Have you ever looked at someone and just wondered, how is it that they look so flawless all of the time? They never have a pimple, a blemish, or a single dark circle under their eyes! Their secret? They’ve probably mastered how to color correct those discolored imperfections.

QC’s executive makeup artist, Nathan Johnson, went LIVE on QC Makeup Academy’s Facebook page on Wednesday, September 25th, for a live makeup class. A part of his makeup theory series, Nathan’s topic for this lesson is color correcting.

Above all else, he stressed that sheen, light application is crucial, and to always approach color correcting with a light hand. He also explains when to color correct, when to concealing, as well as when foundation comes into play.

In this makeup theory class, Nathan also discusses:

  • The importance of learning color science
  • Getting to know the color wheel
  • What each color does/ helps correct
  • The biggest mistakes people make when trying to color correct.

 “I can’t learn color correcting. It’s way too difficult!”

Except it isn’t! As Nathan says, it’s actually incredibly simple. Once you break down the basics and know the steps involved, you’ll be amazed at just how capable you really are of perfecting this handy, advanced technique.

What is Color Correcting, and Why Do We Do it?

Color correcting is crucial for any aspiring makeup artist to learn. Color correcting helps perfect the skin and make it appear flawless, using certain colors to neutralize and cover up blemishes and/or discoloration.  The final effect is to dramatically improve the appearance of the skin for an extremely natural, normal, and perfect complexion. What you don’t want is for your face to look caked in makeup, resulting in a fake and unattractive look.

How do you color correct?

Nathan explains that color correcting got a reputation for being complicated thanks to beauty bloggers online who don’t know how to do it properly. Since they’re teaching the technique improperly, the whole process is then overcomplicated. It winds up looking far more difficult than it actually is.

In reality, color correcting boils down to understanding how color science works. You utilize shadow, highlight, and color correctives to neutralize and hide any unwanted darkness, discoloration, or blemishes on the face. Examples of what you might be trying to correct include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Darkness under the eyes or on the cheeks
  • Unwanted redness
  • Age spots
  • Acne

Whatever color (also known as the base color and/or undertone) you’re trying to cover up will determine which color you select to correct it. You do this by choosing the complimentary color of the one you wish to fix. Nathan discusses how color science transforms all of this for us, since at its core, color correcting is all about counterbalancing the unwanted colors.

Makeup 101

The Basics of Color Theory

Knowing the fundamentals of color theory and science is a must in order to succeed as a makeup artist. Otherwise, you’ll never be able to identify the differences in people’s undertones and recognize who’s warm, who’s cool, and who’s neutral. Likewise, you won’t be able to understand how to counterbalance the problem areas to properly color correct them. This, Nathan says, is Makeup 101.

Once you have a grasp of color theory, you’ll get a leg up on your competition, since you’ll understand the different hues and pigments that make up people’s skin!

Primary Colors

Nathan refers to his color wheel, which can be found in your Color Theory Basics material from the Master Makeup Artistry Course. From here, he points out the different groups of colors and how relate to others. The first group identified are the 3 primary colors, which are:

These 3 colors make every other color you can think of. In makeup, any foundation shade is blended out of those 3 hues. As a useful tip, Nathan mentions that a great way to learn how to utilize your primary colors is to practice mixing them in different ways to get different colors and shades. When you realize that everything is made of just those 3 primary colors, you’ll begin to make sense of color correcting.

Secondary and Tertiary Colors

By mixing 2 primary colors together, you create a brand new color. This is called a secondary color. The 3 combinations and their results are:

This can be taken one step further, though. Primary and secondary colors can also be mixed together, too. For example, if you combined red and orange, the result would be a red-orange pigment. Blue mixed with green would create a blue-green color, yellow and green would make a yellow-green color, etc. These are known as tertiary colors.

This opens the door to a huge variety of color variations to choose from and work with. Meaning that when you’re color correcting, knowing all of these different colors and shades, how they create one another and can be built upon the other, will provide limitless options. There will always be a shade capable of neutralizing and correcting another.

Complimentary Colors

Colors that are directly opposite each other on the color wheel are called complimentary colors. These are the colors that will cancel each other out and create neutrality. For instance, directly opposite blue on the color wheel is orange. This means that they do two possible things for each other:

  • Make each other pop if placed side-by-side, or
  • Neutralize the other (to become a flesh tone) if layered on top of one another

Therefore, if you had blue discoloration on your face, such as under your eyes, orange would be your choice in order to color correct.

Color Grade

One huge factor that Nathan says we have to take into consideration is the grade of the color you want to cover up. Color grade refers to the shade and color value of the pigment in question. For example, is it soft or heavy? Light or dark? The grade allows a single color to be used in multiple ways.

Nathan uses the example of red/pink from the color wheel to demonstrate this point; the color can be very heavy and dark in its pure form, but when you gradient is down, it becomes thinner, softer, and lighter, because there’s less of the color to work with.

How Does Color Grade Affect Color Correcting?

If you try to color correct the most opaque shade of a dark color, you’re going to need more of the product. You’ll also need to apply more layers. The layering is what makes color correcting effective.

