The Ins and Outs of Color Swatching And Why I Don’t Do It

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Have you ever seen swatches (color examples: usually applied to their arm by a finger or brush) of a palette from a “beauty guru” or a “YouTuber” and gotten really excited to buy it only to be seriously disappointed when you see the colors for yourself. It has happened to all of us! Most of the time, I don’t look at swatches at all before I buy something. In this post I am going to list some pros and cons and the reasons why I don’t swatch on my blog.



1. It gives a “semi-accurate” picture of what the colors “might” look like.


That’s it. That is the only pro that I can think of. You are looking at a swipe of a color on someone’s arm that may or may not be filtered and photoshopped, could be artificial or natural light, and it could have taken them an hour to build up that much color on their arm, but you are hoping that it might be somewhat accurate.

Now for the list of cons.



1. Unless someone’s arm is the same color as their eye lid, you are not getting an accurate idea of what the color is going to look like.

2. Unless that person’s arm is also the same color as your eye lid, it is equally as pointless because you still don’t know what it will look like on you. 

3. PRIMER – Primer can change the pigment of an eye shadow. Unless they use the same primer as you do, again, you are not getting an accurate idea of what it is going to look like on you.

4. What kind of lighting was there, did they use a flash, natural lighting, etc….? There are so many variations in lighting that can really change what a color looks like.

5. The last and most important reason to distrust swatches is that these beauty gurus can use photo filters and edits to make the colors look more vibrant than they actually are. 

All of the above reasons are why I don’t do swatches in my reviews. I want you to look at the colors in the pan and decide which ones you think would work for you. (As a side note, I never edit the lighting or filter my images. I want you to get the best idea of what something actually looks like. So, even though I would probably look better with a skin smoothing filter, I don’t use one.)

Below I am going to give you some examples of swatches that I have done and swatches that these “beauty gurus” have done, so that you can see the difference.

1. Urban Decay Born to Run


The image on the right is my arm and the image on the left was shared on urban decay’s instagram.

Now, it is possible that they really built up the colors to get those dark shades. Also, on purpose, I made my light brighter so you can tell the difference when pictures are taken in different lights.


2. Box of Crayons


(I just tried a few colors: orange, baby blue, magenta, red, deep plum, white) This one is very close to their swatches, which I really appreciated. I was so shocked when I used this palette and found that it was just as pigmented as their picture showed, for the most part. The white doesn’t show up on me at all, but I think that is because of my skin tone. It just shows shimmer and not necessarily a white color.

3. Bare Minerals Bare Naturals Palette


The only big difference I see here is that they took the time to make their swatches even. 🙂 The first two shades don’t show up at all on my wrist because of my skin tone, they make great transition shades though. One thing I appreciate about Bare Minerals is that they use a variety of skin tones when they show swatches.


4. Laura Lee Los Angeles Cats Pajamas

These are fairly accurate. I used a flash on my picture on the left to try to get a more clear picture since I was just using my bedroom lighting for this one. I only swatched the four darkest colors and they are pretty similar. However, Laura Lee is a youtuber and she knows the “tea” with swatches, so I am sure she wanted to be as accurate as possible.

5. Urban Decay Beached

For these swatches, I decided to use the back of my hand. Partially because my arm was getting irritated by all the wiping off of the color and partially to show a different skin color since the back of my hand is darker than my arm. These swatches are done with no primer, but spraying the brush with setting spray. Likely, the picture on the right is a real life picture, but they spent a lot of time building up the color and making it look perfect.

Most of the palettes above I bought without ever having seen swatches before. If I had seen some of the pictures being put out by urban decay especially of their new palettes, I would be sorely disappointed when I got the palette for real. They make the colors look much more bright and vibrant than they are. In actuality, while I LOVE the Born to Run palette, it consists of mostly dark colors and I think it will be better suited for fall than summer.

Now these are just eyeshadow. I could also show you highlighter palettes, contours, bronzers, lipsticks, etc. that look nothing like what the color is in reality.

