Picking the perfect adjective saves words and makes writing leap off the page. These lists contain over 300 adjectives to describe skin color, tone, complexion, and texture. Some might be deemed cliché, but you can use them as a springboard.
Let’s consider ivory, a hackneyed word for modifying skin. What looks like ivory? Piano keys. Can you use piano keys for a direct description? How about: Julianne flounced into the parlor, her flawless skin shimmering as white as the keys on the grand piano in the center of the room.
Do you picture a fair-skinned, affluent woman who might have musical talent or at least the desire to appear as though she does? Although the piano keys don’t shimmer, her skin does. The comparison between skin and keys hints that the keys are shiny. Either Julianne keeps them polished, or she spends considerable time playing. If she doesn’t play, perhaps she strokes the keys and daydreams about a musician who jilted her.
Another cliché is baby-soft skin. Consider this sentence: Jordan’s tiny fingers stroked his mother’s breast, a breast with skin as soft as his own.
Do you envision a baby? The sentence doesn’t say Jordan is in his mother’s arms, but that’s probably what you see. Even though the word baby is never used, you sense the softness of the mother’s skin.
You can also benefit from the following lists of adjectives by consulting them in conjunction with your favorite thesauri.
Microsoft Word provides these suggestions: mottled, blemished, marked, spotty, spotted, dappled, discolored, freckled, reddened, and red.
Searching Google brings up the following recommendations: mottled, dappled, blotched, spotty, spotted, smudged, marked, erratic, irregular, patchy, and splotchy.
A search at dictionary.reverso.net provides these alternatives: blemished, macular, patchy, reddened, scurvy, spotty, and uneven.
Thesaurus.reference.com presents a different list: mottled and spotted. Moving down the page to the mottled heading brings up the following adjectives: blotchy, checkered, dappled, flecked, freckled, maculate, streaked, tabby, variegated, marbled, motley, and piebald. More suggestions appear under additional headings.
Imagine what you could do with tabby and piebald, words that normally describe cats and horses. What about other animals? Crocodiles, elephants, leopards, giraffes—they all have different textures and patterns of skin or spots, with personalities that could match those of your protagonists.
I have included a few words that refer to scent. Let your imagination run wild. A protagonist’s skin could smell like grease, rose petals, beer, garlic, baby shampoo, or licorice. Investigate the surroundings and occupations of your characters to add appropriate scents. Likewise with flavor. I didn’t include any taste words, but consider the possibilities, especially if you’re writing a romance novel.
Most of these words could be applied to specific body parts rather than skin. For example:
– Raw knees
– Veined hands
– Blistered face
– Cottage-cheese thighs
– Patchy chest
– Sunburnt toes
– Reptilian elbows
Now without further ado, I present the lists.
Alabaster, albino, almond, amber, anemic, apricot, ashen
Beige, bisque, black, blanched, bloodless, blue-tinged, blushing, brick-colored, bronze, brown, burnt, butterscotch, buttery
Café-au-lait, caramel, cedar, chalky, charcoal, chestnut, chocolate, cinnamon, coffee, colored, colorless, copper, coral, cream-colored, creamy
Dark, dappled, dusky
Fair, fawn, fiery, florid, flushed, flushing, freckled
Ghostly, ginger, golden, granite-grey, grey, green
Ivory, jaundiced, lily-white, liver-spotted
Mahogany, mango, milk-white, milky, mottled
Painted, pale, pallid, pasty, peaches-and-cream, peach-colored, pearly, pink, porcelain
Red, reddened, rose-brown, rosy, rouged, rubicund, ruddy, russet
Sallow, sand-colored, sepia, shock-white, sienna, snowy, sooty, sorrel, spotted, sunny, sunburnt, swarthy
Tan, tanned, tarnished, taupe, tawny, teak, terra cotta, toffee
Wan, washed-out, waxen, white
Baby-soft, blackhead-speckled, blemished, blistered, blotchy, bristly, bubble-wrapesque, bumpy, burnished
Calloused, cellulite-dimpled, chapped, clean-shaven, clear, coarse, cottage-cheese, cratered, creased, crepe-textured, crinkled, crumpled
Delicate, depilated, desiccated, diaphanous, downy, dry, dull
Elastic, erupted, erythemic
Fine-grained, flaky, flawed, frail, furry, fuzzy
Gauzy, goose-bumped, goose-fleshed, goose-pimpled, granular
Hairless, hairy, healthy, hirsute, hive-dotted
Leathery, lined, lumpy
Papery, paper-thin, parchment, patchy, petal-soft, pillowy, pimpled, pimply, pitted, pockmarked, potholed
Rash-covered, rash-ridden, raw, reptilian, ridged, rough, rumpled, rutted
Sandpapery, satiny, saurian, scabby, scabrous, scaled, scaly, scarred, scratched, sensitive, sheer, silky, sleek, slick, smooth, soft, speckled, splotchy, spotty, stippled, supple
Taut, textured, thick, translucent
Unblemished, unwrinkled, uneven
Aged, aglow, aromatic
Caked, chilled, chilly, clammy, clawed, clean, cool
Damaged, damp, dewy, dimpled, dirty, doughy, drawn, droopy
Feverish, firm, flaccid, flapping, flappy, flawless, fleshy, fragranced, fragrant, fresh, frigid, frostbitten, frozen, furrowed
Gangrenous, girlish, gleaming, glistening, glossy, glowing, gossamer, greasy, grimy, grubby, gnarled
Lackluster, listless, loose, lustrous, lusterless, luminescent
Makeup-caked, matte, mature, moist, mud-caked, musky
Patterned, peeling, perfumed, pierced, pliable, puckered, puffy, pure
Scented, sweet-smelling, sweet-scented, scrubbed, shimmering, shiny, slimy, slippery, smeared, sparkling, spongy, springy, sticky, streaked, stubbly, sweaty, swollen
Tattooed, tight, tingling, toasty, touchable, transparent
Warm, weathered, wet, windburnt, wind-worn, wholesome, whiskery, withered, wizened, worn