Beauty

The Misunderstood Pale Olive Skin

I have usually been told that I have fair skin, no wonder why… I'm a ghost! However, all the foundations for fair skin are always too yellow or too pink for me. I have to mix two foundations to get a more or less acceptable result.

I have usually been told that I have fair skin, no wonder why… I’m a ghost! However, all the foundations for fair skin are always too yellow or too pink for me. I have to mix two foundations to get a more or less acceptable result.

Unlike my British fair-skinned friends, I can tan. I have brown hair and brown eyes and I come from a totally Mediterranean family (trust me I did some research and my ancestors are all Italian and married Italian for at least the last 5 generations).

So what’s going on here? Can I still have olive skin and be pale? I’ve always thought of olive skin as something much darker than my skin. 

Well, apparently it’s actually very possible to have really pale, light olive skin.

If you tick most boxes in this list, you’re another pale olive skin fellow (welcome to the club!)

  • You can’t decide if your veins on the inside of your wrist are blue or green.
  • You tan in the sun rather than burning. If you’re light olive, your skin likely has more melanin content than other fair-skinned women. You should still protect your skin with sunscreen though (I recommend an SPF 15 or higher).
  • You struggle to find a matching foundation, they are often too yellow or too pink.
  • In winter you get dark bags under your eyes and your greenish-paleness looks almost unhealthy.
  • You look good or neutral with both gold and silver jewelry.
  • You look sallow/washed out when wearing pastels.

We need to differentiate between Skin Undertone (cool-neutral-warm) and Intensity of Pigment (pale-medium-dark). So yes, Olive is actually a neutral undertone that nobody ever talks about, but definitely exists in all different shades, including pale! 

The Struggles and Some Ideas

It’s hard enough finding makeup that complements olive skin. But pale and olive? Even harder!  Many companies simply don’t consider olive skin when formulating products for light complexions.

In terms of foundations, although not many light foundations cater to olive skin, a few still do.

The MakeUp Forever Ultra HD Foundation line, shade Marble (117) is a good choice for light olive complexions, otherwise try MUFE HD 123 for medium olive skin. Other foundation brands caring for light olive skin are Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk and NYX Stay Matte Not Flat in Medium Beige (for pale olive).

When it comes to blushes your best bet is rose, mauve, coral and peach-colored blushes. These shades look very natural on light olive complexions. The blush I’ve been using for years is Chanel Joues Contraste 82 Reflex (light coral). I’ve also heard that NARS Dolce Vita, Portofino, Orgasm and Torrid are good options.

For eyeshadows I go with earthy warm and naked tones, like Urban Decay Naked 1 and Naked 3 palettes or Dior Backstage palette warm neutrals (it works really well for brown eyes).

Just like eyeshadow, pale and pastel lips don’t exactly do pale olive skin justice. And while bright lipstick can overpower the skin, many purple and brown hues will wash the complexion out. Dark lipstick flatters the lighter tones of pale olive skin best. So, swap that fire-engine red for a dark rusty or wine red lip color. For example, Maybelline Color Sensational Creamy Matte Lip Color in Divine Wine. For a neutral everyday lip you may want to try L’Oreal The Fairest Nude, MAC Brave or MAC Satin Lipstick in Twig.

Any other pale olive fellows out there who would like to share some tips?


29 comments

  1. I. I’m Portuguese and I’m super-ultra-pale olive skin tone. My skin is almost ivory tone, I don’t burn that much but I also don’t tan a lot. In the Winter my skin becomes grey and my legs almost blue. My veins are something like turquoise. I’m also anemyc which doesn’t help a lot. In the group photos my skin reflects the light in a way that I don’t seem to belong to the group. Like I am the ghost nobody saw but appeared in the photo…

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    1. It’s so weird hearing an accurate description of my skin tone and shades! Makeup artists never shade match me for olive because I’m often pale and have dark blonde hair (it was black when I was a baby and lightened over time), but this is so spot on. As for suggestions, since you nailed it on makeup, I would add that keeping hair color toned and neutral to slightly ashy is really important for pale olive skin. Olive always gets dark hair suggested, and that definitely looks great, but for someone like me with light hair, mushroom blonde is a GREAT option. It doesn’t clash with skin and actually looks glowy on us (as opposed to most people) because it’s a real neutral. And it works well with tanner skin in the summer, too 🙂

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  2. Omg this is amazing!; I always thought I was cool skin tone and that my yellowness was just an unfortunate overtone. I’m so happy I found this info

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      1. Hi I’m another pale olive Italian American. My hands and feet are so yellow, my face also yellow, but with a little pink showing through depending on my blood flow. My bruises are seriously olive green. I hate both orange and pink foundations. Fenty has olive color foundation but its slightly yellow for me. I got Wet n’ wild stick foundation in soft ivory – very close match though slightly pale. A great product and affordable. A lady at Ulta beauty color matched me for the Ordinary foundation 1.1N if that helps anyone like me.

