That last line is not hyperbole - I really have been struggling to find what colors work for me ever since. It was only about a year ago when I discovered that my "tan" but very obviously not tan skin is actually olive skin and incredibly frustrating to have when you're obsessed with beauty products. Your skin's undertone is arguably one of the most important things to be in the know about if you like experimenting with makeup. It determines everything from what blush or eyeshadows look best to the crucial question of what foundation you'll wear every day.
My struggle with this skin tone has hit me in every makeup arena. I have a huge aversion to blush because it's so hard to find a color that doesn't look like over the top clown makeup. I wore a foundation that was about 4 shades too dark for me for, oh, nine years? Nine years! From the moment I began wearing foundation up until a week before my 22nd birthday (and yes, I remember specifically when I made the switch because it was LIFE CHANGING) I wore the wrong color foundation. And it showed. I was orange and not even in a fun, Jersey kind of way. My face was just orange in a "that girl didn't blend in her unmatching foundation, at all" kind of way. It wasn't just my fault either - I've always avoided getting professionally color matched, even in the time when I was beginning to suspect my foundation looked a mess, because I'm always matched with a mid toned tan color. Olive skin is confusing like that and can pull the wool over Sephora employees' eyes. It disguises itself as a deep yellow and sits back and lets you run with it. In actuality, the secret ingredient to olive skin is a green undertone, meaning you're like the real life version of Liz Lemon when she says the Clinique lady told her she had "witch undertones".
The first step to fixing anything is admitting you have the problem in the first place, right? Even that can be hard with olive skin. You may not even know that you have it. You hear a lot of things about determining your undertone when you're versed in the beauty community. Check your veins. Are they blue or green? Do you look better in gold or silver jewelry? Generally, those are supposed to be the questions you answer to lock yourself into one of two categories: yellow undertones (warm) or pink undertones (cool). Cool toned people have blue veins and look better in silver jewelry and colors like blue and pink. Gold jewelry is supposed to compliment people with warm skin, the ones who have green veins. Chances are, if you have olive skin you've heard all this and it's provided most questions than answers. Like, okay, my veins are both blue AND green and silver doesn't look amazing on me but gold can look pretty weird too. In fact, yellow as a whole is something I steer clear of because it makes my skin look florescent or like I'm jaundiced and dying of liver failure. Still, I definitely don't have that porcelain doll kind of skin that looks so good with pink.
Give one of those Facebook newsfeed style quizzes on whether I'm warm or cool and my answers would be pretty evenly split. Yes, my complexion looks sallow and awful next to a white sheet of paper (warm) but I'll get a peeling, painful sunburn f you sit me on the beach for 20 minutes (cool). A lot of times olive skin is misinterpreted as simply "warm" or "yellow" - hey, you're obviously not pink toned so you must be yellow, right? - which ends up being a huge mistake. You'll purchase the recommended items for warm skin, totally unaware that you don't have it, and end up confused when something like orange blush looks fucking awful. You're ignoring a huge component of your skin, that sneaky green tone that makes your skin slightly cool in addition to being warm. It's like being both undertones and then some.
What was particularly problematic to me was being pale in addition to being olive. I had a very hard time accepting how pale I was for the longest time and not because I had any kind of aversion to paleness. It was just because my skin had so much fucking color in it, how could I be pale? I'm like an in real life Lucian Freud painting. The olive tone is incredibly visible despite the fact that I'm too pale to shop for foundation in drugstores. Pale skin is a weird kind of pissing contest in the beauty community. People really trip over themselves to out pale one other. "I'm white as a sheet!" "Well, I'm transparent!" It makes you feel like you're taking crazy pills when you see such strong color to your skin in addition to your paleness. Plus, my skin doesn't respond to the sun in a traditional pale girl kind of way. Sure, I know and have accepted that if I go to the beach that I'm coming home with a sunburn. My skin is pale and pale skin is prone to burning. However, that sunburn fades to a nice tan which has pretty good staying power - another olive skin hallmark. This was all hard for me to compute at first but olive and pale - it's a thing, particularly for Eastern European bitches like me.
