Part 3: Which one is my shade?

(Shiseido Maquillage Lasting Powdery UV)
(image from

I am often asked about choosing the right foundation shade from a Japanese brand. One question that comes up the most is “What is the difference between Ochre shades and Beige Ochre shades?” If you have wondered about the same thing, I hope this part of the series will help you a little.

Many major Japanese foundation lines categorize their shades into three groups:

– Neutral Ochre (OC) shades
– Yellow-toned Beige Ochre (BO) shades
– Pink-toned Pink Ochre (PO) shades

(Notice that some brands don’t carry PO shades.)

Sometimes the shade name can vary. (Coffret D’Or’s pink-toned shades are called Soft Ochre shades.) But, on a typical shade chart, neutral shades are usually in the middle, with pink-toned shades on the left and yellow-toned shades on the right. Below is the shade chart for Coffret D’Or’s Lasting Power Pact UV:

(shade chart for Coffret D’Or Lasting Power Pact UV)
(image from

In the shade chart for all the Sofina Primavista foundations (below), Ochre 05 is marked as the “standard shade”, which is the shade that suits most people of East-Asian descent. This happens to be the shade I would usually go for, as the second lightest Ochre shade usually suits me quite well.

(shade chart for all Primavista foundations)
(image from

If you are of East-Asian descent and you have never tried a foundation from Japanese brand, then I would recommend trying an Ochre shade, which is likely to suit you reasonably well. Also, once you know what an Ochre (neutral) shade looks on you, it is slightly easier to know what to expect if you decide to try a yellow-toned or pink-toned shade.

(Since most Japanese makeup lines are only sold in Japan or in East/ Southeast Asia, the foundation shades are not made to suit a wider range of complexions. If you are of Caucasian descent, then you can probably find Japanese foundation shades that suit you. If you are of Latina or Afro-Caribbean descent, then most Japanese foundations might be too light for you. But I have had good feedback from readers of Afro-Caribbean descent on Japanese loose powder products, which are usually translucent and can work for most complexions.)

However, not all Japanese foundation shades are categorized like what you see above. Other brands use a linear presentation of the shades and the shade names don’t suggest their undertone. Below is Paul & Joe’s Protective Fluid Foundation N:

(Paul & Joe Protective Fluid Foundation N)
(image from

Overall it can be a lot trickier to tell which shade would suit you the most. In this case, apart from weeding out shades that might be too light/dark for you, try to compare the swatches in terms of yellow/pink undertones.

(If I have to pick a shade only by looking at the swatches here, I would first eliminate the two lightest shades, 10 and 20. I tend to avoid peachy/pink-toned shades, and 30 looks like a shade that might work for me as it looks slightly more yellow-toned than the neighboring shades.)

Having to choose a foundation shade on-line can be very difficult. (I can occasionally choose the wrong shade even when I can see all the shades in person…) But once you have some experience, things will get a lot easier.

(Sometimes it might be worth learning to recognize the Japanese characters for the three shade groups. Please refer to the Primavista shade chart for the characters (those printed within the color swatches). The names happen to be the same ones used by Maquillage, so you will be able to make more sense of the shades you see for Maquillage’s Lasting Powdery UV at the top of this post.)

Are you ready for some on-line browsing? Tomorrow I will talk about some popular Japanese base makeup lines.

Related posts:

Jill Stuart Moist Silk Foundation

Majolica Majorca Skin Remake Compact

Japanese Base Makeup Week Part 1 & Part 2

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous Thursday, March 5, 2009


I am a long-time lurker, but I wanted to thank you for this post – I found it very helpful because I do have to order online when I try Japanese base makeup.

Keep up the great work!


MiuMiu Thursday, March 5, 2009

i’m finding these posts quite helpful! thanks! i look forward to the next one


Anonymous Thursday, March 5, 2009

What about Shiseido’s colors? For example, with the Perfect Smoothing Compact, the range of colors are Ochre, Ivory, and Beige. Which one would be the “standard shade” for East-Asian skin?


Wanderer Thursday, March 5, 2009

Oh girl, this post is soooo helpful!


