The diversity of human colouring is the result of thousands of years of natural selection.
In prehistoric times, as the human population spread across the globe, the many and varied climates encountered meant that over generations the skin pigmentation, hair and eye colouring of each dispersed group began to adapt to their environment.
Cultural issues such as diet, clothing, shelter and health had an effect, but the major factor was the sun. Dark skin provides protection from the sun and light skin synthesises more vitamin D when light is scarce.
The diversity of human pigmentation largely resulted from variations in ultraviolet radiation levels experienced by different groups of people.
In the context of human biology, pigment is the colour-forming chemical matter that makes each person’s colour characteristics unique. Pigment changes colouration.
Three pigments affect the wide variety of human skin tones: melanin, carotene and haemoglobin. While there is still a great deal to be discovered about skin pigmentation, we know that the more melanin a person has the darker their skin will be.
The wide variety of colourations across the human population can be classified by combining the science of human genealogy and colour theory.
The individual characteristic colour adaptations which evolved through generations of living in the same local environment created groups of people with the same or similar colour characteristics. The colouring of all three characteristics was primarily determined by how constant weather conditions were throughout the year.
Humans living close to the equator, where sun exposure is relatively intense all year (such as central Africa or northern Australia), developed high levels of melanin, resulting in warm red/orange, dark pigmentation and low contrast across all three colour characteristics.
People who lived away from the equator across the subtropics, such as the Mediterranean Basin and the Mexican Plateau where sun was seasonal and the environment varied, experienced partial de-pigmentation. Different groups of people developed varying skin, hair and eye tones and diverse levels of contrast between their colour characteristics. They retained warm, dark brown hair and eye colour but developed disparate levels of fair to light brown skin tones, with the ability to tan during summer seasons.
Those who settled further from the equator in the cooler northern temperate zones, such as northern Europe and Russia, experienced less overall sun exposure and had less need for natural protection. They consequently developed lower levels of melanin, lighter skin, hair and eyes and a reduced capacity for tanning.
From the various northern cool environments, cooler colour characteristics evolved, such as platinum blonde and ash-coloured hair, green and blue-coloured eyes and a range of light, warm colour characteristics, such as strawberry blonde and red-based hair, pinkish skin tones and freckles.
Further to the evolution of lighter and newly introduced coloured human characteristics through the northern temperate zones and the subtropic environments, migration and interbreeding between these different groups of people and people from close to the equator created new dynamic colour combinations and characteristic contrasts.
In modern times, accelerated global migration has seen unprecedented numbers of people travelling and settling for extended periods of time across the globe, often living in areas where the sun’s radiation differs from where their ancestors’ skin, hair and eye colouring evolved.
This global migration has meant people from all corners of the globe mixing with locally established people, resulting in an explosion of genetic diversity and mixed-race colour characteristics. The new generations have consequently developed unique combinations of colour characteristics and new colour expressions.
It does not matter how different peoples’ colour characteristics are – nature has the judicious ability to combine two individual’s DNA to create a combination of colour characteristics that balance and harmonise.
Natural Colour Characteristics
The contrast between a person’s skin, hair and eyes may be minimal or extensive, and is the result of a combination of inherited characteristics.
Skin colour, and its relationship with hair and eye colour, dominates the balance of an individual’s colour harmony. The skin receives the reflection of colour from clothing, and most often determines which colours create harmony and which result in discord.
The hair, as a block of colour, can connect or disconnect with another block of colour, that being clothing or accessories. The greater the contrast between a person’s hair and skin, the greater the contrast of value and colour the clothing can have to create harmony.
When the contrast between the hair and skin is high, the hair will have more influence in determining the depth and tone of clothing colours to create a balanced appearance.
If a person has light skin and dark brown hair, dark-coloured clothing will form a connection and provide an opportunity to create harmony. If the dark-coloured clothing is the same, similar or a complementary tone, an even closer connection will be created.
When the hair, skin and eyes are muted and of a moderate value and the contrast between them is low, high contrasting colour and patterns find difficulty in creating balance and harmony. Low contrast, medium value muted tones will create the balance and harmony
If the colouring of a person’s eyes is the same or similar to their hair colour, the combination will strengthen the hair’s ability to determine balanced shades and tones of colour in clothing and accessories.
If the natural colouring of a person’s eyes is different to their hair colour, the eyes can fine-tune what tone or shade of hue creates harmony. If the contrast of eye colour is radiant, then accessories, jewellery or clothing in the same or a similar colour will find a connection and highlight the natural colour of the eyes.
The whites of the eyes and teeth act as natural highlights and help connect white-based tones of accessories, jewellery and clothing.
The small size of the eyes and teeth means they cannot determine if large blocks of white-based tones harmonise with a person’s dominant colour quality. They can, however, add some balance and connection to large blocks of white and highlight small blocks of white.
The natural colour, tone and contrast of a person’s characteristics determines the colours, tones and contrasts which best suit them. The harmony or discord created from wearing matching or clashing colours provides personal positive or negative energy.
Wearing the right colour and colour combinations highlights the natural colouring of a person’s characteristics, providing life and vitality, personal confidence and comfort. They are perceived by those with whom they interact to look younger, healthier, naturally comfortable and ‘as one’ with their make-up and clothing.
Wearing the wrong colour and colour combinations reflects an unnatural colour onto the face and creates a visual discord. The unnatural reflection draws natural colour from the face, highlighting imperfections and quite often making a person look and feel older, insipid, unhealthy and uncomfortable.