How to Determine Your Skin Tone and Undertone

Understanding the real color of your skin, referred to as its undertone, is the cornerstone of buying the right foundation shade and creating a flawless makeup look. It’s one of the reasons top makeup artists get paid the big bucks—but we can’t all have a glam squad by our side all the time.

In lieu of that, we’re going to share our pro makeup artist insights to teach you the fundamentals of skin’s undertones so you can master this skill on your own!

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What is Skin’s Undertone?

Your skin’s undertone is not about how light or dark your skin is, rather it is the color that comes through from underneath skin’s surface to affect the overall tonal quality. Whether you have light, medium or dark skin, your skin can have warm, cool, or neutral undertones. Basically, this sums it up:

  • Cool: Hints of bluish, pink or a ruddy complexion.
  • Warm: Skin skews yellow, sallow, peachy or golden.
  • Neutral: Has no obvious overtones of pink or sallow skin but rather the skin’s natural color is more evident.

How to Determine Your Skin’s Undertone

There are several ways to determine your skin’s undertones. Start by looking at the inside part of your arm, where you can see fairly well how the underlying color shows through. Since this area is naturally hidden from the sun, it is best able to reveal how warm, cool, or neutral your skin color really is.

Another way to go about it is to put a white towel next to your face and look in the mirror. The contrast of the white towel will make the undertones pop and look more apparent. You’ll want to do this in natural light, as lightbulbs can cast a deceiving hue.

Still unsure of what your undertone really is? Answering these questions can help guide you:

Does your skin tan easily and rarely sunburn? If so, you probably lean toward a warm or neutral undertone. If not, there’s a good chance you fall into the cool-toned category. (But we’re all using sunscreen, right?)

Do your veins appear blueish or more deep purple? If the answer is yes, you’re likely in the cool-toned spectrum. If your veins appear greenish, you most likely skew toward the warm-toned. Those with neutral undertones will have difficulty discerning either color—it will just all look neutral.

Do you look better in silver or gold? Personal preferences aside, cool undertones tend to be flattered by silver/platinum and those with warm undertones look better in gold-toned jewelry. Neutral skin tones look equally great in both (lucky you!). But of course every skin tone looks exquisite in diamonds—you can tell your significant other we said that.

Does your skin look somewhat ashen or gray? You might have the wild card of the bunch—olive skin—which is the combination of the natural neutral, slightly yellow undertone everyone has plus the greenish hue that’s unique to olive skin. Olive skin tones are often lumped in with the neutral category, but they can also lean warm.

Shopping for Foundation

Don’t be upset with us, but now that you’ve determined your skin’s undertone, we have to caution you that using a foundation categorized as your respective “cool” or “warm” skin tone may not always be the most flattering choice. For instance, some foundations labeled as cool-toned can end up making skin look overly pink and those labeled as warm can skew overly yellow (jaundice is never a good look on anyone).

The goal is to select neutral foundation shades that have only the slightest hint of your skin’s undertone. You never want your foundation to be too pink or too yellow or ashen.

If you have cool undertones the foundation should look slightly, and we mean really slightly, pinkish in the bottle. If your undertone is warm than the foundation shade should have subtle yellow or golden tone.

Of course, there are always exceptions. If you have medium to deep skin color with a reddish undertone, the likelihood is that you will look better with a foundation that has a hint of brownish red (but not copper, orange, or peach).

Purely neutral-toned foundations may seem like a slam-dunk for olive skin, but experiment with foundations with a slightly gold tone to warm up the “green” undertone in your skin.

These variations are why our next point is so crucial…

Try it On for Size

After all is said and done, the best way to find your foundation match is to try it on or at the very least hold the bottle up to your skin (assuming it’s in a see through glass container). If you’ve already got a full face of makeup on, ask for samples that you can try at home (many specialty makeup/department stores will accommodate this request).

Select three or four shades that you think look the best and stripe them on your jaw, in lines pointing toward your neck. If the shade appears relatively “invisible” that’s a good fit.

Next, check the foundation in daylight. That’s the real test to see if the foundation matches your skin’s color and undertone.

Once you find the right foundation shade you’ll be amazed by how natural-looking the results can be.

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