Colour theory in make-up

Want to add a pop of colour to your make-up routine but not sure what colours to pair together or which shades will suit you best? Understanding colour theory is key to ensure that you use the most complementary colour combinations. Amp up the colour in your make-up routine with these simple colour theory guidelines:

Colour theory 1

Primary colours
The three primary colours are red, yellow and blue. The truly unique thing about these three colours is that they cannot be mixed from any other shade, yet they make up all of the other colours on the spectrum.

Secondary colours
Secondary colours are created by mixing two primary colours together. These colours are: orange (red + yellow), green (yellow + blue) and purple (blue + red).

Tertiary colours 
Tertiary colours are created by mixing a primary colour with a secondary colour and can be found between a primary and a secondary colour on the colour wheel. These shades are: red-orange, yellow-orange, green-yellow, blue-green, blue-violet and red-violet.

Colour theory 2

Complementary colours

Complementary colours are found directly across from one another on the colour wheel and can be paired together for a vibrant look. The most common complementary combinations are blue + orange, red + green and yellow + purple. For an intense pop of colour, pair an orange eye shadow with blue eyeliner. If you prefer to keep your make-up more understated, why not pair a statement red lip with a pale green eye shadow above the lash line?

We love: 1. Inglot Eye Shadow Pearl in shade 410, R149 + Clinique Quickliner for Eyes in Indigo, R200. 2. Maybelline Color Sensational in Ruby Star, R109.99 + Stila Compact Eye Shadow in Cha Cha, R165.

Analogous colours
Analogous colours consist of three or four colours adjacent to one another on the colour wheel. As the colours are quite similar, combining them creates a subtle harmonious look. Want a feminine daytime look? Pair a bold pink lip with a coral blush and a light peach eye shadow.

We love: MAC Eyeshadow in shade Gleam, R175 + Smashbox Blush Rush Blush, R220 + Revlon Just Bitten Kissable in Lovesick, R105.

Warm vs. cool colours
The colour wheel can be divided into two sections: warm colours and cool colours. Warm colours have red / yellow undertones and cool colours have blue undertones. Understanding the difference between warm and cool shades is particularly beneficial when selecting foundation, concealer and lipstick shades as it ensures that the shade you select perfectly suits your skin tone. It is important to remember that red can have both warm and cool undertones.

Other articles you may be interested in:
Contouring with Elizabeth Arden
Find the perfect red lipstick
Choose the right shadow for your eyes
Overshadowed by a look


39 Responses

  1. I’m getting grey contact lenses and I cannot wait to play around with the colours.

  2. Thanks for an interesting article. I tend to stick to one shade until it is either discontinued or I move on from that phase. At least I can attempt a change now.

  3. Great Article..I have Hazel eyes and read once that blue will bring out my eye colour. As I have always only used a black eyeliner I decided to use black and blue. Wow what a difference it makes, my eyes pop and compliments were rolling in. I use with this look purple and gold eye shadow.

  4. Thank you, this is excellent basic colour theory info… :)
    Complimentary eyeshadow helps your eyes “pop”. e.g Brown eyes will “pop” with navy blue or purple shadow, Blue eyes, with a golden orange shadow, etc… also very true, as mentioned below, is that brown normally works well with many colours…

  5. Hi AmyR. A cool complexion (pink/red undertones) is best complemented with cool colours and a warm complexion (peach/yellow/golden undertones) is best complemented with warm colours.

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