So, how do you figure out that you have olive skin without standard methods? An incredibly helpful clue in determining whether or not you have olive skin is knowledge about your heritage. Unfortunately, this isn't possible for everyone - maybe you're adopted and don't know much about your birth parents or just don't have a family that keeps track of their lineage or any other number of possibilities. That being said, olive skin can be a pretty common thing for non Western/Northern European people. A lot of groups that were previously referred to as "white ethnics" like Italians, Greeks, Armenians, Slavs and Jews have skin that's olive, sometimes even very deep tones. A good example of this is Mila Kunis who is Ukrainian. I've seen people on places like Tumblr and even legitimate magazines describe as a person of color which is pretty flagrantly untrue. Ukrainians are generally white people. We're in the news a pretty good amount lately and I've yet to see a fellow Uke who isn't pale as a motherfucker cross the screen. Likewise, Mila Kunis is white and not perpetually tan or golden or a "person of color". Mila Kunis is white with olive skin. Also, incredibly gorgeous and I'm convinced I was a serial killer in my past life because that's the only reason that I'm Ukrainian and DON'T look like her, right?
Another incredibly helpful tool is to have friends or any kind of people in your life. Comparing your skin to other people can really bring out your green tones. Hold your arm up to someone with a real warm, yellow undertone and your olive skin tone starts to get really aggressive and fight for attention. I'd say that this is the most helpful way to determine any undertone, full stop. Study group photos or compare your skin to a friend who has a tan and you'll suddenly start to notice the hints of green that were undetectable when you were by yourself.
Really, the best way to pinpoint whether or not you're olive is to get negative. When are you looking your worst, makeup wise? It sounds like you're being a particularly douchey plastic surgeon or something. What do you hate about yourself? But, like I said, olive skin can be that little thing that makes things look wrong. Maybe you've incorrectly identified yourself as warm toned, yet find that gold eyeshadow looks weird or that you never reach for your pumpkin colored blush because you feel like you can't pull it off. Olive skin is frustrating because I find that there's more things that look wrong than things that look right.
There really is a laundry list of things that don't work. I have hazel eyes and brown hair in addition to my olive skin and I feel like a lot of pale olive skinned people probably have similar eye and hair colors. Brown, hazel and green eyes with brown or black hair are most common for people with any kind of olive tones. It all becomes like a beauty formula that is trying to exclude you from things. What works for your eye color + what works for you hair color + the very limiting olive skin tone = pretty unadventurous makeup choices. For me, I've almost entirely crossed off anything that flatters cool, pink skin. Pastels? Absolutely not. Anything gray? Totally awful. Girly, pink blushes? Have to pass. Blue eyeshadow is out, as should be pink but I'm Julia Allison level obsessed with that color and can't help myself.
|Sleek's iDivine Palette in Acid|
|NYX Macaron Lippies, where I even passed on the relatively tame Pink and Lavender because pastels transform from pretty to sickening with my coloring|
Truly, it's not like there's any kind of laws that say you can't wear whatever you want with olive skin. I have a weird relationship with the word "flattering" in the sense that I just absolutely hate it. It's like the word "moist". It just grosses me out - but in the same way the word "classy" does. Like, who is anyone you encounter in real life to deem something "flattering" on you? What kind of authority do they have to say that? It's if they're saying, "That looks good but only because it works with or conceals your imperfections!" Spare me. I can in no way say you should only wear things that "flatter" olive skin because the end of the day we r who we r. As I showed you above, pink eyeshadow is who I am. I cannot just stand by and watch other people wear pink eyeshadow and not participate. Maybe you have olive skin and gold eyeliner is who you are. Who am I to say? Don't let anyone stand in your way of wearing what you want on your skin, least of all you. But, for me, my olive skin is where I subscribe to the idea of "flattering" about 90% of the time. Eyeshadow is something I'm passionate about so I make a lot of exceptions there. Additionally, I own two different purple lipstick which I suspect don't look the best on me. I wear them anyway and don't worry about it because purple lips just make me happy. I just weigh what will make me the happiest when I make colorful beauty purchases. Yes, a bright pink blush would make me happy to look at but I know I'd always feel it looked wrong on my face so is it worth it to spend $20 on a blush I won't use? That's a thing I'd say no to but it varies like that on a case by case basis. Most of the time I end up feeling my best wearing bland colors that I'm not excited about if they look great with my skin. Maybe you feel the opposite - that's for you to decide. But, if you're looking for things that will pair perfectly with your olive skin, here's my hit list.
