Welcome to the latest installment of my Do I Need This? series. In these posts, I offer my experience and opinions about whether or not I think a product or technique is worth it. Obviously, you don't really need ANY beauty products, so the answer to the question is always going to be no, to some extent. But is it going to change your life (or face)? Is it going to make things easier? Are you going to notice any difference at all? That's what I'm getting at. You may disagree with my verdict, because we all have different bodies/faces/brains/desires, but I'll try to offer a starting point, at least.
Color correcting seemed to have a moment about a year ago, so as usual I'm coming along after the moment has passed to talk about it. It's weird to me, though, that color correcting could be a trend. When done right, it should be completely imperceptible, and how can that be trendy? It's like setting powder or concealer or moisturizer being temporarily trendy. I don't know. Anyway, a million and one color correcting products and palettes came out last year, and a few more, including the Urban Decay version here, are still popping up.
The idea of color correcting is that if areas of your face, or even your entire face, are "discolored," you can apply the opposite color to neutralize the discoloration--in theory. I put "discolored" in scare quotes because it's not like there are wrong skin tones, exactly, but if, for instance, your face is redder than your neck and that bothers you, there are ways to adjust that.
Do I need to color correct?
Short answer: The technique definitely works, but you might need to experiment to find the right color for your particular issue.
Before I get into color correcting in general, I want to ask and answer a related question: Do I need a color correcting palette? Nope. Definitely not, unless you're going to be applying makeup to a bunch of different people. It's very unlikely that you will need to neutralize orange AND blue, red AND green, and yellow AND blue. Just get the color or colors you actually need, otherwise most of that palette will go unused. (I guess if you want to figure out what color correcting can do for your face, a palette might be useful, but in that case, get a cheap one since there will almost certainly be colors in there you'll never use twice.) No need to paint your entire face in rainbow colors on a daily basis and then cover it all with foundation.
Ok, let me talk about how color correcting works and why it might or might not be a useful technique for you. This is something I've been working out for myself for a while now, and I find it kind of fascinating. I hope you do too, because I'm going to go on at length here (as usual).
The basic theory behind color correcting is basic color theory. That is, if there is a color in your skin that you want to neutralize, you cover it with its opposite color in the color wheel. Here's a good explanation of the principle when used in mixing paints.
Following this rule on your face, pink or redness would be cancelled out by a green corrector, yellowness (often described as sallowness) by purple, purple or blue (especially under the eyes) by yellow or peach, and green by red or pink. You don't often see blue color correctors, but in theory they would neutralize orange. These pairings are why you see peach (i.e. pale orange) concealers recommended for under the eyes, and why that whole "hack" for covering dark circles with lipstick happened. There are, for example, green primers to cancel out redness all over the face, as well as green spot concealers.
It all sounds pretty straightforward, so long as you can remember your complementary colors, but in my experience it's not always that simple. When we talk about neutralizing a color by mixing with its opposite, what we are really talking about is making grey--i.e. the most neutral of neutrals. Like so:
That means if you managed to end up with a perfect 50/50 mix of the unwanted color on your face and its complementary corrector, you'd end up with grey skin, which is not ideal. Of course, since you're really mixing your skin color + unwanted color + sheer corrector, that's unlikely to be your result. Nevertheless, in my experience, straight opposite color correcting works best when you are trying to create a neutral base upon which you will apply more makeup. It will, of course, depend on the product you use and on your skin's undertones.
For example, yellow is one of the most effective color correctors on my skin, which is pale and mostly neutral, but leaning more warm than cool. It works pretty well to disguise the purplish circles under my eyes but, as you might imagine, a concealer that is yellowish or peachy works better than a straight up yellow corrector. For redness in my skin, the usual advice would be to use a green corrector, but I've had much more luck with yellow. Combine pale yellow with pink and you get peach, so it makes sense that a combination like that would look more natural than pink and green.