Syn@3sTh3sI@ Thursday, March 5, 2009

I think u’ve make the things so clearly but I’m still so blur… I guess i need more time to absorb these knowledges… hahaha… in fact i hav no idea whether i suppose to get pink o yellow tone.. wat’s the differences n who shld choose which tone ?


Abha Thursday, March 5, 2009

Hi PJ, I was wondering if you could do a series of blog about makeup in general. I mean you know a lot of us I am sure totally suck at applying foundation, compact and to use a concealer (I definitely do). Most of the time I just cannot obtain the natural look which I see on so many people. Why dont you teach us techniques about how to apply and how to go about the whole thing? It would really do a world of good.


PJ Sunday, March 8, 2009


Thank you very much for reading this post. This part of the series is mainly for people who would like to try Japanese foundations but are not able to see the shades in person, and I am really glad that it is helpful for you.

Thank you for your comment again! :)


PJ Sunday, March 8, 2009

Hi MiuMiu,

Thank you very much for reading these posts and for your comment. I hope you will enjoy the rest of the series. :)


PJ Sunday, March 8, 2009


I checked the information on Shiseido’s Perfect Smoothing Compact (on Shiseido’s US website) and saw the three shade groups you mentioned.

I would think the Ivory shades would be the equivalents of Pink Ochre shades. I think Pink Ochre shades may tend to suit Caucasian skin tones a little more. For East-Asian skin tones, I would probably say that, as with most other Japanese base makeup lines, the Ochre shades are slightly more “standard”.

Hope it helps, and thank you very much for your question! :)


Yumi Tuesday, April 24, 2012

I love your posts! They help me out a lot!
But I wanted to know what other Japanese brands sell a pink toned foundation, I have always used BB creams and it works well but it doesn’t have the “color” that the Japanese girls have. I noticed the make-up they have on and it looks so cute and has a good look to it, with a natural pinkish color. The BB cream does a great job covering most of my blemishes and all, but it doesn’t give off a vibrant or a luminous look like the Japanese makeup, and at the end of the day, it looks just.. worn off looking. Please give me some advice!


PJ Thursday, April 26, 2012

Hi Yumi,

I would generally not recommend pink-toned foundations, as they can look unnatural for most people. I think the pinkish complexion that you might have seen on Japanese beauty magazines (the doll-like look that is currently quite popular) is down to a pink-toned finishing powder (on top of a neutral-toned (yellow-toned) foundation) and pink-toned shades for eyes, lips, and cheeks.

I think one of the best ways to achieve the look you want is to use an off-white pink finishing powder with little or no yellow undertone and with a luminous (or slightly glowy) finish on top of your BB cream. (Shu Uemura might have a couple of powders that might be worth trying.)

Hope it helps, and thank you for your question! :)


PJ Sunday, March 8, 2009

Hi Wanderer,

Thank you very much for reading this post. I am happy that it is helpful for you! :)


PJ Sunday, March 8, 2009

Hi Syn@3sTh3sI@,

Thank you for reading this post!

I think most people (of East-Asian descent) can carry off Ochre shades. But if you have more yellow undertone/ pink undertone in your skin, then you might want to consider trying PO/BO shades.

Between these two, PO shades actually suit relatively very few people (of East-Asian descent), which is why many brands either only have one or two or don’t have any pink-toned shade. They tend to only suit those who are extremely fair and have a touch of pink undertone.

So, I would still recommend OC shades for most people (apart from some whose skin tones are more yellow-toned than most others).

Hope it helps, and thank you for your question! :)


PJ Sunday, March 8, 2009

Hi Abha,

I see. This is a very good idea, and I will definitely think about it.

Since I would prefer not to post photos of myself or tutorial videos, I will have to think about an alternative way to present instructions on makeup application. I will try to work on this.

Thank you very much for your suggestion! :)


lily Sunday, March 8, 2009


Like the other posters, I also find your posts quite useful!

Similar to the second Anonymous’ question, I’m wondering about foundation shades. For “The Makeup”, I am a “Natural Fair Ochre (O40)” and I’m wondering about what Maquillage foundation shade I would be.

Also, how does “The Makeup” compare to Maquillage?

“The Makeup” is dept. store range, yet Maquillage is drugstore…but, as you have already stated, Japanese consumer demands have pushed makeup companies to improve their technology perhaps to such a state where their western counterparts cannot compete with.