MAC Lipstick in TwigI saw this recommended a little over a week ago as a perfect lipstick for olive tones. I bought it for myself at the first opportunity and it really is perfect. It's a deep, brownish rose that I've been wearing non stop. Perfect for olive skin and perfect for cool, fall weather.
MAC Blush in Springsheen (for stronger or deeper olive tones)Like an asshole, I really only bought this blush because the name reminded me of my imaginary boyfriend Bruce Springsteen. I have to use a very light hand with it to prevent it from looking too orange on my face. I suspect it's better suited for deeper olive toned skin.
NARS Blush in Orgasm and Miss LibertyOrgasm: This color is on the verge of being wrong. It's gold and orange, general no's for olive skin. It's JUST peach enough to work with olive skin which I'm thrilled about. This color is a bestseller for a reason - it's absolutely gorgeous on a variety of skin tones.
Miss Liberty: This color is meant to be used as a highlight but I prefer to use it as a blush on my paler skin. It's a soft peach that makes my olive skin glow.
Stila Convertible Color in PeonyAs a rule, I find colors that are described as "peony" by makeup companies tend to be a brownish pink rather than so light pink it's almost white color real peonies have. Peony colors are generally a safe bet. This cream color by Stila works as both a blush and a lip color.
Rimmel Blush in Santa Fe RoseAnother flower themed color that's olive's best friend is rose. Rose will generally be a perfect mix of mauve, brown and pink and compliment the green tones in olive skin. Sadly, I'm not sure where to get this blush in the US. I grabbed it out of a clearance bin in Ulta years ago and haven't seen it around since.
NARS Dolce Vita Lipstick and BlushNARS makes the shade Dolce Vita in both a blush and a lipstick. I only own the lipstick and it's a perfect "my lips but better" color. I've heard rave reviews about the blush as well and many olive skinned beauty addicts consider it a holy grail blush color.
Make Up For Ever HD Foundation in 117This foundation is my best friend. I can never see myself betraying it by switching to something else. It's the perfect yellow yet pale color and has a full, buildable coverage. Make Up For Ever is pretty inclusive with their range of foundation and it's likely that darker olive tones could find a match in this line as well. If not, I've heard NARS and Tarte both include yellow toned foundations with great formulas. Additionally, a lot of olive toned people turn to Asian BB creams in lieu of Western products and have a lot of success there.
Urban Decay's Naked PaletteI'm not going to take photos because I feel like the Urban Decay Naked Palette is more recognizable than any of the Kardashians at this point. The original Naked has a selection of 12 shadows, almost all of which have a warm tone that compliments olive skin. There's also a handful of bronze and copper colors which are kind of THE colors to wear if you really want your olive skin to look its best. The only dud in the entire palette for olive skin is Gunmetal, a blue toned gray that has been left untouched in my palette, save for my initial swatch.
Hopefully this post can save at least one person with olive skin from mislabeling themselves and wasting a ton of money on products that won't work. Not only that but it was a very real struggle to feel attractive when so much of the makeup I tried looked and felt wrong. Don't feel like you're forced to fit into a cool or a warm skin tone. Those aren't your only options. There's a ton of combinations to make with cool and warm and yellow and pink and neutral and olive. We've been learning that humans come in lots of different colors since elementary school but throw that out the window in favor of just pink or yellow when it comes to makeup. Help yourself out and really consider your undertones and coloring. So you can spend a ton of money on products that make you look gorgeous instead.
Finally, I want to make it clear that I'm white and therefore still have a much wider range of beauty products to choose from than people of color. Whatever your undertone is, us white people are catered to in the beauty world. There are a ton of excuses about how it's just not fiscally possible for companies to cater to every skin color and shit like that but the reality is that it's close to impossible for people of color to find products, especially foundation, to match them without perusing higher end and higher cost options. This article explains that problem far better than I ever could as a white person. Despite the frustrations I've had with color matching, at the end of the day I'm a white girl and cosmetics companies absolutely do cater to me.