Hey, I’m telling you this as a friend, buuuut there’s a good chance you’re probs not wearing the right shade of foundation right now. I know this because my makeup also didn’t perfectly match my face for many years (and many unfortunate photos) before I finally figured out the issue: I had no idea WTF my skin undertones were. Sound familiar? And even though I know that the whole skin-undertones thing sounds like some marketing ploy that doesn’t actually matter, I’m living proof that it’s actually a major key when it comes to choosing the best foundation for your skin tone.
The only annoying thing? It’s freaking hard to figure out on your own. I had taken all the quizzes, tried all the makeup hacks, watched every video, got super confused…and then eventually talked to enough makeup artists and experts who helped un-confuse me and turned me into the lowkey ~expert~ I am today. And now, I’m here to help you figure out your undertone too, so you don’t go through the same headache I did. Keep reading to find out the absolute easiest way to find your skin undertone—and how to use that info in your makeup shade selections.
Even though they sound the same, your skin tone and your skin’s undertones are two different things. Your skin tone is the color you first see in the mirror—fair, light, medium, dark, deep, or somewhere in between. Your skin tone can change depending on factors like sun exposure (which is why a ton of people have a summer foundation shade and a winter foundation shade), but people usually know where they fall on that spectrum.
Now, let’s dig a little deeper. Your skin’s undertone is the permanent, underlying color that your skin tone casts (i.e., a warm, cool, or neutral tone), says makeup artist Tanya Deemer, Temptu global educator. Sometimes, you’ll see additional category names thrown around, like pink undertones, or yellow undertones, or olive undertones, but if you want to keep it simple, stick with these three umbrella terms:
Since skin undertones don’t change, it should be pretty simple to figure yours out, right? False! Because your undertone isn’t as obvious as your skin tone, you gotta inspect your face a little closer so you can determine which category you identify with the most. Grab your makeup mirror, stand in front of a window for natural light, and see if your makeup-free skin sways a bit more pink and blue, or yellow and peach. If you can’t tell just by looking, don’t give up yet. Take the advice in the quiz below to help get you a little closer.
Although there isn’t really a foolproof equation for figuring out your skin undertone, the quiz below can help guide you and give you a better understanding of the complexities in your skin. Ask yourself the below seven questions, then take your responses to the results section to determine the best fit.
For this hack, pull out silver and gold necklaces and bracelets. Which one looks “better” on you (as in it complements your skin, even if you’re not personally a fan of, say, silver accessories)? If it’s gold, your answer is warm. If it’s silver, your answer to this question is cool. If you don’t really notice a difference, then your answer is neutral.
Go through your closet and pull out a white shirt or dress. In natural light (aka next to a window), hold the dress up to your face. If your skin looks a bit rosy next to it, jot down “cool-toned.” If your face looks more yellow, your response to this question is warm-toned. If you don’t see a change, go with neutral.
While we’re in your closet, go ahead and grab your go-to neutrals because this video above has another great tip. Do you stick with true, bright-white outfits? If yes, your answer is “cool” for this one. Do you prefer cream, ivory, and off-white basics? Since these are warmer shades, your answer for this one would be “warm.” If you gravitate to all the neutrals, go with, yup, neutral.
Look in the mirror at the veins near your face. If they appear blue or purple, go with cool. If the veins are more green, choose warm. And a mix of the two? Ya guessed it—neutral.
As suggested in this video, grab some nail polish remover, and take a good look at your natural nail beds. Do they appear more peach or pink? If you think peach, go with warm for this one. If you said pink, go with cool. Can’t decide? You already know what to put (neutral).
Though this one isn’t fool-proof, it can still be helpful to think about. If you have fair skin that sunburns easily, light eyes, and cool-toned hair, like ash-blonde hair, you might want to write “cool” for this one. If you have skin that doesn’t burn in the sun, darker hair with warmer tones, and dark eyes, your answer might be warm. If you feel like you’re somewhere in the middle, go with neutral. But as mentioned above, skin undertone and skin tone are independent of each other, so someone with light skin can still have a warm undertone and someone with darker skin can have a cooler undertone.
As suggested in this helpful video (which is definitely worth a watch, btw), using a few photos of yourself next to your friends can help you understand relative skin undertones. Does your skin look more golden than your friend’s? If yes, your answer might be warm. Do you look a little pink in all of your photos compared to your other friends? Your answer might be cool. If your skin looks both cool and warm—or you just can’t tell—you’re probably neutral.
While each above question might be a good jumping-off point and might be helpful for some, no single question is the ultimate indicator, so you’ll want to consider all of your answers. Take the average of your responses, and that answer is probably a pretty good guess for your skin undertones. If you had a hard time coming up with your responses and you spent way too much time trying to figure it out, you might be neutral, so don’t force it if it’s not obvious.
If you have warm undertones, then you know to look for liquid foundations or powder foundations with warm tones, and the same goes for cool and neutral. Lucky for you, lots of foundation shades these days are clearly sorted by their undertones, have helpful descriptions, or are represented with letters like C, W, and N that make it easy to decipher.
But if, by some chance, you still don’t feel super-confident about your foundation color, grab three bottles that match your skin tone, but have different undertones. Swipe a little of each next to each other on your cheek, look into a mirror, and cross your eyes (just trust me on this one). When your vision is blurred, the swatch that’s right for you will disappear like it’s already blended in. The shades that don’t match will stand right out and help you narrow down your selection.
And when in doubt, throw a neutral tone in your cart. The mix of both warm and cool undertones makes these formulas a little easier to match if you don’t know your exact shade.
Generally speaking, those with warm undertones look great in warm colors, like a brick-red blush or a red lipstick with a hint of orange, while people with cooler undertones look amazing in cool colors, pastels, and jewel tones. But here’s the ultimate advice for determining the best color palette for your skin undertone: Wear what you want. If you have a cool undertone, but you love the way you look in yellow, that’s really, truly all that matters. While your undertone might be helpful for deciding your foundation shade, don’t change what you love and the other colors you naturally gravitate toward just because you have green veins, k?