It’s not easy talking about Asian skin tones, as Asia is the biggest continent in the world and hosts an eclectic mix of nations, ethnicities, and communities. It has people with almost all skin tone varieties, ranging from fair to dark, with different undertones and features.
Yes, warm undertones are dominant, but cool undertones also exist. While beige, olive, caramel, and almond skin tones are common, you can also find fairer skin tones like ivory and even porcelain as you move north.
Being an Asian myself, in this article, I’ll talk about the different skin tones (by region) and how you can best take care of them. As Asians are spread all over the world, it’s also important to take into consideration where you live when it comes to skincare.
- Asian skin tones range from fair to dark brown, with different regions having different skin tones.
- Climate, terrain, and genes play an important role in the general skin tone of the skin color of the different regional populations in the continent.
- The Far East and North Asian countries have pale to light brown skin, whereas South, Southeastern, and the Middle East regions have brown to dark brown skin tones.
- Olive, caramel, bronze, and almond skin tones are common on the continent, especially in southern regions.
- Some Asian skins get tanned easily, but generally, their skin is slightly more resistant to sun damage than pale skin tones.
- There are more compatible makeup options today that match Asian skin tones.
Types of Asian Skin Tones
As Asia is a big continent, both by land and population, I’m going to discuss the different Asian skin tones by region. However, I don’t mean to generalize as you may find various skin tones in the same region.
Most regions, especially those near the Equator, range from light brown to almost black. That’s no surprise, given that warmer climates usually have more dark skin tones.
Far East and North
The Far East and Northern Asia regions include Japan, North Korea, South Korea, China, Mongolia, Taiwan, and Russia. Most of this region has a cold climate, with the northeast region and Siberia, in particular, receiving very little sun. As a result, fair skin tones dominate this region.
North Asians have fair to light brown skin (mostly fair) with yellow, pink, or peach undertones. People in this region also have blemish-free skin, which is naturally very clear. However, that doesn’t mean their skin doesn’t face any challenges.
As we all know, colder climates can result in drier skin, so people in Northern Asian countries may have dry skin more commonly than those in the warmer regions.
China is an exception here as it’s a big country with a variety of skin tones. However, the skin tones range from fair to brown, with people in the south of the country having skin tones more on the light brown side.
It’s worth mentioning that this is also the region where K Beauty or Korean skincare comes from. South Koreans mostly have very fair to fair skin (porcelain, ivory, and beige). They use natural ingredients in their products to treat skin problems and improve the texture. However, Korean skincare isn’t just for people with fair skin, as brown and black skin tones can also benefit from these products.
Central Asia is not as densely populated as the rest of Asia. It features countries like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan. Commonly, the skin tones in these countries range from light brown to brown.
However, there are exceptions, with some ethnicities having fairer skin tones with red or pink undertones. This is because many of these countries are mountainous with a largely cold climate. Uzbeks and Tajiks, in particular, have mostly pink undertones in their skin that makes their skin almost white.
People in these mountainous regions have to deal with cold and dry weather, which can make the skin dry as well. Moisturization is highly important to maintain the health of the skin.
Southeast Asia has many countries that are densely populated with many ethnicities and tribes. Myanmar (formerly Burma), Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines, and Timor Leste make up this region.
In terms of skin tones, you’ll find brown to dark brown skin tones mostly. Some countries have very similar skin tones. For example, Malaysians and Indonesians have similar skin tones, which are light brown with yellow or green undertones (the latter gives olive skin tone).
There are many tribes in Indonesia that have darker skin tones, especially in Borneo and Papua. The darker skin tones are more prevalent because of the weather conditions, as in many areas of this region, it’s mostly sunny and warm year-round.
Malaysia, in particular, is a notable exception in the region as its people have many different skin tones. The country is also home to a South Indian diaspora who mostly have dark brown skin tone. It also has a Malay Chinese population whose skin tone is somewhere between fair and light brown.
