How to Choose Makeup Colors

Crystal Schwanke

It's intimidating to think there are "right" and "wrong" makeup colors for you. The good news is that it's pretty easy to choose the right makeup colors for your skin tone and lifestyle. Don't just go to the store and shop on a whim. Put some thought into what you're looking for ahead of time so you won't get distracted by all the gorgeous sheens, vibrant colors, and trendy shades that line the aisles of the drugstores and parade across the department store counters.

Work with Your Style

Makeup artist Erica Carr
Makeup artist Erica Carr

Be realistic about what makes you feel comfortable, not what you think looks good on other people. Makeup artist Erica Carr advises, "First you have to look at what your style is: minimalist, glamorous, dramatic, etc. If you don't have or don't want to take the time to apply a full face everyday, you can get away with grooming your eyebrows, applying a bit of concealer where needed, mascara and lip color. If you have the time and it is in your routine, you can play with color depending on what you wear, where you are going and of course your personality. For instance, if you are going out and you are wearing black, try a smoky eye and a light lip - or in reverse, a light eye and a strong lip."

  • If your overall look is minimal, you're not going to want to pair a whole glamorous face with a bold lip and defined eye makeup, or heavy shadow and a pale gloss. It won't meld in as part of your morning schedule, and you may feel that it doesn't even complement your wardrobe.
  • If you like to take your time every morning and experiment or if you like the everyday glam look, you will really benefit from a palette full of colors to mix and match.

Don't just look at your exterior; think of the type of person you are when you choose makeup colors, too. Carr suggests, "Shades of color depend on your personality - at least I think so. If you are outgoing, you probably can get away with not only natural colors, but strong colors as well. If you are very natural and you don't tend to go outside of your comfort zone, maybe stick with the basics. You can have very light skin or very dark skin and wear just about any shade, as long as it compliments your true skin undertones and also if you can really 'own that look' when you leave the house."

Take a Look at Your Coloring

Foundation

Cool undertones (blue or pink) look best with similar toned foundation. The same is true with golden or olive undertones. When you wear warm shades on cool skin tones or vice-versa, you run the risk of looking too ruddy, pale, or sallow. Swipe a few shades along your jawbone and see which one blends into the skin without any tell-tale signs of a different undertone, gray cast (from being too light)), or orange (too dark).

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Eye Shadow

For eye color, the opposite is true; instead of trying to match the color of your eyes with your eye makeup, look at the color wheel and go for opposites. Carr explains, "Think of the color wheel and the primary colors - blue, red and yellow. Then look at the secondary colors - green, orange, and purple. I try to go to the opposite of the eye color in order to make the eyes pop".

She continues, "Most people who have blue eyes think that brown or tan will work, which it can. But I recommend trying a dark peach and watch the blue jump out. Green eyes should try plums and brown can go to either end of the spectrum. The thing about eyes is that each one is so different and has so many different colors within the iris that just playing around with colors you may not normally wear, may just surprise you. Contour is also really important when accentuating the eyes. Color can be a factor, but eye shape and where you put that color is the biggest factor in my experience."

Eye Liner

If you don't want to slap an obvious color on your eyelids, you can still make your eye color stand out with neutral shadows and a colored eye liner. You can find liners that look almost like black, but have a tinge of another color that complements your eye color and makes it look more intense.

Mascara

The darker your hair, the darker your mascara can be.

  • If you're blonde with fair skin and blue eyes, black will look too harsh and brown will be a better choice.
  • If your hair is medium brown or darker, black mascara can be your best friend when it comes to making your eyes stand out when you're doing natural or more dramatic looks.
  • If your hair is light brown, you may prefer shades marked "Soft Black" rather than the intense "Blackest Black" that darker-haired ladies can wear with ease.
  • Redheads look stunning with auburn or burgundy mascara, but since those aren't always available the warmth that comes with a brown shade is another gorgeous (and easily accessible) choice.
  • For gray, silver, salt-and-pepper, or white hair, a soft black could still work if your skin tone isn't very fair. Otherwise, choose a brown or auburn shade.
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Cheeks

When you purchase a new blush, you want it to brighten your face but look natural. Mary Kay consultant Carri Ann Busse advises, "I think that when you select a cheek color, you want it to look like you just ran around your house ten times and whatever color your cheeks have flushed to, that's about the right color," says . If your undertones are cool, seek out cooler pinks and plums. If they're warm, look for peaches and tawny shades.

Lips

As for lips, "With lipstick you want to make sure when you have the lipstick on and look in the mirror it doesn't stand out as being so very different," Busse says. "If it takes a full face and a totally different outfit to make it work, it's probably not the right color; it's probably not complimentary to your skin tone."

Choose a Feature to Play Up

When you're choosing makeup colors, you don't want to choose vibrant colors for every area of your face. What do you love about your features? Do you have big, exotic eyes? Luscious lips? Great cheekbones? Choose one and gravitate toward the more colorful options in that type of makeup (blush, shadow, or lipstick, for example). Keep the other areas of your face more subdued.

Tips for playing up specific features include:

  • Lips: Use sheer finishes on your eyes if you want color but want to keep the focus on your lips.
  • Eyes: Consider or a pink- or- peach-toned nude lipstick and similar-toned blush on your cheeks if you want to keep the focus on your eyes.
  • Cheeks: If your cheeks are your standout feature, play those up with a vibrant blush shade and then look for browns/grays for the eyes and nude or barely-there sheer pink or peach shades on lips. If you want to be more adventurous with the color on your eyes even when you're playing up your cheekbones, just stick with sheer eye shadow shades.

Experimenting with Color

It never hurts to have a basic, go-to set of colors you can use without putting that much thought into it, but study the trends each season and see which ones apply to your coloring or style. If none of them seem to be a good fit, use them as inspiration for tweaking your current routine into something just a little different. Busse suggests, "Definitely try something different. If you're in a rut, it's probably time to change; you might be pleasantly surprised with the results. But -- it is true that once you find a set of colors that complements your skin and your eye color, you're going find that these are your go-to shades."

If you're not incredibly experimental, you may not want to purchase a whole palette full of bright or opaque metallic shades because there are better ways you could spend your money. A bright or bold liner in something other than black or brown, however, doesn't cost a lot and it's an easy way to shake up your routine without making yourself feel too out of your element and self-conscious. Liner is subtle, but it can make an impact on your overall look. Busse says, "I really do encourage people to try different liners. It's trendy to put one color of eyeliner on the top, and one color on the bottom. (This is) not necessarily good for your conservative professional, but it looks really nice on. It's a little bit bohemian, a little different, and it draws attention to the face."

Makeup for Your Outside and Your Inside

When choosing makeup colors, take a look not just at what you look like on the outside, but the clothes you feel compelled to wear and your personality as a whole. That's not to say that if you're a quiet person who wears pastels that you shouldn't have at least one bright purple or green in your stash, but unless you'd like to accumulate quite a collection, it's best to take a step back, think about what you'll really wear most days, and make your purchases accordingly.

How to Choose Makeup Colors