How To: Mixing Pigments to Match Skin Tone

A colleague recently asked me if it was difficult to mix pigments to match a skin tone.

Nope. It may take a little patience, but it's fun and even quite relaxing.

Today, I'm going to show you how to match your own skin tone.

With a mere 4 components, it is possible to match any human skin color – from the fairest of fair to the darkest of dark – a mere 3 pigments and white are all you need.

Those components are pictured above.

Sound too easy to be true? How about giving it a try and seeing what you think.

Shall we get started?


  • Brown oxide
  • Sienna oxide
  • Yellow ochre oxide
  • Titanium dioxide or zinc oxide
  • Container for your mixture
  • Dedicated whizzing implement  (Visit this post for a tip on what to use)
  • Measuring spoon
  • Cotton swabs

A quick note on measuring spoons.

Whether you want to make a small or large portion, use the same measuring spoon size for each color. I wanted only a small-ish portion (enough for a years use), so I used the 'TAD' size of the teensy measuring spoons you see above (equivilant 1.2 ml).

Tip: Start with very small amounts - much less than you think you might need. The unavoidable process of fine-tuning the color means you will be adding more as you go and your final batch is going to be bigger than expected.

Basic Amounts

Here's how to mix a basic caucasian skin color

  • 1 level spoon sienna oxide
  • 1 heaped spoon brown oxide
  • 3 heaped spoons yellow ochre oxide
  • 5 heaped spoons titanium dioxide or zinc oxide

These portions are pictured at the top – photographed before fine tuning the mixture to my own skin tone.

Because my own skin tone lies somewhere between 'ridiculously fair' and 'ghostly', I had to triple the amount of white before I had a match.

More Skin Tones
For very fair skin: add more white
For darker skin: add more brown
For very dark skin: add more brown and sienna
For a more yellowish skin tone: add more yellow ochre
For a more reddish skin tone: add more sienna


Add your pigments to your whizzing machine.
Whizz until the color is even.
Check the color

How To check the Color

  • Dip a cotton swab into the mixture and transfer to a bit of non-stick paper
  • (Do not dip your fingers into the mixture!)
  • Test the color on your face in natural daylight. (you don't have to go outside, but stand near a window with your mirror)

Here's a peek at my color adjusting process. On the far right (we're reading from right to left in this photo) is a bit of my 2014 color mix (I used up my 2015 mixture making this).

The first test (2016/1) was way too dark. But the third try was spot on. As a matter of fact, it was more spot on than my mixture from 2014 (which was a titch on the yellow side).

Finishing Up

When you are happy with the color, transfer it to an air-tight container and LABEL IT with a date.

Be sure to clean your whizzing implement. I do this by running it with cornstarch a few times until there is no trace of color left. Carefully remove any remaining powder with a soft brush.

That's it!

Did you end up with a huge portion of foundation color? No worries! Next time, we're going to take our basic foundation color mixture and use it to make perfectly matched highlighter, blush and shadow-sculpting skin tones.

Stay tuned for more make-up making fun!

PS: This entire process took me an hour from start to finish. I admit I am practiced,  but not that practiced. I only mix foundation colors once a year.


María said…
OMG, if I dare to say, "great minds think alike", as I have to remake my makeup.
I have read quite frequently that for cooler skin tones it's good to add a tiny amount of blue (and even green), to cool the colour. But it's so much fun...
LisaLise said…
HI María- you may indeed say great minds think alike :)
You're right about adding a titch of blue for 'shadowing' effects - but we'll get into that bit in upcoming posts :)
Bob & Angela said…
Hi Lise - When I did this professionally, I used black iron oxide, blueish-red iron oxide, yellowish-red iron oxide, and yellow iron oxide, together with titanium dioxide and talc, mica or sericite as a blending aid. Why not any brown? Because brown is always a mixture, never a pure oxide - and mixtures don't always come out the same way every time from the suppliers.

Using a blending aid really cuts down on the blending time needed to make a uniform mixture - otherwise, untreated titanium dioxide is so "sticky" that blends take twice as long.
LisaLise said…
Hi Bob -- you are so right about brown being a mix, and you're correct also - it is a little different from supplier to supplier. As I have always made color cosmetics for personal use only, it has been easiest (and most economical) for me to work with fewer pigments.

Your described color combo sounds just like what one uses to blend skin color with oil paints - that's the pro way of doing it to be sure! :)

Olivia J said…
You are right about the relaxing part of mixing pigments, something fascinating about watching the primary colors mix into a skin tone.

I just have a question though. Instead of using just titanium dioxide as a whitening (lightening) product, is it possible to use something like an Extender W (mica/titanium dioxide mix)? I am asking because I have a bag of this product and not quite sure if it is more of bulking agent, binding agent, or lightening agent.
LisaLise said…
Hi Olivia - You could use a blend of mica and titanium dioxide, but this is going to 'dilute' the color mix. The purpose of creating a pigment mix is so you have the correct color. The pigment mixture is then mixed with extenders/base-powders of different types to make the final product (pressed eye shadow powder, foundation etc etc). On the other hand-- if you are looking for a sheerer color, it might be just the ticket. It might be worth doing 2 batches of color side by side and comparing to see how they work for you.
Olivia J said…

Thank you for answering my question. I get it now why it is called an Extender. Little by little I learn especially from you!
LisaLise said…
Hi Olivia - my pleasure :)
Jo said…
Hi Lise, I am simmering some soapnuts as I type this out on my phone.... I have never been happy with foundation colours that are available to me. The closest match has been via bare minerals but not in the money as it were.