Normally, people generalize South Asian skin tones as Indian. Although there are many other countries in this region, India itself is very diverse in terms of ethnicities, race, and skin tones.
That all said, brown to dark brown skin tones dominate this region, which comprises India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Bhutan. While most people in this region have brown skin tones, the undertones can vary. Most Indians have yellow, brown, or golden undertones. However, as you move up north, you’ll find people with light brown skin tone and peach or pink undertones.
The closer the country is to the equator, the darker the skin tone of its people. The South Indian population and the people of Sri Lanka generally have dark brown to black skin tones, as they have lived in sunny, hot climates for centuries.
South Asia is also home to some of the tallest mountain ranges like the Himalayas and Hindukush. The tribal people who have called these mountainous areas home for many generations typically have a fairer skin tone.
The Middle East is also incredibly diverse, especially if you include Iran and Afghanistan into it. The overall skin tone range is fair to dark brown. So you’ll find basically every variation of skin tone as you move from west to east.
The Arabian Peninsula (Gulf region) has a mostly hot, arid climate. So naturally, the people in this region have dark brown skin. In countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen, dark brown skin tones like bronze, caramel, and umber are common.
As you move north in the region, the skin tones range from fair to light brown. In countries like Syria, Lebanon, and Iran, there are communities with pale skin tones and varying yellow or peach undertones. The undertones can also be pink and even red.
People in this region don’t tan so easily, especially if they already have a darker skin tone, as their skin is used to the sun. Nevertheless, they have historically protected their skin from the sun through clothes. So even though their skin may be used to the sun, it’s not completely immune to it.
Factors Impacting Asian Skin Tones
As you can see by now, Asia has extensive diversity when it comes to skin tones. Of course, for a continent that big, such diversity isn’t unusual. Still, it’s important to know what impacts this trend of varying skin tones, so much so that you may find people with totally different skin tones living in the same region.
Well, there are a number of factors at play:
Weather and Land Conditions
Weather and terrain have a direct relation with skin color, at least to some extent. People in colder regions tend to be fairer, and those in the warmer regions tend to be darker.
These environmental conditions have impacted the skin color of people over the centuries. In addition, the kind of terrain they live on also has some impact. Those who live in deserts have even darker skin owing to the harsh sun, while those in the mountainous regions have lighter shades because they don’t get as much sun.
It’s also worth noting that Asia, throughout history, has mostly been an agrarian economy. People farm outdoors in the sun, which resulted in increased pigmentation in the skin and hence darkening of the skin tone over the centuries. It still is dependent on agriculture, with the Asian Development Bank estimating that 2.2 billion people rely on it.
Did you know that India is home to thousands of ethnicities? Other countries are not far behind, as heavily populated countries like Indonesia, Pakistan, Thailand, and China have many different ethnicities with their unique skin tones (with warm or cool undertones).
Of course, genetics play an important role in the color of one’s skin. Therefore, the ethnic factor is a major determinant of not just the skin tone but also its underlying undertones. For instance, Malays and some Indian ethnicities have olive skin with a green tint. Similarly, Kazakhs have pale skin with pink and peach undertones.
Skin Care Tips for Asian Skin Tones
Since Asian skin tones are so diverse, it’s hard to address the challenges of each skin tone. Therefore, I’m going to share some general skin care tips that apply to all Asian skin tones.
Moisturization and Hydration
Regardless of the skin type or skin tone you have, moisturization is key. And if you have dry or oily skin, hydration is even more important. Dry skin is a direct result of lack of moisture, so you need to hydrate the skin from within. Contrary to popular opinion, your skin also needs hydration as excessive sebum production is a cry for hydration actually.
So no matter what skin type or tone you have, make sure to use moisturizer, preferably with hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid. If you have dry skin, use milky or creamy cleansers that don’t rip the skin barrier from the moisture.