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  3. Lancôme Idole foundation in Ivory 130N and Revlon foundations in Buff are good for pale skin. Urban Decay 30CG for light to medium skin. These are neutrals that lean toward green. When I was a teen years ago nothing ever looked right. Ivory was always chalky and sometimes too pinky. I always settled into the Cover Girl and Maybelline Rose Beige(not made anymore) even though it was too dark because everything else seemed too yellow or warm. Now that I’m older I understand my colors better and being able to shop online for foundation is so easy as most companies label their foundations as warm, neutral and cool. You can actually see the green in some of them. Olive skin usually has a cool undertone with various warm overtones. I found the best foundations on me to be neutral to neutral cool.

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  4. I’ve never read such an accurate review about olive skin tone! Thank you. I also have a Mediterranean family and I always struggle to find a correct foundation.
    Have you ever tried Fenty Beauty? This brand has some olive colors

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  5. I’ve never read such an accurate review about olive skin tone! Thank you. I also have a Mediterranean family and I always struggle to find a correct foundation.
    Have you ever tried Fenty Beauty? This brand has some products for olive skin.

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  6. FINALLY! Thank you! Great post. I have a quick question…white or cream pearls? I can’t decide which is better. Maybe silver/grey or peacock pearls? My daughter’s wedding is coming up and need to decide. Thank you!

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  7. Yes! This speaks to me so much. So glad I am not alone. I always joke with my friends that I am tan in the summer but Elmer’s glue in the winter. This gives me hope that I can up my make-up game. Thank you for the info and tips!

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  8. So excited to read this! I have dark blonde hair and dark blue eyes with medium olive skin tone that — as you described — looks gray in the winter and golden goddess in the summer! No makeup artist ever picks the right foundation for me. They see blonde hair and blue eyes and think I’m fair. Of course it’s waaaaayyy too light and chalky, so then the MUA tries something with a peach tone but that turns orange on my skin. It’s tough to find the right fit. I just saw online that Smashbox has olive toned foundation shades. I haven’t tried it yet, but will check it out this week.

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  9. Yes I’m Greek and this is me! So many people have asked me if I’m sick in the winter lol. Doesn’t help that I live in a cold place near the Canadian border. Since I’m so pale, the makeup people always match me with a cool undertone and I end up looking pink. I finally found the tarte Amazonian clay full coverage foundation w/spf 15 to be a near perfect match. Shade 29H light-med honey for summer and shade 16H fair-light honey for winter

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  10. Not all british people have pale skin, most Caucasian people can tan, (Unless they’re albino or ginger) Most people have the ability to tan. Yes youmay think you’re “pale” but youre likely not as pale as you think compared to people with actual pale skin. Its just pale for you. Olive skin needs a permanant colour underneath otherwsie yuoure just a great tanner. Italians are known to have olive skin.

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  11. OMG!!! Thank you!!! I have been struggling with this for sooo long, and I just couldn’t get what I was doing wrong. The funny thing is that I started using a few of your suggested products long back without understanding why they looked good on me, but now it seems I have a full range of products to try out! Thank you!!!!!

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  12. Nah I am as pale as I think AND I have olive undertones. You don’t have to be the fairest of the fair to be pale, and yes, many pale people can tan gradually with sunscreen and not burn. Without any tan, I am only darker than my natural red haired mother, who does not tan at all. Many light skinned people are PINK, not necessarily fair. For some reason, the olive tone may register as “tanned” to people in certain lighting, but in natural light I’m often fairer than the pink people.

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  13. Also, a lot of pale people don’t tan and just burn (probably why she mentioned it), and the term “caucasian’ is geographically inaccurate and is used mainly by Americans…

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  14. I myself am a pale olive skinned person from Eastern Europe. I struggled a lot as a teenager to find a foundation to match me because all the pale foundations available in my area at that time had a pink undertone. I struggled to identify why they were so much “darker” than my skin to then have my friend point out to me one day casually, “you know it’s just too pink”. But yellow is too yellow and even neutral foundations are entirely too pink for me.