I need something and a quick look on your blog and your whizzing up your own palette of colours! Now I do not know what to do with most but I would love to tweek my own foundation.... but where do you buy your oxides from? I've tried a quick smart phone search and I'm not getting what you've shown.

Also, just a musing. I have dark skin and SS with titanium dioxide tends to lend a blue-ish white cast to my face, whereas zinc oxide is just a white cast. Good enough reason to use zinc oxide?

Thank you in advance.

Jo x
LisaLise said…
Hey there Jo - Yes, you can use zinc oxide instead of T-dioxide if you like. You could also do a combo of both - see what works best for you. I buy my oxides from a local supplier in Denmark (Urtegaarden).
LisaLise said…
PS. What are you going to use the soapnut decoction for? :D
Jo said…
Thank you for your reply! I am going to have to research a little more for oxides closer to home in the UK.

I used the soapnut decoction for washing my hair! I have been having a sensitivity to shampoos this past year, which has been confusing, no matter the surfactant. So I thought I'd give soapnuts a try. I used it today, and wasn't especially impressed, although it left my hair, I have locs, softer. If my skin doesn't react to it will make a stronger solution next time and leave it to soak in for a little while. 😕
LisaLise said…
Hi Jo -- you might want to give rhassoul a try for your hair -- there are a few posts on how to wash hair with rhassoul on the blog
Jo said…
Yes I will look those posts up... although the 1st day post soapnuts and no reaction on my skin. And no itchy scalp.... so a possibility. However I need to find a preservative that doesn't freak my skin out, for when I travel. Hmmm. Rhassoul looks even better!
LisaLise said…
Rhassoul is perfect to travel with - you add water just before you use it. Let me know what you think :)
Abygale said…
Hi Lisa! Love your blog; so very helpful!! I love this blog on matching skin tones. I'm learning how to do this. I have many oxides, pigments & micas in my collection, however, I cannot find a "sienna oxide" anywhere in my U.S. Suppliers. It looks on the computer that the color is a reddish-brown with a slight yellow undertone. Is that correct? I know colors may not be exact on the computer due to lighting. Would you have any ideas for a substitute that would be close to your "sienna" or your supplier of it? Thanks so much.
LisaLise said…
HI Abygale - thanks for your kind comment! I had a look at my (locally bought Danish package), and am thinking this name difference could be a bit of a language thing. I keep thinking a red oxide might work here.. it is a very terra cotta-like, deep, brick-red color. Your description is pretty close actually. The yellow undertone is very very subtle. Hope this helps!
Abygale said…
Hey Lisa! Thank you so much, that is very helpful! Infact, I may already have that shade in my collection. Now onto blending! Here I go doing my "happy dance" as I blend! :)
LisaLise said…
yay Abygale! I hope you achieve perfection on your first try!
John said…
Hi Lisa, my gf is Caucasian and have fair skin so she use the self tanning lotion which contain Dihydroxyacetone as the main ingredient. I however have darker skin so I was wondering if there is a particular ingredients that the self taning company could add to replace the Dihydroxyacetone so I could use to apply into my skin to make it lighter instantly like the self tanner? I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you, John Nguyen
LisaLise said…
Hi John, Thanks for your question. I think you would be looking for a make-up type product if you want an instant effect. There is no chemical for skin lightening that I know of that provides an instant effect and is at the same time safe to use. Sorry I couldn't be of more help.
Tamid514 said…
Thank you so much for this blog. I am light skin cool complected and I’ve always had a hard time finding foundation. My undertone is blue and I used prescriptive’s because they do color matching but I really want to stay natural so want to learn how to make my own make up. finding information on color matching especially for cooler tone skin is so hard. so thankful I found you
LisaLise said…
Thank you kindly Tamid514 ! I hope you have success making your own :)
TAMI D said…
I have made many batches of mineral foundation through lots of experimenting...I really appreciate your blog and great info to get me started. My question is this. I have seen several mineral foundations on the market that include Ultramarines and manganese. Have you ever worked with these in mineral foundation? I have also found Terry Tomlinson’s skin tone color wheel which I am now using to help further match my skin undertone. Again thanks for all you’ve done and helping me get started
LisaLise said…
Hi Tami - Thanks for your great comment. Ultramarines and manganese colors are to be found in the basic color palette. Any color can be made by combing blue, red, and yellow (with the addition of black and white). (try it with colored pencils, crayons, or watercolors). My own foundation mix here is 'cheating' a little because I am using a brown oxide. It makes for less mixing on my part and if you are making small amounts, saves time. Enjoy your cosmetic making journey!
Unknown said…
Hii ma'am
I from India 🇮🇳
I can put for liquid foundation
Red iron oxide & yellow iron oxide
Black iron oxide for shades making pls tell? &

how much gram put all thinks you tell?
LisaLise said…
Hello Unknown in India -- these colours should be ok to use-- as to amounts.. it is hard to say when I don't know how big a batch you are making. Use very very little black to begin with. Best of luck with it!