…sorry. Haha I’m rather interested in comparative studies in general and I find your Japanese vs Western posts fascinating. Makes me wonder what a Japanese brand would do in the West. Same level of money towards research or considerably less? I’m leaning towards less, but the different levels in prestige makes me wonder. What do you think?


PJ Monday, March 9, 2009

Hi Lily,

Thank you for reading this post!

I have not really tried foundations from either Shiseido The Makeup or Shiseido Maquillage, so unfortunately it would be hard for me to actually compare them. But it seems that there are more pink-toned shades (The Makeup’s Ivory shades) to suit a wider range of complexions.

Maquillage is sold both in department stores and drugstores. But I think the point is that, in Japanese cosmetics, the price points often do not reflect how much money is put into the research or the production of the products. They mainly reflect the age groups (and the socio-economic groups) a line is trying to appeal to. (The style of packaging is another indication of this.)

Most Japanese brands start off as local brands within Japan. I feel that whether some of them will be sold abroad (particularly outside Asia) is mainly determined by the issue between the financial investment (of setting up overseas counters, promoting the brand,…) and the possible revenue (as well as by whether a brand wants to pursue international prestige). I am not sure if they put more money into the research to modify the range to suit the global market.

(For example, I think SUQQU must have been fairly certain that their existing product lineup would appeal to consumers in the UK. (By the way, they obviously put a lot of money towards marketing research on UK consumers.))

Brands like Shiseido International and Shu Uemura are obviously different in this respect. Their product research involves much wider consumer groups.

So I guess it is hard to compare how much a western brand would spend on product research in the west and how much a Japanese brand would spend on the same thing for the same consumer group in the west. Among all the Japanese brands available in the west, I think the figures can vary tremendously. I suppose it would be even more difficult to compare western and Japanese brands in this particular aspect.

Thank you very much for your questions and for sharing your thoughts! :)


Blair Saturday, January 30, 2010

Hi PJ!

Can you please suggest a shade for me on the Primavista chart? I'm using Maybelline Angelfit's Flawless Natural Liquid Foundation in OC1. And I should be a MAC NC20. Thank you for your help! :D


PJ Sunday, February 7, 2010

Hi Blair,

I am sorry for my late reply.

I don't tend to suggest foundation shades because I could easily suggest the wrong shade. But if you use OC1 (I saw the shade chart on the website), then I would probably suggest Primavista's OC03.

Hope it helps, and thank you for your question! :)


hopecn Monday, January 6, 2014

I am looking for a powdery foundation but can/t work out my sade. I often use liquid foundation I20 or liquid foundation SPF SP10.
Thanks, cn


PJ Monday, January 6, 2014

Hi Hopecn,

Looking at the shade names, I am presuming that the two foundations you use are from Shiseido (international line). If so, I suggest starting with the lightest shades and see how they work for you.

Hope it helps, and thank you for reading my blog! :)


Anne Katrine Friday, September 16, 2016

I realise that this post is almost 8 years old, but I’m interested to know how light japanese foundation often goes with their lightest shades? I’m really pale and from northern europe so I obviously can’t see the shades in stores. The shade pictures often seem a bit deeper than the shades might be too. I’m hoping that the lightests shades really are pale because I know that bihaku priduct and pake skin is a trend in a lot of east asain countries and there therefore will be more demand?


PJ Sunday, September 18, 2016

Hi Anne,

The lightest foundation shades from Japanese beauty brands can be quite pale, but, based on the comments I have come across on-line over the years, some people (of various descents) with very light skin tones still feel that some of them are not light enough for them.

I have a light-to-medium skin tone, so I am afraid I don’t really have experiences with the lightest foundation shades from Japanese brands. My general suggestion would be to look for foundations from Japanese beauty brands that have a more international presence (such as SHISEIDO (Global Brand), Clé de Peau, SUQQU, RMK, Anna Sui and Paul & Joe). (I know that Anna Sui and Paul & Joe, as fashion brands, are not considered to be Japanese, but products from their beauty lines are generally designed and produced in Japan.) These brands are a little more likely to carry foundation shades that suit your needs.

I hope it helps, and do let me know what you think if you have a chance to try foundations from Japanese brands.

Thank you very much for reading my blog and for your question! :)


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