    So what I do instead is mix my foundations in a mug. I use Maybelline Urban Cover Warm Ivory 100 as the base so I squirt more of it in the mug than other colours, then I add 2-3 drops of Maybelline Pure Ivory 103 and then a hefty amount of MakeUp Obsession Anti-Redness Primer which is essentially a green colour corrector. This is my routine now that I am still retaining some of the tan I caught in summer. The combination I obtain after mixing the colours together with a make-up brush does look paler than my skin as I am applying it, but due to the foundation oxidising it looks just about right.

    Some companies try to sell foundation mixing pigment but it’s often overpriced so I just suggest the anti-redness green primers. In fact I would say that a foundation that best matches your skin tone but not really and then countering it with either blue if it’s too orange or green if it lacks green or is too pink or too yellow will make it so much easier than trying to buy one foundation to match you. Because some people are lucky and they fit what manufacturers think the general population looks like, but a lot of people won’t.

    As a side note, I would pay attention on the formula and the desired skin texture. What I mean by this is keep in mind the type of look you want to achieve (such as matte, dewy etc.) and your skin type. Revolution is great because they do sell a green primer, however, if you have skin that is prone to dryness, the primer, even if mixed with dewier formulas, is just going to make your skin look dry and aged.

    As a conclusion, the best way for anyone to go about this is to figure out all the colours they have in their skin and blend them. It’s a trial and error process, it takes time and it’s frustrating but it’s achievable. I personally have quite a lot of yellow, green and a slight tint of light purple (in winter; in summer it’s more pinkish) in my skin. In peak winter when all the tan is gone I look pretty much grey and somewhat dead.

    Onto fashion, my biggest no go colour is blue. I personally find blue to be the one colour I can’t comfortably wear because it brings out both the green and the yellow in my skin in this very sickly combination that either makes me look like I am going to keel over and die or that I’ve contracted some unfathomable disease. If, somehow the yellow-green in my skin doesn’t shine through, then it’s the corpse-like purple that does and it’s just not a good look. To cap it off I have black hair, black eyebrows and dark-brown that almost look black eyes and so, the contrast is very strong and unsettling when I am not tanned, but full natural skin tone.

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  15. I’m pale olive with rosacea, Catrice “no more red” primer is my holy grail. Not only does it cancel my surface redness, I mixed my regular foundations with it too.
    But, and that’s I just found out, thanks to Nikki Raven, who is a youtuber, Glam-shop.pl a smol polish based indie brand has pale olive foundations! 0 is very pale, 1 is ca mac 15 (me in summer. No, I don’t tan, I burn and then get a shade darker) I didn’t try the 2, but should be light to medium. They also have a olive cream and powder bronzer. And ship Europe wide and to Canada and the USA. If you order, font miss out on their fabulous eyeshadows! I personally love the Turbos and the Multichromes, one Holographic is on its way to me witb my current order.
    Oh, and btw I have naturally strawberry blonde hair and dyed it currently copper, that suits olives well too!

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  16. I’m late to this post but if anyone has suggestions for under eye concealer that would be great. Our family has a wide mix of nationalities in our ancestry, but my youngest daughter has the olive skin of her Lebanese ancestors with the paleness of the Irish! We’ve been trying to find a good concealer as she has very dark under eyes during the winter. In summer she tans quickly and beautifully, even with spf. Unfortunately our cold Canadian winters are so much longer than our lovely hot summers! Any suggestion would be appreciated!

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  17. I love this! Thanks or raising it! I am very pale olive from Italian and Greek decent and I have always found it hard to fine foundation to match and colours that just don’t suit me. I tend to avoid stark white because I find it really highlights the green/grey in my skin and makes me look really washed out, I now opt for cream/ivory instead because it’s a bit warmer and softer. I also avoid really bright candy colours because they tend to look a little crazy on me! I absolutely live and die for wearing orange and red (warm shades and avoiding yellow because that is the devil for olive skin!) and mix in navy and warm neutrals to keep softness and avoid stark contrast. I find we have a special power with the rich warm tones and they make us look sooooo radiant! Think autumn shades, they look amaaaaazing!

    I tend to find neutral toned foundations work for me. The Ordinary Serum foundation in 1.2N is superb for my really fair olive tone, but we also have the added bonus of being able to use bronzer as eyeshadow and it looks heavenly!

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