If you’re using the right complimentary color but it’s lighter or softer than what needs to be corrected, it can’t be successfully neutralized. On the other hand, if the dark spot were to be lighter, you’ll want to use the color corrective as thinly as possible. However strong the hue is of the color you’re trying to neutralize, that’s how strong the color corrective also has to be.

What are the Color Correctives, and What Do They Do?

On paper, you technically could get nitty-gritty and perfectly color match each and every single specific shade of the dark spots and/or blemishes. But this would be painstakingly time-consuming, and impractical. Rather, Nathan explains that a quicker, simpler way would be to know the general group that all of the dark spot colors fall into. From there, you can then choose a basal color corrective that should be able to neutralize ALL of them at once.


The Holy Grail of Color Correctives

In Nathan’s expert opinion, salmon is always the best color to correct with. In particular, it works miracles for dark circles. On most people, depending on your shade, dark circles sit in a kind of range. They can exist anywhere from blues, to browns, to purples. Some can even be a combination. On some people, it’s even possible to see the dark spots transition in color right on the skin.

Salmon as a color corrective is Nathan’s personal recommendation and go-to solution. The reason behind this is because salmon offers better and quicker color corrective coverage. It’s also the one color he feels can color correct with the most ease, since it’s already a mixture of so many hues naturally found on skin (red, yellow, orange, etc.).  It’s the only color corrective that, even in its purest form, already has a fleshy tone. The Salmon Concealer by Eve Pearl is the product and brand that Nathan swears by most.


The Unsung Hero

There’s a very popular third option when it comes to color correcting. It is the best option if your client suffers from rosacea, pimples, flushing, sensitization, and other red blemishes. Of course, Nathan’s referring to red’s complimentary color: green.

In many cases, a straight green color corrective can be used to combat and neutralize redness. But if so, it needs to be applied thinly; patiently layered on as needed.

Again, Nathan refers to the QC color wheel to show the different grades of each color, and how you can refer to that color wheel to know which corresponding grade you should be selective for the corrective. In the case of red and green, one example is that if the skin only has a light redness, you can cover it up with a minty green shade.

Salmon vs. Yellow – Which Is Better?

On the other hand, Nathan admits that a lot of professional MUAs insist that yellow is the best possible color corrective out there. Despite his difference of opinion, he agrees that there are many perks to using yellow, and many benefits. For starters, everybody has yellow in their skin, whether it’s a little or a lot. As it’s complimentary to purple, a yellow corrective will work best on things like bruises, port-wine stains, some under-eye circles, some ruddiness, and some ivory skin.

It’s important to know that when people use yellow, they’re not using straight yellow – the only thing that could properly cover would be a heavy, deep purple pigment. Instead, it’s more of a golden yellow, with a fleshy tone to it. That being said, if the purple you want to correct is very dark, all you’ll need is to keep layering that yellow onto it, and you’ll be good!

In terms of effectiveness, Nathan notes that yellow does work almost exactly the same way as a salmon corrective does. Both can cancel out a lot of imperfections on lighter skin. The main difference is that the undertone might have a bit more of a yellow tone to it than an orange one. You also might need to spend more time layering the product than you would with salmon.

For darker skin, one downside Nathan notes is that because yellow is so light in comparison, the results could make the person’s skin appear unnaturally pale, or ghostly.

All That Being Said…

It really comes down to personal preference. There’s no wrong or right answer.  As Nathan points out, we all have different hands, and we all see colors differently. If your eyes see hues and tones differently, then naturally you may use different colors to correct them than someone else would. So long as the desired result is achieved, it really doesn’t matter which colors you used to get there.

One thing that yellow and salmon have in common is that if the discolored skin is super dark, you’ll need to intensify whichever complimentary colors is more prevalent in either the yellow or the salmon, in order to properly neutralize the problem area.

Other Color Correctives, and What They Do

Of course, it’s not just all about salmon, yellow, or green. There are other colors that can – and are – used frequently when color correcting. The most common examples are:


Neutralizes blues, so it’s great for correcting brown age spots. Because it’s naturally a mixture of red and yellow, it also works well on ruddier skin. On darker skin, you can use straight orange (as long as the application is extremely sheer, and layered). For bronze or ebony shades, a golden-orange would be ideal.


Corrects sallowness and yellowness in the skin

Warm brown

Can help with certain tonalities of age spots, and often undoes the darkness of super deep tones.

Like salmon and yellow, oranges and browns can also be used as easy and quick tools to fix discolorations. Particularly, they’re good correctives on darker skin.


Best for freckles and sunspots on very light skin

Pro tip: Nathan recommends having a color wheel out in the open during consultations and appointments, for your clients to see. Don’t be afraid to reference it, not just for your own benefit, but to explain your process to the client in a way she’ll best understand. Your extensive makeup theory knowledge will be impressive!

The Biggest Mistake That People Make When Color Correcting

Even though color correcting seems complicated, it’s really just about learning and becoming comfortable with the color basics. Once you have a grasp on those, the rest is a walk in the park. However, even though many people understand color science, they still mess up color correcting because of one key detail: how they apply the makeup itself.

