Struggle to find foundation that matches your olive skin tone? We explain why....

In the hurry to meet the shade extension frenzy and get a gold star for being inclusive, brands have been pumping out foundation shades to suit all skin tones faster than you can say ‘perfect match’. The irony is that despite the gigantic spectrum of swatches they now have on offer, very few actually match up to people’s skin tones IRL.

That’s because there are only a few foundation formulas in circulation that are used by the majority of brands. It’s then down to them to tweak the tones but, and here’s the big but, if the base pigments don’t match up with people’s skin tones, they simply won’t work. The foundation will look too pink, too ashy, too yellow, too orange, leave a cast on the skin and basically make your skin appear off. That’s you not living your best life, then.


While brands have been snubbed for their lack of darker shades, olive skin tones have spent years stuck in limbo with very few companies even acknowledging that olive skin has different needs altogether. In short, most formulas contain pink undertones, but olive skin contains little to no pink so needs a foundation with yellow, green and golden undertones to even come close to matching up. It’s no surprise to learn that 90% of women with olive skin don’t think their foundation works for them.*


Traditionally, skin tone has been defined by the Fitzpatrick scale which was introduced in the 70s and categorised skin based on colours ranging from I (palest) to VI (the darkest). Using observational methodology rather than solid science, olive toned skin is thought of as having Mediterranean, Latin American or Middle Eastern heritage and tends to dip into III, IV and V on the scale. However, and here’s the bombshell moment, super pale skin tones can be olive too, just as deep black skin tones can.Foundation-2

Frustrated at the lack of accuracy the Fitzpatrick scale provides, founder of EX1 cosmetics Farah Naz teamed up with scientist and skin tone specialist, Steven Westland to create the Westland Naz Index – the first ever system that can evaluate the hues of skin. From this they discovered that everyone has green – the defining characteristic of olive skin tones – in their skin. Which is why you can be pale olive, dark olive and everything in between.

So successful in identifying skin tones, the Skin Classification Tool was developed in line with the Index so everyone can detect how much red and green they have in their skin. This will be a revelation when you come to look to purchase any future cosmetics. If you haven’t tried it yet, do it right now HERE.


In a word, no! Olive skin tones do tend to tan easily but tanned skin isn’t necessarily olive as it won’t have those whisperings of green pigment. It’s also down to the amount of melanin in your skin and how much melanin is produced when your skin is exposed to the sun. Tanned skin, although it might have warm undertones will also still have pinkish hue leading to a slightly redder, browny-looking tan rather than an olive tone. So now you know


Any expert will tell you that to find a foundation to match your skin tone, you need to know your undertones, but overtones are equally important too.

Most people don’t actually realise that your natural skin colour has undertones and overtones which will change the way foundation colours can look on the skin, so you need to learn both,
explains make-up artist Georgia Rose @georgiarosemua.
Essentially your undertone is literally the colour that is under your skin and your overtone is the colour that your skin is as a whole, so the colour you appear to look.

It’s also worth noting that the overtone, or shade of your skin will constantly be changing.

Due to external factors such as the sun, while your undertones will always remain the same, the shade of your skin will alter throughout the year,
says make-up artist Scarlett Burton, @scarlett_burton. Skin conditions such as rosacea, acne, dehydration and dullness will also impact how your overtones appear.


When it comes to drilling down undertones, historically warm tends to include yellow, orange and apricot tones; cool includes pink, red and what was thought to be blue while neutral was a balanced blend of both. But where’s the green? That’s where olive skin tones have been getting lost in the mix as while most olive skin tones do tend to have warm or neutral undertones and paler olive skins can lean towards a cooler scale, to find a spot-on foundation match, there has to be a hint of green in it otherwise it simply won’t marry up to your skin tone.

As an olive-skinned person myself, I know how hard it is to find foundations with enough of a yellow/khaki base to counteract the pink pigments most often seen in traditional foundations,

continues Scarlet. 


The big takeout here is that if you’ve ever thought your skin tone was troublesome, it isn’t, it’s the foundation formulators who have been getting it wrong, making it almost impossible for you to invest in a shade that blends effortlessly and seamlessly with your skin.

As a general rule, most definitely avoid pink tones and then what suits you will depend on a fine balance between yellow and green and cream/beige and brown,
advises pro make-up artist Jo Lorrimer.
Look for those foundations where you can identify golden yellows plus green with creams or rich, greenish browns. If it sounds complicated, it’s because it is! The greens shouldn’t look scary though, it should just be a hint of tint!

Thankfully to make life easier, EX1 did just that and created a foundation with the exact yellow/green/golden undertones needed for olive skin and then ensured there was a shade from the palest to the darkest olive skin possible.

Other brands catering for olive skins include Morphe, Uoma, MAC, Charlotte Tilbury, Giorgio Armani and Dior although as you can see, mass market options are still pretty limited. Now they know the missing part of the pigment puzzle though, here’s hoping they go green pretty soon.

Words: Becci Vallis

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