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The dos and don’ts of brown makeup shades

Reviewed by Kristen April 13, 2012 5 Comments
Truth #21: Neutral colors are not the best way to look natural.

Using the wrong brown in the wrong way can make you look dull and outdated.

Everyone seems to think that brown is a very “safe” color to wear on the face because it’s so neutral. Beware because the wrong brown can make you look dull and sallow. Brown is one of those funny colors since it can have either warm or cool undertones. The more yellow/green a brown shade is, the more you risk looking unhealthy, especially around the eyes. Very few women have the kind of coloring that looks good with a yellow/green brown. About 90% of the time it’s best to avoid these shades, which is why I so rarely suggest anyone use an olive-colored eye pencil.

The look of a nude brown lip was very big in the 90s. MAC couldn’t keep up with the demand of its Spice lip liner when matte, coffee-colored lips, eyes and cheeks ruled the runways. My darling friends, I have a shocking fact to share with you: the 90s were 20 years ago. Seems like yesterday, I know, but it’s time to move on. Now that we are past our glorious youth we want to look current and fresh. Yet too much brown, especially matte brown, strips your face of color and makes you look dirty. Here’s where neutral tones aren’t helping out your natural beauty. So you can finally let go of that Spice lip liner you might have been holding on to, just in case the look made a comeback. Now promise me, no more brown lips!

Don’t worry, I won’t take away your comfortable brown completely. You still get to use it on your eyes, but you need to pick one or even a couple of shades that seem to be a good match for your skin, eyes and hair. If you need a refresher on understanding color theory, refer back to my article on finding your color palette.

How can you tell if a brown is too yellow? Do swatch tests on your hand of various brown shades. When you see them side by side it will become very clear to you which shades have more red, green, purple or gray.

To be on the safe side, keep in mind that the most universally flattering neutral shade is taupe brown. Taupe is a bit cooler, with a hint of gray that gives a great balance between the warm and cool hues on the face.

Ultimately, if you are choosing neutrals to look natural your end goal should be to look vibrant and beautiful. Yes, you can use brown to accent and shade, but remember to add a touch of something brighter to perk up those features.
  • May 2, 2012

    by Kristen Arnett

    Hi Duck, Your comment made me laugh. OK - No one needs to die. I did mention there were exceptions to these rules. You being in that 10% that look good in an olive color as you say. The same advice about choosing the RIGHT brown applies across the board, because choosing the wrong brown on dark skin will look awful. When I looked up images of the stunning Kiara, I only found one on the first page of my google search that was of her with a very nude/brown face. All the others had some type of color. The message here is choose a brown that is flattering to your own tones and don't be afraid to add in some color. Yes, Spice for dark skin can look like a beautiful beigey brown...but that look is also a bit outdated...I'm saying it gently and with love. Go ahead and keep it, AND experiment once in a while by adding a little color to help you look even more fabulously modern.

  • April 20, 2012

    by Moxie

    Really helpful post! I love makeup, but I'm not a makeup artist! xo

  • April 20, 2012

    by duck

    This seems like great advice for lighter-skinned women. Women with darker complexions, myself included, can look fantastic with a swipe of olive-hued eyeliner and a nude (that would be Spice, for us) lip.

    For some reason, Kiara Kabukuru keeps popping into my head -- her skin looks absolutely stunning when paired with complementary brown tones. Of course, all women should highlight their features with contrasting colors if they so choose -- but I think the natural beauty of dark skin is much enhanced by layering with brown-toned makeup. You'd have to pry Spice from my cold, dead hands!

  • April 19, 2012

    by Kristen Arnett

    It's always so fabulous when another makeup artist (with a great portfolio btw) cheerleads one of my articles! Thank you, Lindsey. :-)

  • April 19, 2012

    by Lindsey Jones Makeup Artistry

    Tell 'em! Brown lip shades are out, put down the spice lip liner and the Brown lip color!

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