perhaps rosy cheeks, etc etc.

At the other extreme is a visual experience that is so overdone, so chaotic that the viewer can't stand to look at it. The human brain rejects what it cannot organize, what it does not understand. The visual task requires that we present a logical structure. Colour harmony delivers visual interest and a sense of order. In the make up arena, an example of this could be yellow eye shadow with green eye liner and pink lipstick (I’m sure there are cases where this is the appropriate visual solution, but for the purpose of this exercise it’s a fairly clear example).

Some Formulas for Colour

A colour scheme based on complementary colours
Complementary colours are any two colours directly opposite each other, such as red and green and red-purple and yellow-green. In the illustration above, there are several variations of yellow-green in the leaves and several variations of red-purple in the orchid. These opposing colours create maximum contrast and maximum stability.

I use complementary shades all the time to emphasise blue or green eyes (with a coppery shadow) or chocolate eyes with gold flecks may get a deep lilac/black with purple to bring out the gold in the eyes. If someone is wearing a rich red dress, I may apply a green based shadow, it’s a good way to exaggerate colour.

A colour scheme based on nature
Nature provides a perfect departure point for colour harmony. Think of the colours of the barrier reef. Blue greens, corals and soft blues for example. Or think of bare black trees silhouetted against a red stone cliff after a fire. Deriving inspiration from things you see in nature is a great way to develop new and exciting colour combinations.

A colour scheme based on monochromatic shades
Sometimes, the most simple colour harmonies come in the same hue, just varying depths. The textures and finish, can create the visual stimulation, and there is no need to add an extra dimension with colour. (Think of browns in make up, with lots of shimmer – you may not need any other colour, or a smoky eye with a pale lip).

Colour Context

Observing the effects colours have on each other is the starting point for understanding the relativity of colour. The relationship of values, saturations and the warmth or coolness of respective hues can cause noticeable differences in our perception of colour.

So in make up we need to consider the context of the colour we are using and take all factors into account. Clothing, hair colour, eye colour, surroundings, season, lighting, the list is endless are all part of the context of our colour choices when applying make up. How a colour is perceived is dependent on the context.
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