Olive skin is a relatively neutral type of complexion characterized by undertones of green or yellow. It is common to people from many different backgrounds and looks good with warm or neutral colors like plum, brown or white. Oil production prevents moisture loss but can be a problem because of large pores, so using oil-free products and washing regularly are necessary. The risk of wrinkles or problems such as melanoma is relatively low, but when cases happen, they tend to be more severe.
When people say "olive skin," they generally are talking about a slightly darker complexion, usually in the light brown range, that has a naturally-tanned look. The term applies to a broad range of colors, however, with some people being very dark and others being almost pale. The key in defining the phrase, therefore, is looking at undertones, which generally are greenish or golden. Some individuals call it a Mediterranean coloring, because many people from that area of the world have it, but it also is common to people from Mid-Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
Makeup artists and stylists often categorize people into cool, warm or neutral categories based on the underlying colors they see. Pink, red or bluish tones fall into the cool group, while yellow or gold ones are warm. Neutral is a mix of the two, and most experts classify an olive complexion as falling into this group.
Another classification method is the Fitzpatrick Skin Typing Test. Thomas B. Fitzpatrick, a dermatologist associated with Harvard, developed this test in 1975, breaking down coloring into six major categories. People who score at level I are very fair and get a sunburn easily, while those at level VI are very dark. Olive tones receive a score of 25 – 30 and fall into level IV.
People typically rely on the cool, warm or neutral label when they want to figure out what shade of clothes, footwear, accessories and makeup will complement their natural coloring. The idea is that by finding the right tones, a person will look healthier, energetic and more attractive to others. The Fitzpatrick scale is more for determining what skin care routine is best and what someone might expect when going out in the sun.
Tanning and Cancer Risk
People who have an olive tone can tan easily because cells called melanocytes produce more melanin, the pigment that provides color. This does not, however, mean that they are immune to the problems that prolonged ultraviolet (UV) light exposure causes. A common issue is a lack of moisture, which often leads to cracking and flaking. If a person develops melanoma, then the risk of surviving tends to be lower, simply because the darker shade of the complexion makes detecting the cancer harder.
Blemishes, Wrinkles and Jowls
An olive complexion usually hides blemishes, unless the the spots contain darker contrasting pigment. It also tends to develop wrinkles more slowly, but if they form, the lines generally are deeper. Additionally, olive-toned skin often has a thicker dermis, or inner layer of cells, and subcutis, the fatty layer just beneath the dermis. This might create the appearance of jowls in older people, but a good care routine might make wrinkles or sagging harder to notice.
People with an olive tone tend to have larger pores, or openings that allow oil glands to lubricate the skin's surface. As a result, protection from the environment typically is good. Dryness isn't usually a problem.
Some individuals produce a lot of oil, which can lead to clogged pores. This shows up as blackheads or pimples and is a source of embarrassment for many people. It is especially a problem during the teen years when hormones shift. Gently washing the face in the morning and at night with an exfoliating cleanser, as well as following up with a non-alcoholic toner, typically can lessen the problem.
In general, oil-based makeup of any kind is not good for those with olive complexions. The skin already produces and releases plenty of oil, so adding more through cosmetics can cause acne and irritation. Powders usually are the best bet because they absorb the excess and reduce shine.
Colors to Wear
Warm colors such as plum, bronze, brown, deep green or maroon typically suit olive complexions well. White is often excellent for a dramatic look because it generally makes the skin look even richer. Individuals frequently wear neutral shades such as caramel on the eyes. Lip gloss might be neutral, too, but it's not unusual to blend in a darker lip liner to complete the look.