So, for all the reasons outlined, I don’t swatch.  I just find it counterproductive.

What do you think about seeing swatches? Do you think these kinds of pictures are often edited to look better or just that the lighting, etc. in the picture makes them look different?


25 Comments Add yours

  1. Great post! Unfortunately, sometimes some eyeshadows can be a disappointment but others are so good:)


  2. nmgilb says:

    There is so much common sense in this post that I’m literally smacking myself on the forehead. I have definitely fallen victim to buying something from a swatch and being sorely disappointed. Some things I expect, like the skin tone. But the filters and lighting and the fact that they can build up the product to clown like proportions have gotten me on several occasions!


  3. Thanks for this post and the information. I have had the experience as well where you try it out on a swatch and then it doesn’t look the same. I buy a lot of stuff at Sephora near my work and it looks great in their lighting but different when i get home or am outside.


  4. Oh this is all new information to me. I don’t think I have ever used eyeshadows except during dance performances or at my wedding. There too didn’t think much of the colours or how they would suit me.
    Now you have opened up a whole new world to me!


  5. Aditya says:

    Well, this whole make-up thing is not my cup of tea. So cannot give much of an opinion, but I can definitely say bare mineral one has it’s own style and I pretty much believe everyone use it, if not everyone then I have heard most people use it.Because even my friends agreed, what you said here it has variety of skin tones when it swatches.


  6. kumamonjeng says:

    Wow, thanks for the tips. I guess it is best if we can try it out on my face and not on our hand! Lol.


  7. I’ve actually never thought of purchasing eye shadows and I only wear them if I’m having a make-up session at the salon so color swatching was unknown to me until now. Glad I’m enlightened.


  8. StephJ says:

    Great tips! I always wondered the proper way people do this.


  9. Those colors do look so different on your arm. The best way to judge a color is to try it on.


  10. Amber says:

    I don’t even know much about this! I rarely wear makeup, so color swatching is a mystery to me. My daughter would probably know more about it!


  11. As I always mention in my posts too use it on your hand, glad to see someone doing the same but yes I must say one thing that is some eyeshadows can be a disappointment. Sometimes not always..


  12. I have always thought swatches were almost pointless. Yes, they make for some cute IG pictures, but so many times the shadows are so different on the eye… different used with a brush, and primer..


  13. Lauren says:

    This is a good post. I haven’t seen one that makes this point. It is very true. It seems the Urban Decay looked the most different. Maybe it was super pigmented when they swatched


  14. Shana says:

    Great point. Now that you pointed it out colorswatching needs to go away. It’s not accurate at all.


  15. Rosey says:

    Look at all of those gorgeous colors! I appreciate that you don’t use filters! Authenticity matters for product review.


  16. what fun colors! I need to spice up my makeup more!


  17. Emma Riley says:

    Actually I am not using any make up but I will tell you that your post is really informative that sometimes people don’t know if the product that they bought have a good quality or not. Thanks for sharing this with us.


  18. Way more cons than pros! I never swatch. You are right, it look super different depending on the skin colour!


  19. I’ve never picked out an eyeshadow based on swatches I see. I generally look at the colors I like and that’s how I decide. Sometimes I’m happy and sometimes, a little disappointed. I like all of your reasons why you don’t do color swatching.


  20. momi berlin says:

    I totally got your point. I didn’t even thought of the editing until youve mentioned about it. So many photos now are filtered to make good on screen and I guess there are some swatches photos that may be edited too.


  21. Olga Zak says:

    Thanks for this information. I’ve never picked out an eyeshadow based on swatches. I need to improve my way of makeup more!


  22. Wanda Lopez says:

    I hear you. I’ve always see these shots on magazines and social media. They are not always as they seem.


  23. Andrea says:

    I’ve never picked out an eyeshadow based on swatches before this is such a great idea. these are all beautiful colors. thanks for all the useful info


  24. Wildish Jess says:

    This is such an interesting post. I’ve never thought about how different swatches could be.


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