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Color Theory

By: Roberta Hughes
Posted: June 23, 2008, from the April 2006 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

Have you ever noticed how some colors excite, rejuvenate and energize, while others relax, calm and comfort? Or have you wondered why certain ones look better together than others? Adding a hint of color can help to construct a unique brand for a spa, produce a wonderful experience for clients and team members, add interest and personality to a space, and even establish an appealing and attractive appearance.

The language of the rainbow

Color is the most powerful, complex and stimulating element of design. It is the first to be noticed and often the last to be forgotten. In spas, it has a way of uniquely establishing a brand—consider the facility’s walls, flooring, artwork and even team members’ uniforms. Each element can work in harmony to add beauty to a space while creating a memorable experience for clients.

Color engages the senses and evokes highly physical and emotional responses. For instance, the saying “I feel blue” connotes a sad mood. When tones are too bright or strong, they often are referred to as loud. An appearance can be chic and stylish or drab and boring—all by the choice of color. Certain shades stimulate and excite, while others feel oppressive or weak. And color can be used in place of words to command action. For example, a green traffic light indicates go, yellow conveys caution and red means stop. Messages are communicated and value placed depending on color—a white dove signifies purity, and a yellow rose expresses friendship. Green is soothing and recalls memories of summer grass and trees, while blue symbolizes water and the sky. The warmth of the sun is reflected in yellow and orange, while shades of violet resemble the distant mountains against an evening sky.

Color helps to identify, distinguish and create powerful illusions about size, shape and distance of an object or an area. Light or bright colors advance, calling attention to themselves, whereas dark tones recede. A red wall appears to advance toward you, while a tan wall recedes into the background. A person wearing white pants will appear heavier than they would wearing the same pants in black.


So how do we perceive color? Light plays an important role in how the brain interprets its surroundings. Color is formed by electromagnetic lightwaves stimulating the retinas of the eyes, which then are interpreted by the brain. Perception is an individual experience and varies by person, due to the physical makeup of the eyes themselves and the light source. For instance, fluorescent lights reflect a cool blue-gray light, whereas a lampshade projects a warm yellow light. Additionally, one’s perception is affected by their background and experiences.