Understanding PMU color theory is vital for PMU artists, as color selection can be one of the most difficult aspects to get right in PMU.
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 color and the natural undertones of the client’s skin.
Here at STUDIO Face & Body, we’ve created a guide that explains color theory in PMU in more detail, so you can choose the right microblading color, lip color and more!
Why is color theory important?
To achieve the perfect harmony between the undertones of the pigment and the undertones of the skin, we must first understand basic color theory. This will help a PMU artist select a suitable pigment shade for their client that will work well with their skin tone. Understanding color theory is also paramount in correcting color-errors at top up if the initial pigments used haven’t healed as desired.
Color selection in permanent make-up / PMU can easily go wrong if a PMU 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 color is more likely to change during the healing process and over time when compared to a traditional body tattoo.
The Color Wheel
PMU color theory.
The color wheel can be split into three categories: primary color, secondary color and tertiary color. Tertiary color 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 colors are colors which lie opposite each other on the color wheel, for example: red and green. Complimentary color (when mixed) will always neutralize 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 colored eyeliner).
Pigments created with more red tones will be warmer and pigments created with more green will be cool. Understanding how these colors work together and how they work with the skin undertone is paramount in selecting the right color.
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 color of the clients, before selecting the most appropriate pigment color.
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 categorized 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, STUDIO Face & Body’s preferred brand has also released pigment sets as part of the Tones of Permablend collection, which are split into the different Fitzpatrick types – making color choice even easier. If you are starting out in PMU and lack confidence in color theory and color selection, these are great products to have in your kit.
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 color 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 STUDIO Face & Body such as Permablend, 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 color very slightly when required.
How an artist selects pigment color 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 color can be used at the refresher appointment 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.
Most artists wouldn’t correct another artist’s work until they were more experienced, confident and established. However refresher appointments are a chance for artists to correct anything that their existing client isn’t happy with – including color.
Color theory and selection can be quite daunting, but the refresher appointment is there to give artists the chance to correct any color mistakes. If you have had proper training, used a reputable pigment brand and you understand color theory, it is unlikely that a color will go wrong. However, even if it does, the error shouldn’t be too dramatic or difficult to fix.
Some brand 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 color wheel to find the color that will neutralize the tone you wish to correct – for example, yellow and orange-based pigments will neutralize 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 neutralize unwanted color in healed results. Adding a drop or two of corrector to the pigment at the top-up stage will help neutralize any unwanted shades and give a much more natural result.
If you are ever unsure about color 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!
I hope I have covered the basics around understanding color theory, skin tone, color 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 color.
If you have had proper training and use the high-quality pigment brands that we stock here at STUDIO Face & Body, color disasters should be a very rare occurrence! 🏻