Understanding permanent makeup colour theory is vital for PMU artists, as colour selection can be one of the most difficult aspects to get right in permanent makeup.

It is important to remember that traditional makeup sits on top of the skin, whereas permanent makeup is implanted in the skin – meaning that the healed results will always be a combination of the pigment colour and the natural undertones of the client’s skin.

Here at Killer Beauty, we’ve created a guide that explains colour theory in permanent makeup in more detail, so you can choose the right microblading colour, lip liner colour and more!

1. Why is colour theory important?

2. The Colour Wheel

3. Skin Undertones

4. Fitzpatrick Skin Scale

5. How to select correct pigment shade

6. Colour correction

1.     Why is colour theory important?

To achieve the perfect harmony between the undertones of the pigment and the undertones of the skin, we must first understand basic colour theory. This will help a PMU artist select a suitable pigment shade for their client that will work well with their skin tone. Understanding colour theory is also paramount in correcting colour-errors at top up if the initial pigments used haven’t healed as desired.

Colour selection in permanent make up can easily go wrong if a permanent makeup artist has not received adequate training. Not only is the skin on the face more delicate than the body, but it has a very different cellular structure and more sebaceous activity. This means that the colour is more likely to change during the healing process and over time when compared to a traditional body tattoo.

2.     The Colour Wheel

Permanent makeup colour theory wheel
Permanent makeup colour theoryPermanent makeup colour theory

The colour wheel can be split into three categories: primary colours, secondary colours and tertiary colours. Tertiary colours are a combination of primary and secondary. As shown above, they are also split into cool and warm tones.

Primary: red, yellow, blue.

Secondary: violet, orange, green.

Tertiary: lime green, turquoise, blue-violet, crimson, red-orange, yellow-orange.

Complimentary colours are colours which lie opposite each other on the colour wheel, for example: red and green. Complimentary colours (when mixed) will always neutralise and cancel each other out.

A lot of manufacturers will only use tones of yellow, green, red, black (blue) and white when creating pigments (aside from pigments for coloured eyeliner).

Pigments created with more red tones will be warmer and pigments created with more green will be cool. Understanding how these colours work together and how they work with the skin undertone is paramount in selecting the right colour for your client.

3.     Skin Undertones

Clients will usually fall into one of 3 categories when it comes to skin undertones: cool, neutral or warm. Clients who sit in the ‘cool’ category will require warm toned pigments to neutralise their cooler undertones and produce natural results - and vice versa.

Using cool pigments on a cool-skinned client could result in blue or grey-toned brows and using warm pigments on a warm client could result in orange or red toned brows. No client wants grey or orange brows, they want a neutral colour that looks as natural as possible - hence why colour theory is so important!

Cool: ivory or fair skin, burns easily in the sun, usually light eyes, prone to redness or flushing when exercising.

Neutral: fair, olive or golden skin, tans in the sun – may have yellow or peachy undertones.

Warm: darker skin tones, tans very easily in the sun/never burns, usually dark hair and dark eyes.

Where cool skin requires warm pigments and vice versa, neutral skin tones work well with most cool or warm pigments. However, clients that appear neutral may still have some yellow or peachy undertones which can affect the healed colour. Therefore, a more in-depth assessment of skin type is usually the safest route to take before choosing pigment shade.

4.     Fitzpatrick Skin Scale

Developed by Thomas Fitzpatrick in 1975, this scale was initially designed to anticipate the skin’s response to UV light but has since become very useful for classifying skin tones. The different skin types in the scale depend on how much melanin pigment exists naturally within the skin.

The Fitzpatrick scale is an important tool for PMU artists as it identifies the exact skin colour of the clients, before selecting the most appropriate pigment colour.

A client’s skin type can be determined by asking them to complete a questionnaire and using their score to find which number skin type they fall into – skin types are categorised as Type 1 to Type 6, ranging from lightest to darkest.

Over time, established artists will find it easier to identify the client’s skin type according to the Fitzpatrick scale and will also build up a knowledge of which pigments work well with which type. Typically, Fitzpatrick Type 1 to 3 have cool undertones and Type 4 to 6 are warm.

Permablend x Clinical Academy have also released pigment sets as part of the Tones of Permablend collection, which are split into the different Fitzpatrick types – making colour choice even easier. If you are starting out in PMU and lack confidence in colour theory and colour selection, these are great products to have in your kit.

5.     How to select correct pigment shade

Most reputable pigment brands will specify which of their shades are warm or cool. Product descriptions can also describe what the base colour of the pigment is (green, yellow etc) and which skin tone it is most suitable for. Some pigments also come with shade charts, making an artist’s job much easier!

The brands we stock here at Killer Beauty such as Permablend, Li Pigments and Ever After pigments are formulated so carefully that many do not need to be mixed. However, on occasion, adding a drop or two of another shade can help change the colour very slightly when required.

How an artist selects pigment colour during consultation will depend on their training, experience and personal preference. Skin tone may be assessed using the Fitzpatrick scale and artists may wish to swatch a few different pigments on the client’s skin (usually forehead) to see how they work with the skin’s undertones. We would advise applying a Killer Beauty petroleum jelly on the skin first to avoid pigment drying out or staining the skin.

It is advisable to use a lighter shade at the initial appointment, as pigments often heal cooler than they originally appear and can seem darker once cooled down. If the healed pigment is still not deep enough, a darker colour can be used at top-up to achieve that. It is much easier to add depth to a treatment and darken the pigment than it is to lighten pigment that is too dark.

6.     Colour correction

Most artists wouldn’t correct another artist’s work until they were more experienced, confident and established. However, top-up appointments are a chance for artists to correct anything that their existing client isn’t happy with – including colour.

Colour theory and selection can be quite daunting, but the top-up appointment is there to give artists the chance to correct any colour mistakes. If you have had proper training, used a reputable pigment brand and you understand colour theory, it is unlikely that a colour will go wrong. However, even if it does, the error shouldn’t be too dramatic or difficult to fix.

Some brands product descriptions will tell you if a pigment shade can be used to counteract red-toned pigment or blue/grey tones. You can also use your understanding of the colour wheel to find the colour that will neutralise the tone you wish to correct – for example, yellow and orange-based pigments will neutralise blue or ashy tones as they are opposite each other on the wheel.

Brands such as Permablend also sell ‘correctors’ – pigments which can be added to shades to neutralise unwanted colour in healed results. Adding a drop or two of corrector to the pigment at the top-up stage will help neutralise any unwanted shades and give a much more natural result.

If you are ever unsure about colour correction, please don’t hesitate to speak with your training school – your work is reflecting their teachings, so they want you to be producing the best results possible!

We hope we have covered the basics around understanding colour theory, skin tone, colour selection and correction. If you ever have questions, don’t be afraid to ask and always take your time during consultation to assess your client’s skin and select an appropriate colour.

If you have had proper training and use the high-quality pigment brands that we stock at Killer Beauty, colour disasters should be a very rare occurrence!