Makeup 101: Tips for Finding the Most Flattering Makeup Colors

Sonja is back with the fifth and final (sniff, sniff) installment of her Makeup 101 series! She’s also given a fabulous lesson on How to Apply Foundation, Concealer, and Powder, tips on How to Apply Eye Makeup, advice on giving your Cheeks a Healthy Glow, and input on how to apply lipstick and gloss.

I’m very excited to have Sonja walk us through choosing flattering makeup colors … and as always, check her blog, Hello Beauty! for daily tips, reviews, and tutorials.

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Have you ever bought an eye shadow or lipstick that looked beautiful in the store only to be disappointed when you put it on? Do you have a drawer full of makeup that’s barely used? I checked in with a pro to help solve the mystery of how to find the most flattering makeup colors to save us all some money and frustration.

I’ve never really understood why some colors look better on me than others so I checked in with celebrity makeup artist Tia Dantzler to get some pointers. Dantzler knows her stuff. She has collaborated with amazing photographers like Annie Leibovitz and Matthew Rolston, and her work has graced the covers and pages of Vogue, Glamour and GQ, to name a few.

Dantzler shared several great tips with me:

Natural Lighting. If at all possible, Dantzler recommends trying on makeup in natural sunlight before you buy it. The lights at makeup counters often don’t give an accurate read on what the color will look like in most settings, and natural light will reveal that a foundation doesn’t actually match your skin even though it looks fine at the counter. I will try on makeup and walk over to an area where there are windows or even walk outside to see if a color really is as flattering as it seems to be.

Know Your Skin Tone. Knowing your skin tone will help you choose the right colors, especially when it comes to foundation, Dantzler says. Skin tones tend to fall into two categories: warm and cool.

  • You have cool undertones if you have more pink and red tones in your skin than yellow.
  • You have warm undertones if you have more yellow than pink.
  • You can have a combination of warm and cool if you have a mix of both yellow and pink.

The Color Wheel. Let your eye color, skin tone and a color wheel guide you, recommends Dantzler. She says a color wheel can help you find the best choices for eye shadows, blushes, bronzers, lipsticks, and glosses.

First, find your eye color and red or yellow for your skin tone. Then follow the arrows to complementary shades directly across the wheel and “split complementary” shades, which are next to complementary colors.

For example, I have brown eyes. Brown is in the orange color family, and blues are complementary, which is why blues and blue-grays tend to really emphasize my eyes. Blue-greens and blue-violets are split complementary shades that also work well.

In this makeup lesson video, you can see how well cool blue and gray shadows work with brown eyes.

Using a color wheel to choose colors that work best for my skin tone is trickier for me because I have a mix of warm and cool undertones. But if you have a lot of yellow in your skin, you’ll probably find that violet eye shadows and lip colors with violet tones in them are very flattering. Someone with red undertones may find that green eye shadows work beautifully.

Experience. A color wheel can be more challenging to decipher when choosing colors for lips and cheeks. A woman with red undertones most likely won’t want to wear green lipstick! Dantzler has done makeup for many years on a wide variety of people. In her experience, the colors listed below are the ones that work best for cheeks and lips.

Fair skin tones do well with pink and beige blushes. Olive skin tones look best in corals and bronzes. Deeper skin tones should consider wearing coppers, peaches and plums.

Lips. Lips really pop when women with fair skin tones wear pinks, oranges and reds. Olive skin tones look great in corals and reds. Deeper skin tones look best in pinks, neutrals and purples.

I hope these tips take some of the mystery out of choosing the best makeup colors for you and save you a bit of cash on colors that just don’t work.

An e-book. On past posts for this Makeup 101 series, some people commented that they planned to print posts to help them when shopping for makeup so I’m going to take a stab at putting together an inexpensive e-book that will bring together all the posts to help as a guide when shopping and putting on makeup now that the Makeup 101 series is done. I’ll keep you posted on when that’s done.

Also be sure to stop by my blog Hello Beauty! for more tips, videos, and makeup, skin care reviews, and a special Makeup 101 giveaway with some of my favorite makeup from Benefit Cosmetics!

