Ever experienced putting on a gorgeous top and finding that the color just seemed to dull your appearance? Or, perhaps you were gifted gold earrings, only to think, “But I’m a silver person!”
These incidents aren’t just about taste, they’re actual clues about what suits your skin tone. But rather than uncover these clues through trial and error (an expensive way to do it), you can instead determine your natural skin undertone and shop accordingly. This ensures that you’re wearing both clothing and makeup that flatters and uplifts your complexion.
What Are Skin Undertones?
Your skin’s “undertone” is the more subtle color that lies underneath the skin. This means that while your surface skin color may change (you may tan in the summer and appear fairer in the winter), your undertone remains the same.
This is why skin undertone has been determined as the more important indication of true skin tone. And mismatching your skin undertone can play havoc with your look. For example, wearing orange when your undertone is cool can make your skin appear ruddy. But wearing blue can make your skin look cool and radiant.
The main categories of skin tone look like this:
If you have cool undertones: You have hints of blue, pink, or even red in your complexion.
If you have warm undertones: You have a yellow, peachy, or golden complexion.
If you have neutral undertones: You have no obvious overtones of pink or gold, but appear to have a mix. Olive skin can often live here – though not always.
It’s important to note that even darker shades of skin can fall into these categories. For example, Beyonce is considered to have warmer undertones.1 Likewise, Asian skin may appear to have a yellower tone, but it can still have a cool undertone.
To make this a little easier, there are several easy tests you can do to figure out your true skin tone. By the end, you should have a better handle on your own skin undertone.
1. Check Your Veins
When you study the veins on your wrist do they appear more green, or are they bluer? If they appear bluer you may have cool undertones. If they appear greener you’re probably a warm undertone – this is because a yellow undertone coupled with blue veins will appear green. Can’t tell? Then you’re probably a “neutral”.
2. Gold vs. Silver
Do you tend to lean more towards gold jewelry because it seems to make your skin more radiant and glowing? Or do gold earrings just look “off” on you? If you look great in gold jewelry, you will tend to have warm undertones. If silver makes you sparkle, then you’re probably a cool tone. This isn’t about personal taste, but about what lifts your complexion. Look great in both metals? You’re a neutral.
3. The Sun’s Effects
Some people notoriously burn the moment the sun’s rays hit their skin. While others seem to get an instant California tan, even when wearing sunscreen. If you tend to burn and turn pink first (even if you tan later) you probably have a cool tone, whereas those easily bronzed types are usually warm-toned. But we’re all wearing sunscreen every day, right?
NOTE: Darker skin shades may tan easily but can still have cool undertones.
4. Natural Assets
Your hair and eye color can also give some indication as to your skin’s undertone. Generally speaking, (though there are exceptions) cool toned people have blue, gray, or green eyes and blonde, brown, or black hair. The warm-toned tend to have brown, amber or hazel eyes and strawberry blonde, red, brown or black hair.
5. The Paper Test
Find yourself a piece of blank white paper and stand in front of a mirror in natural bright light with no makeup on. Hold the paper up to your face – does your complexion look dull and yellowish? You may be warm-toned. Does the white seem to “lift” your face and make you look rosy and healthy? You’re probably cool. Notice absolutely no difference, or do you appear grayish? You’d be “a neutral”.
Translating This To The Correct Foundation
The way undertones work when choosing a foundation is this: your skin will love the color that it compliments (ie. warm skin loves yellow-based foundation) and will “reflect” the shade that doesn’t. So, if you’re wearing the wrong tone of foundation for your undertones, it will tend to just look “wrong.”
But, it’s important to realize that when selecting the correct foundation, you only want a “hint” of that undertone.
A foundation that’s too pink, even on cool skin, will not flatter. Likewise, some foundations that market themselves as warm-toned can make some warmed-toned skins look far too yellow.
Ultimately, it’s best to have a makeup specialist test some shades of foundation along your jawline and then have you step into some natural light. If there is a noticeable line on your jaw between your natural skin tone and the skin with makeup, then the foundation is the wrong color.
Don’t Box Me In
Not everyone fits neatly into an “undertone box.” If you’re still confused, or feel like you flit between both cool and warm undertones, then you’re probably neutral. Even if you’re very clearly cool or warm-toned, you may still find instances where it doesn’t work. Some warm-toned people do have blue eyes for example, and because of this, they look great wearing blue.
Ultimately, discovering what colors and tones makes you look your most vibrant self is the real key. Anything that lifts and highlights your own personal skin tone is the best choice for you.
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