Neutralizing and Correcting
Neutralizing and Correcting

by Tommy Parsons

I would love to take credit for the concept of neutralizing and correcting skin discolorations, but the credit belongs to the veteran make-up artists who worked in Hollywood during the technical advancements that occurred during the switch from black-and-white to color film and television. During that time there was such a wide variance of how color would look on film that make-up artists were forced to experiment and photograph the actors in the make-up to see if their color-correction hunches were actually true. Artists checked all aspects of the make-up: the foundation, lip colors, eye colors—everything. Even Margaret Hamilton (The Wicked Witch of the West from the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz) had to undergo numerous tests to make sure the green on her face was the correct shade. There was no history or technology to aide the artists—only theories about color to experiment with.
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As a teenager, I was always interested in make-up and anything having to do with make-up effects. When visiting sales counters at large department stores in the early ̕60s, I was amazed at the large variety of colors and products available. During one of these visits, I noticed some peculiar foundation colors. I knew there was an infinite amount of skin-tone colors in the cosmetic spectrum, but these new colors were something completely different: light minty green, pale violet and grayish yellow. I remember thinking to myself, “I don’t believe I have ever seen anyone with a light minty-green skin tone.” Later I found out that the excursion was my first introduction to the art of neutralizing and correcting skin tones.

To Camouflage, or Not to Camouflage

For a long time, using color to neutralize skin discoloration was taught and practiced by Hollywood make-up professionals after years of testing and adjusting colors. However, in recent years, this concept has been greatly replaced by concealers and other cosmetic products that camouflage rather than neutralize.

Consumers, and even some industry professionals, have been lead to believe that simply using a lighter shade of concealer will eliminate the appearance of discolorations. Sadly, in most cases, just layering on color doesn’t work. Sure, if you use enough product you can eventually cover anything; however, the make-up might end up being so thick you can carve your name into it. A thick coat of product certainly cannot be used in high-definition film or photography, as the camera will instantly read the thickness.

At the end of the day, it’s this word “camouflage” we have to get away from and, in turn, get back to utilizing the principle of color.

Principle of Color

Before we can understand how to cover up blemishes and discoloration in pre-foundation application, we need to understand a few things:

1. Light is the key factor and the main tool we work with.
2. Certain colors will do the work for us when it comes to removing discoloration seen on the skin.

Without light we cannot see our work. The selection of white light is important. If you do not believe me, try doing someone’s make-up under a blue flood and see what happens when you get them into normal light. White light also comes in a variety of colors. These colors range from a reddish-orange white, such as the lamp on your bedside table, to the blue-white lights on most new car headlights.

All of these white colors are measured in temperature variations called Kelvin. The light on your bedside table with a 100-watt bulb is about 2665 degrees Kelvin, while a 10-watt automotive bulb is about 7000 degrees Kelvin. The lower the Kelvin temperature, the more flaxen the shade of white light, and the higher the temperature, the bluer the shade of white light. When we find a happy medium, we find the purest form of white light, which is the best to work with when applying make-up. (If you want to witness a bit of the spectrum, look for a light in your home with a dimmer switch. Turn the dimmer on to its fullest capacity, then watch the color of the light as you turn it down slowly. The light will go from white to a very reddish-orange.)

The light found outside on a clear day at noon with the sun directly overhead is the closest to the pure white light we need to work with when applying make-up. The color temperature is about 6000 to 6500 degrees Kelvin. If you apply make-up in this color temperature and it looks good, the appearance of the make-up in other color temperatures (e.g., house 2800 degrees Kelvin or studio 3200 degrees Kelvin) will look fantastic.

The key here is to realize that white light comes in a spectrum of colors, just like a prism displays a spectrum of colors on a wall. This is the basic starting point for correction: You must be working in the correct light. Even the best of surgeons use great lighting—most hospital surgical lighting is 6500 degrees Kelvin.

Color Neutralization

In the chart below, you will notice how applying a yellow-green cosmetic, which functions as a filter, will eliminate unwanted redness in the appearance of the skin. This concept is very simple. Choosing the right correction color is actually even simpler—you just have to remember which colors eliminate others.

Image courtesy of DMK Cosmetics
In the above picture, you can see that the light source bouncing off the skin is reflecting the normal skin tone plus unwanted redness due to acne. By filtering the bounced light using a special color, the normal skin tone is neutralized, eliminating the redness and leaving behind the talent’s correct skin tone.

Blue and orange, red and green, pink and brown all cancel each other out. For example, a person with blueness under the eyes would want to use a color that has a little orange in the undertones to correct or neutralize the blueness. Someone with a reddish-colored blemish on the face would need to use a color with yellow-green make-up undertones.

Application of these neutralizing colors is where the magic becomes apparent. Rather than camouflaging and just caking make-up onto the face to cover unwanted colors, we ought to neutralize, thus canceling out the unsightly hues to begin with. Referring back to our discussion on light, the reason we see the redness is because the light reflects off the area of redness on the face and bounces into our eyes, causing our brains to tell us that we see red. If we can stop or adjust the redness on the skin, we can eliminate the red reflection.
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You now understand the concepts of neutralizing and correcting and can successfully cancel out the appearance of basic red, blue and brown marks on the skin, but what about purple? This requires a two-stage approach.

First, cover the redness with a red neutralizer. This time, rather than applying the product so the natural color of the skin appears, add it so that the red disappears out of the purple and the only shade left is blue. With a powder puff, not a brush, press loose no-color, non-translucent powder into the red-neutralized area and remove the excess with a powder brush. Next, use the blue neutralizer to remove the blueness on the skin. Finally, apply loose powder as before. The purple will be successfully removed from sight.

The Less, the Better

I cannot stress enough the importance of using a small amount of neutralizer. If you use too much, you may not have a red or blue area on the face any longer, but you will have a yellow-green or an orange-coral spot to replace it, which will look much worse than the original defect.

You are now ready to tackle any obstacle that involves removing unsightly spots from a subject’s face, or any area of skin, for that matter (including the much-hated tattoo on your daughter’s shoulder). All jokes aside, just remember that flawless correction make-up is achieved with suitable lighting for proper application and the use of the right color-neutralizing product in the appropriate amounts.

Side Note:

The gray-yellow and pale-violet pigments that were previously mentioned were conceptualized around 1900 by Dodge Chemical Company as part of a make-up line for embalmers to reduce or neutralize colors on bodies with undertones of jaundice (pale- violet to correct) and deep maroon-purple (gray-yellow to correct). Dodge later incorporated these colors into embalming fluids but only after the cosmetic companies copied them and used them for a brief time in the 1920s and then again in the 1970s and 1980s. I found all of this out when I was a teenager at a National Funeral Directors Convention in Nashville, Tenn. My father was a representative for Batesville Casket Company, and I was introduced to John Dodge Jr., who showed me the entire historical make-up line that they had on display. The make-ups were originally invented by John Dodge Sr., and the colors are still used today for correction and neutralization, though there are now far better cosmetic options available for the living.