What is Olive Skin?

Alison Faria
Alison Faria
Olive skin describes a darker, naturally-tanned skin tone.
Olive skin describes a darker, naturally-tanned skin tone.

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.

Color Range

Woman with olive skin.
Woman with olive skin.

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.


Tanning comes easy to those with olive skin.
Tanning comes easy to those with olive skin.

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 with light olive skin usually sunburn easily.
People with light olive skin usually sunburn easily.

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 with olive skin may have green eyes.
People with olive skin may have green eyes.

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.

Oil Production

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.

Makeup Selection

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.

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Discussion Comments


I've never met anyone with greenish skin, whether Arabs, or Italians.


Olive skin isn't darker skin or complexion. It's the color of the skin. People with olive complexions have a yellower skin whether they are tan or not. Versus redder complexions of northern Europeans.


I am lucky then because I have olive skin, I guess???


Olive skin doesn't suit much make up. I think fairer tones are far more attractive.


I wish I had olive skin. I am burning white/red/orange.


Yes, I believe you're wrong about your skintone. You might just have fair skin with neutral or warm undertones. You can check your undertones by looking at the color of your veins -- if they're green, it's warm, if they're blue, it's cool, and if you can't really tell the color, it's neutral. But olive skin isn't just an undertone, it's more of a skin color. If your skin is translucent, it sounds like it's too light to be olive.


I have olive skin but I burn easily and my skin is translucent where it looks ghostly but I still have olive undertones. Do people with olive undertones really tan easily and I'm wrong about my skin tone?


So now I know why I've been plagued by this skin problem: oily skin, bigger pores, whiteheads and pimples. It has some perks, though. You always seem to look younger than you really are. Gee, now I'm beginning to love the skin I'm in.


I find this article really intriguing, as it really rings true! You're absolutely correct about the wrinkles, pores and oiliness - my father has a tanned olive complexion and he always looked young for his age! He also happened to have rather greasy skin and larger-than-average pores - something which I have inherited, to my dismay, as well as a slightly lighter olive skin tone! But I do love the look of olive skin (although I wish I was slightly more tanned), even if it does mean large pores and oiliness!


I think that one of the most striking looks a person can have is to have olive skin with blue eyes. This is especially true if they also have darker hair.

It's a great look because it's so unique, but it doesn't look weird, just striking. Of course, it can make the whole makeup thing a little difficult, since you can't really wear the same make up for olive skin with blue eyes as you would for olive skin with a darker eye color.

However, if you're willing to do a little experimentation, you can find a truly great look for your skin tone and eye color combination, and be a total show stopper.


Olive skin may not show small blemishes as much, but I can tell you, it can tend to look greasier because of the more open pores. It's also harder to find a make up that won't clog your pores because they're so open.

You are definitely right about olive skin and wrinkles too. It's weird, because it's like one day you'll have the skin of your 20s, then the next day wake up with a canyon on your face. I, unfortunately, found that out the hard way.

So although I love my medium olive skin tone, and wouldn't trade it for the world, it does come with it's own little issues, just like any other kind of skin tone.


I happen to have light skin, but I wish I had an olive skin tone! I think that true olive skin is just so beautiful, and it never looks old.

My ideal body would have medium olive skin with black hair...but instead I'm pale with dark blonde hair.

I know that you're supposed to love your body just the way it is, but I really love the whole look of olive skin, and how it so rarely shows blemishes. And of course the makeup for olive skin is gorgeous too!

So if any olive skin toned people are reading this, just know that I am totally jealous to your gorgeous skin!

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      Olive skin describes a darker, naturally-tanned skin tone.
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