Olive Skin vs Tan Skin: What’s The Difference? (Guide)

The medium skin tone covers a range of colors, but we generally group them into two; olive skin vs. tan skin.

If you have medium skin like me, you may wonder in which of two groups you fit, tan skin vs. olive skin, because the colors overlap as the seasons change. 

But, then, the undertones do not change, and you retain your natural color beneath. 

I have come up with a way to distinguish tan vs. olive skin, and I’m excited to share it. 

Is Olive and Tan Skin the Same?

Olive skin and tan skin are not the same, although they are pretty close in the skin color spectrum (1)

Olive skin is light skin with a dark hue, giving it a sort of evening beige color. It has yellow, golden, and green undertones. Some people refer to it as light tanned skin.

In the YouTube video below, makeup guru Tia Obed explains five olive tone skin tests. She also demonstrates the clothes’ colors that go well with the olive skin shade.

Tan skin is pale brown skin with golden undertones. It is lighter than deep skin tones but darker than fair skin and olive skin tones.

Persons with light brown shades like those of the Caribbean and Mediterranean ethnicity skin have this skin tone. The Indian skin tone glow also belongs to this category. 

Check out this video of skin tone names.

How to Get a Golden Tan for Olive Skin?

woman with an olive skin wearing warm green tank top

While olive skin is already gorgeous, you may want to deepen that golden touch with some tan. Luckily, olive skin tans easily.

The first way to tan is pretty natural and free – use the sun! Strategic sunbathing should get you that sun-kissed golden glow without skin damage and the skin cancer risk of prolonged UV exposure.

I liked how this Medical News Today article explains how to sun-tan safely. (2)

A fake tan is also a great option, especially if you don’t have time to go out and bask in the sun or the weather is not favorable.

This article on Elle explains that you can get a fake tan and make it last as long as possible, so long as you get the color and application formula right. (3)

Read the article to see the specifications that tanning expert Kirstie Kirkham, the MineTan founder, has for each skin type and color to avoid getting the wrong products for your golden olive undertone.

You may also watch this board-certified dermatologist explaining how you can DIY tan at home and achieve great results.

But, you must also be mindful of the condition of your skin, whether sensitive skin, oily skin, or dry skin, and of your natural complexion.

Also, get some quality sunscreen to protect your skin from sun exposure, increasing your risk for cancer. 


Does olive skin tan easily?

Yes, lighter olive skin shades tan easily compared to lighter skin. But, note that, generally, tanning differs universally from one person to the next.

Is olive skin tone rare?

Yes, the olive skin tone is rare. It is found among the people in parts of Latin America, the Middle East, Asian countries, the Indian Subcontinent, parts of Africa, and the Mediterranean (4).

Why is the skin undertone important?

Your skin undertone is crucial because it balances out your makeup products, such as the foundation shade.
Failing to balance out and blend your products to your natural skin causes demarcation, differentiating your natural shade with the foundation color.  


The debate on olive skin vs. tan skin has always been prominent due to the closeness of color of the two skin tones.

But, you can differentiate between tan skin and olive skin by their undertones and the intensity of the dark hue.

Olive skin is light with a slightly dark shade and yellowish, greenish undertones, while tan skin is darker with warmer undertones.

latin american woman smiling

Do you have olive skin or tan skin? Let us know below!


  • 1. Available from: https://www.sephora.com/contentimages/productpages/pdfs2017/StudioUndertoneFinder_v3.pdf
  • 2. How to tan safely: 9 tips to minimize the risks [Internet]. www.medicalnewstoday.com. 2020 [cited 2022 Jun 9]. Available from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/how-to-tan-safely
  • 3. How To Choose The Right Tan For Your Skin Type [Internet]. ELLE. [cited 2022 Jun 9]. Available from: https://www.elle.com.au/beauty/fake-tan-skin-type-19101
  • 4. Iwuala C, Taylor SC. Structural and functional differences in skin of colour. Clinical and Experimental Dermatology. 2021;
About Martina Todorovska

Martina is a graduated Doctor of Dental Medicine with a huge obsession for anything beauty-related. Her freelance writing started out as a creative outlet and turned out to be a full-time job. If you have any beauty questions, the chances are Martina has the answers. READ HER LATEST ARTICLES . Follow her on LINKEDIN , INSTAGRAM. Learn more about her HERE.

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