XO, Sonja

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16 Responses to “Makeup 101: Tips for Finding the Most Flattering Makeup Colors”

  1. Miracle Baby Blog

    This whole acticle was great help not only to me but alsp for all women who struggle to find the perfect colour makeup to wear. It suggested great tips on different shades of makeup to wear where and when, which I will definatly take in use!

  2. Figure8onaDate

    Great post. One tip that I've found really helpful in picking a lipstick shade is to look at the inside of your lower lip and try to match that color. For example, I have cool toned fair skin and green eyes. The inside of my lip has a purplish tone. Lipsticks in purple based berry shades and violet toned pinks look great on me. True pinks and reds that don't have a hint of purple end up looking really fake.

  3. Sonja

    Figure8onaDate, what an interesting tip! I'm going to have to try that. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Laura

    FYI, this post was oddly truncated when I tried to read it via RSS (bloglines). Don't know if it was a formatting issue or what.

  5. Sal

    Laura: Thanks – we had some problems with the embedded video. Hopefully all resolved now!

  6. KLauren

    the skin tone and undertones have always been challenging for me. thanks for the color wheel idea – i'm an artist and use one all the time, but never even thought to use it for makeup colors – great idea, thank you.

  7. CrankyOtter

    Huh. She puts her eye makeup on exactly backwards of the order I put it on. I'll have to try that method to see how it works. (I put on mascara first so I don't get powder stuck in my wand, but sometimes the powder messes up the color.) Then I do the eye liner (two colors of pencils because the black underlayer is too boring, so I top it with khaki or honey brown which, when mixed with black, make my eye color pop. After that is the powder liner to set the pencil liner, then lid powder, then all over powder. See? Exactly backwards. Uncanny.

    My initial contacts were hard lenses, so I spent years avoiding mascara. Then I was indoctrinated into the wonderfulness of what it does for eyes. I do have that Bad Gal mascara but it's inherently a little dry. I've been playing with Lash Blast Length (ungainly name), Lash Stilletto (worked the first time, less so the second), Collosal volume express and the Falsies volume express. They're all fine but I miss my body shop mascara brush that was longer on the ends and narrow in the middle, it fit my lashes better.

    I have yet to master liquid liner. Insufficient practice. Going to go play with it, and my mascara stash now. I'm not sure why I'm sitting on 5 mostly new tubes of mascara when I am not allowed to wear makeup at work.

    Thanks again for the (backward:) makeup application refresher – it's always good to feel confident in our skills we use to highlight our favorite features.

  8. CrankyOtter

    Oh, and I can recommend the Lancome Color Design eye shadow. "Pose Metallic" is a shimmery gold that stays on and new looking for hours and hours on end. Mostly I use the pink "Kitten Heel" for day use and the plumn "backstage pass" over the eyeliner. Somehow it goes really well with my honey brown eyes. But I could see the blue making your eyes whiter even before you pointed out what was doing it, so I may have to change up my color palette a little to see if I can duplicate that.

  9. Anonymous

    Thank you SO MUCH! I have always wondered why, despite having dark brown eyes I don't look good in blue but instead can wear purple and green. It is because I am Asian with yellow-toned skin and surface rudiness. I was merely following advice based on my eye colour before, but now I know that I need to consider the colouring all over my face too. Hah!

  10. lisa

    Yay, great guest post Sonja! I've always been kind of confused about the warm/cool undertones concept because from personal experience I didn't fit neatly into one category and could pick and choose colours from each colour family. Having you articulate that some people have a mix of warm and cool undertones has just reassured me that I'm not nutty. 🙂

  11. Lydia

    I love tihs post- so helpful!!

    Here's a post on my blog you makeup lovers might be interested in reading.
    It's a makeup tutorial with pictures and step-by-step instructions. It teaches how to do a color pop on your eyes! (Neutral eye makeup with a pop of color on your lower lid)

    Sal, if you'd be interested in featuring this post in your "Lovely Links" section, I'd be eternally grateful. 🙂