Take a walk down any makeup aisle, and you’ll see a rainbow of colors to choose from. You might rush to buy those bright hues, subtle nudes, and shimmery metallics that catch your eye.. only to go home, try it on, and see that it doesn’t look great on you. And that’s where color theory comes in. That’s right, the basic color wheel from your old grade school art class has a lot to do with your makeup. Remember mixing blue and red finger paints to get purple? Just like painting, makeup is an art form too, and knowing a little bit about color theory is essential to a successful makeup application.

Let’s review the basics first: Primary colors are red, yellow, and blue. These are the three colors that can be combined to create every other color on the spectrum. Secondary colors are green, violet, and orange and are the result of mixing two primary colors. Complementary colors are colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel. For instance, red and green, blue and orange, and yellow and violet. These colors really pop when they’re seen side by side.

Now, let’s see how those pillars of color theory can help determine what colors work best together and on your skin tone. One color can look totally different on two different people, so it’s essential to know your skin’s undertone to see how these colors will look on you.

using color theory color wheel to master your makeup

Eyeshadow - The purpose of eyeshadow is to make your own eye color really pop. To do this, you’ll want to pick a color complementary to your eye color. Got brown eyes? Purples and metallics work best for you, like MAC’s Paint Pot in shimmery Frozen Violet. Baby blues will pop in warm bronze shades like Sephora’s Sunset to Sunrise palette.

Blush - The basic rule here is to not overpower your own skin tone with a too bright or too dark blush. If your skin tone is ivory or fair, you’ll want to pick a lighter blush with a cooler temperature that complements your natural tone, like Impassioned by NARS. Warmer, rich reddish shades like Bobbi Brown’s Rose blend best on darker, bronze, and ebony skin tones.

Concealer - It’s a simple process: look at the spot you’re trying to conceal, and look across the color wheel for your answer. Dark, blueish undereye circles call for reddish concealers to cancel them out, like Sephora’s Meringue Gel Concealer. Any red breakouts or blemishes will be covered up the green-hued concealers, sometimes called color correctors.

Lip color - Lip color can be more flattering if you match it with your undertone. If you’re a cool tone, choose any color with a bit of blue – fuschias, purples, or light pink nude shades. Warmer tones fair better with richer tones – corals, peaches, and orange reds. Darker tones can have the best of both worlds: bright oranges and reds can really pop against olive or dark skin, while dark berry shades and mauves work better for a more natural look. With 22 shades to choose from, check our MAC’s Matte line for a color that will suit any complexion.

Nail polish - Here’s where we can break a few rules by looking less at our skin tone and more at our fashion choices. If you really want your nail color to stand out, try a bright hue that complements the main color of your outfit. For instance, a saturated orange polish like Essie’s Meet Me at Sunset will really stand out against a blue chambray dress. Want a more natural look instead? Follow the same rule for lip color, and stick with your undertone. Peach polishes will look best with warm tones, while taupes work for cooler complexions.

How do you use the color wheel in your makeup routine?

Beauty, makeup

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