Although Asian skin tones are not as vulnerable to sun damage as white skin tones, they still need some level of protection from the harsh UV rays. Depending on where you live, you may tan easily. For instance, South Asian people tend to tan easily, so their skin can easily go a few shades darker and develop photodamage signs like wrinkles or hyperpigmentation.
However, unlike fair skin, you probably don’t need a very high number of SPF unless you’re sunbathing on the beach. Anything over SPF 15 should get the job done.
Also, use appropriate clothing to protect your arms, legs, and neck from excessive sun exposure.
Maintain the Right pH Balance
Your skin’s pH levels should be below 5 to keep it healthy. Skincare products, especially cleansers or toners that are alkaline, can increase the pH. Therefore, pay attention to the pH of the products you are using and balance it with acidic cleansers or serums.
If the pH level goes into the alkaline territory (above 7), your skin may become more prone to dryness, irritation, and redness. This is all the more relevant for those with dry or sensitive skin.
Love Your Skin Tone and Embrace it
In many Asian countries, there’s an infatuation with fair skin tone. White skin is often seen as the gold standard of beauty. You’d be surprised to know that this is even prevalent in countries where people already have relatively fairer skin tones.
We have come a long way in skincare and makeup for brown and black skin. And truth be told, darker skin tones offer many benefits, such as less vulnerability to sun damage and slow aging. So it’s high time people in Asian countries embraced their skin tone for what it is and, instead of trying to change it, take care of it.
Makeup Choices for Asian Skin Tones
Let’s talk about makeup now. The one article of makeup that your skin tone will determine is the foundation. When it comes to foundation, choose one that looks natural on your face. In other words, it should match your natural skin tone.
Yes, there’s no harm in going one shade darker or lighter, but choosing something completely different will result in a very cosmetic look that won’t do your beautiful skin justice. So pay attention to your skin tone while shopping for foundation.
Pro Tip: Choose a foundation with SPF, especially when wearing it during the daytime.
As for other makeup items, again, choose colors that complement your skin tone. Suppose you have light brown skin, brown and nude shades are probably not for you, as they may make you look paler than usual. For folks with brown skin tones, there are endless choices of colors, so consider yourself lucky.
If your skin has a natural caramel or bronze glow, you probably don’t need a bronzer. Use your undertones as cues for choosing the makeup shades. You can add colors with peach, pink, and orange tones with blush.
3 Best Foundations for Asian Skin
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The Dermablend Flawless Creator Liquid Foundation offers a wide range of shades suitable for most Asian skin tones, including some dark brown ones. It’s an oil-free and water-free foundation that provides comprehensive coverage that complements the natural skin shade of the person.
This is ideal for those with oily skin as it’s lightweight and doesn’t leave that oily residue on application. More importantly, you need a very little amount to cover the face and neck.
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Another appropriate foundation for Asian skin shades is the L’Oreal Paris True Match Super-Blendable Foundation. If you’re someone who needs to blend different foundations to get the right shade and texture, this is for you. The range covers basically every skin shade from pale to dark.
This one also has SPF 15, so it’s ideal for use in Asian countries with warm, sunny climates. However, you should still use sunscreen for added protection.
It can be paired with L’Oreal’s True Match concealer to hide those pigmented spots or acne scars.
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The MISSHA M Magic Cushion is a powder-based foundation ideal for Asian skin tones from the Far East (Korea, Japan, China, the Philippines, etc.). It offers five shades ranging from light brown to brown, so you can choose a shade that matches your natural skin color.
This one also offers more than adequate sun protection with SPF 50. The lightweight powder provides complete coverage without thick buildup, so perfect for summers as well. It can easily cover up blemishes and spots.
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People in Asia have many different skin tones, ranging from light to dark. However, brown shades of skin are more dominant. Typically, places with colder climates have lighter shades, whereas those with hot climates have darker shades. Of course, there are always exceptions because skin color depends on many factors.
It’s vital to recognize your skin tone and choose skin care products and makeup accordingly. Luckily, so many brands have embraced the needs of Asian skin and introduced products suitable for their skin.