Let me demonstrate with photos. In the photo below, the only makeup I've used besides the color corrector is some (messy) eyebrow pencil and mascara. On the left side of the photo, my skin is bare. On the right side, I applied a single layer of Urban Decay Naked Skin Color Correcting Fluid (hereafter: UD CC) in Yellow to the middle of my face, where I have the most redness: on my nose and the skin around it, my chin, and in between my eyebrows. (I should have applied it to the spots where my glasses sit, but since I was wearing my glasses when I put the stuff on, and I normally don't go without them, I forgot.) I also used the yellow corrector under my eye on the same side of the photo.
Left: no makeup. Right: yellow color corrector.
I think the difference in the two sides of my face is pretty clear. The yellow corrector, as I said, is only near the middle of my face but the color blends seamlessly with my skin tone at the edges.
Like I said, however, under my eyes, a regular concealer works just as well, if not better. So is that also the case on the rest of my face? Why bother with color correcting if you can just cover everything up with concealer or foundation? In the next photo, on the left I've applied a concealer that is an excellent match for me, Sephora Gel Serum Concealer in Buttercream (swatched here). On the right, I applied that concealer over the yellow UD CC that was already there.
Left: concealer. Right: yellow color corrector + concealer.
Both sides are close, but the redness is slightly more visible on the left side where I've only used my normal concealer. To completely hide it, I'd have to add a few more layers of concealer--to the point where it would start to more obvious that there was makeup on my skin. Now you're saying to yourself, "But of course the right side looks better, because you have a layer of both color corrector and concealer on it!" Ok, so let's compare the color corrector alone with the concealer alone.
Left: concealer. Right: yellow color corrector.
The angle of the light changed slightly between taking the two photos, but what you see here is a good representation of the actual difference. The yellow color corrector alone is more effective at concealing redness in my skin than the concealer alone. Under my eyes, however, I think they are close--I slightly prefer the concealer, so I generally use that under my eyes and yellow corrector elsewhere on my face.
Yellow color correctors are often not labeled or advertised for correcting redness (instead they are meant to "correct dullness," brighten, or neutralize purple under-eye circles), and yet they work significantly better than green for me. In the photo below I've used the NYX Incredible Waterproof Concealer in Green just on my nose and next to it on the left side. No makeup on the right side.
Left: green color corrector. Right: no makeup.
Since my skin has been redder than usual lately, especially near my nose, my everyday routine has come to include a thin layer of yellow UD CC over larger areas of redness, and my regular concealer under my eyes and on any zits. I can set that with some translucent powder and my skin will look natural but more even.
I've swatched both of the products used in this post below, first on my bare skin and then over a black eyeliner. The eyeliner is meant to give you an idea of how opaque they are and how white the bases are. The green NYX has a very white base, and it's thick and difficult to sheer out. The yellow UD is more translucent and blends more easily, but it does have white in it, as you can see. I'm not sure how well it would work on darker skin. Has anyone else tried it?
I had originally planned to include more detailed reviews of these two products, but in the interest of actually publishing this post, which has been sitting in my drafts folder for weeks, I'll keep it short. I really like the UD CC, but it's not cheap ($28). I don't really like the NYX corrector, but it is cheap, and might be a better option if you want to experiment with color correcting but aren't sure if it will work for you. Please feel free to ask if you have any other questions about these!
This whole color correcting thing isn't just chicanery designed to drain your bank account, but you might have to go off-label a bit to find the right color for you. For me, the Urban Decay yellow corrector is perfect, because it blends seamlessly enough that I don't need to cover the reddish parts of my face with opaque makeup. I do still use a different concealer for under my eyes and over big zits (though the yellow helps with those too). If you use full coverage makeup, something green can leave you with a sort of blank slate that may cover red marks better than your foundation or concealer alone. I've had good luck with peachy correctors under my eyes, but since I don't really have sallowness that concerns me, I've never used purple.
How about you? Do you color correct? If so, what colors do you use and where? As I said, I'm fascinated by the topic, so I'd love to hear about your experiences or techniques!