Cosmetic Color Theory: The Vocabulary of Color

This series will focus on color theory as it relates to cosmetics. We’ll learn the language of color, identify groups of commonly used hues in cosmetics, and put together cosmetic looks with shades that “work” together.

In this first installation, we’ll start with the vocabulary of color.

Hue: This term refers to the name of the color as it is known on the color wheel. Red, Blue, Green, etc. are all hues.

Value: The lightness or darkness of a color.

Intensity: The brightness or dullness of a color (by mixing with other colors).

Let’s take a look at these terms as they relate to cosmetics. Here, we have a red hue:

Screen Shot 2014-11-09 at 12.36.09 PM

Next is the same red, with more value (darker) and less value (lighter):

Screen Shot 2014-11-09 at 12.54.41 PM Screen Shot 2014-11-09 at 12.54.59 PM

Finally, here is the same red that has had other colors added to it, changing it’s intensity:

Screen Shot 2014-11-09 at 12.56.51 PM Screen Shot 2014-11-09 at 12.57.03 PMScreen Shot 2014-11-09 at 12.56.40 PM

As you can see, red is not always red! It’s for this reason you’ll often hear someone say she is looking for a “warm red” or “cool red” when trying on lipsticks.

In that theme, let’s look at Warm and Cool colors. I’m sure you already know that warm colors are on one side of the color wheel- they include yellow, orange, and red. When a color is mixed with warms hues, it takes on warm undertones.

Here are examples of Warm Reds:

Screen Shot 2014-11-09 at 12.20.34 PM

Conversely, cool colors are on the opposite side of the color. These colors include blue, green, and purple. When a color is mixed with cool hues, it takes on cool undertones.

Here are examples of Cool Reds: 

Screen Shot 2014-11-09 at 12.20.18 PM

Generally, those with fair skin or cool undertones in their skin will feel more comfortable in cool tones. Women with warm undertones tend to look nice in warm colors. Of course there are always exceptions, but it’s a good place to start.

If you’re ready for more, click through to Color Families.

Note: All color schemes here were generated from

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