Nathan believes that this is why color correcting is made to seem so hard. It’s because so many vloggers online don’t know the most important rule of color correcting: do thin, sheer, light layers. Don’t be afraid to do multiple applications. They’ll layers on top of each other and offer stronger, more natural-looking coverage. But if you slap on thick layers of the product, it doesn’t matter how perfectly matched your corrective is, the final result will not look good.

Another common error is to use a product that’s too light for the skin, so always make sure your corrective is equivalent to your client’s undertone.

Lastly, Nathan finds that makeup artists often undermine the importance of precision when it comes to color correcting. You won’t be doing yourself any favors by wasting the product on unnecessary areas on your face. Doing so will actually undo the effect you’re trying to achieve. Try to use a smaller brush, and only apply the color corrective to the exact spots on your skin where the imperfections are.

How to Choose between Color Corrective or Concealer

Like concealer, color correctives are applied before foundation. But at the beginning, how do you know when the situation calls for concealer, or when color corrective is the right way to go? Don’t worry, it’s easy! If whatever you’re trying to hide is extremely light, so light that it’ll barely show (if at all) through the foundation, you can simply use concealer. But if it’s something that’s so dark or heavy that it’ll cast a shadow through the foundation or concealer, you’ll definitely see an irregularity in color if you don’t color correct first.

Like concealer, color correctives are applied before foundation. But at the beginning, how do you know when the situation calls for concealer, or when color corrective is the right way to go? Don’t worry, it’s easy! If whatever you’re trying to hide is extremely light, so light that it’ll barely show (if at all) through the foundation, you can simply use concealer. But if it’s something that’s so dark or heavy that it’ll cast a shadow through the foundation or concealer, you’ll definitely see an irregularity in color if you don’t color correct first.

You can also extend this to your professional makeup artistry business, too. For instance, if you have a recurring client with a recurring type of skin discoloration or blemish, you could hand-make a customized color-correcting concealer just for her. She’ll be amazed at how you’ve gone the extra mile like that!

The Demo

Nathan then demonstrates on his own face how to color correct, in order to remove the slight circles under his eyes and minor redness on his cheeks. For this demo, he chooses to use salmon and mint green, both from the QC’s correct & conceal palette. On one side of his face, he uses the mint green corrector. On the other, salmon.

Rather than wasting an unnecessary amount of product, he takes just a little bit of each corrective and places it on the back of his hand. This works best because his natural body temperature warms up the product, making for better application.

Pro Tip: apply some eye cream underneath the eyes before applying any makeup. The skin there is thinner, so it’s more difficult for it to retain moisture on its own.

Concealer is used to cover up any redness that’s light enough that it doesn’t require color correction. For Nathan’s cheeks, the redness is a bit too strong for concealer, so he color corrects on that area. When applying both color correctives, he ensures to use light, sheen layers; building them on top of each other patiently, rather than applying one thick layer. This creates an airbrushed, natural result.

After color correcting, he taps primer onto his forehead and cheek. Importantly, he does NOT rub it on, as that will wipe away the color correct already applied. The final result shows how both color corrective options provide almost the exact same results – the main difference being that when Nathan uses the salmon, it achieves the desired result a bit faster than the mint green process takes.

Questions and Answers

Nathan answers a few common questions on color correcting. Check out his answers!

Can you touch your client’s face with your fingers?

There are many who say that you can never touch your or your client’s face with your bare hands. Nathan debunks this myth when he says that, on the contrary, as long as your hands are properly sanitized, they’ll be completely hygienic. So it’s perfectly fine! In fact, many people actually prefer to apply skin products with their hands, since it better allows the makeup to be stippled.

Should you color correct BEFORE or AFTER primer?

If you’re using primer as your foundation, do it before color correcting. If you’re not using primer as the foundation, you’ll add it afterwards.

How do you know the exact areas you need to cover up around the eyes?

Simply tilt your head forward – the dark circles won’t be able to hide! They’re usually kidney bean-shaped, so you can know what you’re looking for.

To conceal the under eyes, pick up the faintest amount of the salmon corrective, and use a small, thin brush to carve it right along the hard line of demarcation beneath the eye. Make sure that the corrective is evenly placed below the eye. If you accidentally use too much product, rather than add more to try and fix this case of “reverse raccoon”, uses your fingers to tap it off.

Should you cover up that natural darkness below your eye’s waterline?

It’s up you! It just depends on what sort of look you’re going for. Many people choose to keep it as is, since it works as a natural drop-shadow and makes the eye appear bigger. Covering it will give the illusion that your eye is smaller. Nathan demonstrates by color correcting one eye to show the difference.

What’s the best way to apply the color corrective with a brush?

Nathan recommends downward strokes. Your skin is like scales, all naturally going downward. When you brush upwards, you ruffle the skin. But if the brush strokes go down, the product is kept smooth and soft.

QC Makeup Academy Logo Decoration - White Eyelash

Enroll Online Today!

Are you ready to take the first step towards a new career in makeup artistry?

ENROLL online today!