Color Theory and How to Use It for Makeup Application

by Zarah Harris December 23, 2022

Color Theory and How to Use It for Makeup Application

Color is all around us and plays an important role in life more than we may think. The colors within our environment serve as a powerful communication tool and have the ability to influence our mood. 


Color has the ability to influence the human brain because it can convey particular feelings and emotions. For example, red tends to evoke strong emotions like love, passion or anger. In an experiment conducted on college students, research found that students’ heart rates were significantly affected when exposed to the color red. Color theory is a set of guidelines that proposes that certain color combinations are visually harmonious. Some of the basic rules of color theory offer guidance for makeup application. 


The best place to start with color theory for makeup application is the color wheel; it’s one of the basic foundations to color theory. According to Maryville University, the color wheel is“a circular arrangement of colors organized by their chromatic relationship to one another. The primary colors are equidistant from each other on the wheel, and secondary and tertiary colors sit between them.” The key to finding the right color combinations is paying attention to the position of the colors on the wheel. 


Complementary colors are positioned exactly opposite from each other. They have strong contrast between each other which helps enhance the intensity of each hue. A common pair of complementary colors we often see are red and green. Complementary colors pair up nicely together because they stimulate different parts of the eye while still appearing well balanced.


Analogous colors are positioned next or near to each other on the wheel. Analogous colors look good together because they create a calm appearance and often resemble color palettes that exist in nature. Red and orange are an example of analogous colors. They produce a more relaxing visual experience over complementary colors because they lack intense contrast between each other. 

Image of Color Wheel

Now that we’ve established some of the basics of color theory, here’s how these principles can be applied when using makeup.

1. Use complementary colors to accentuate your natural features

Select your eyeshadow shade based on the color that’s opposite of your eye color on the color wheel. For example, a warm orange eyeshadow would be best for making blue eyes pop.

@GoldenBarbie on Instagram wearing orange eyeshadow

Source: @GoldenBarbie on Instagram

2. Color correct with complementary colors

Color correcting is a makeup technique used to correct unwanted complexions in the skin with complementary colors. When two complementary colors are mixed together they can cancel each other out. For example, if your face has spots of redness from skin irritation or a breakout, apply a green concealer or primer to neutralize those areas. Once foundation is applied the skin will appear more even and balanced.

A woman apply color correcting concealer

Source: Canva Images

3. Create stunning color combinations with complementary colors or analogous colors

Use complementary colors across the face to create a striking makeup look. Be cautious of blending complementary colors together as doing so can result in the makeup looking gray and muddy. 


For a more subtle makeup look, use analogous colors. Analogous colors easily blend to each other creating a harmonious, balanced look. 

 complementary makeup look by @ericaswn

Photo Credit: @ericaswn on Instagram