Beauty Breakdown: How to Find Your Skin's Undertones
The subtle coloring of your skin can actually make a big difference when choosing makeup. Here's why -- and how to figure it all out.
Without a doubt, going to a makeup counter in the hopes of finding your perfect foundation shade is usually a pretty daunting task. One color does not fit all, which is why (yay!) beauty brands have been increasingly inclusive with their skin tone offerings. But even with so many options, finding your match can be a challenge.
Enter undertones, the hint of color you see beneath your skin that ranges from warm (yellow or golden), cool (pink, red or bluish) and neutral (a mix between the two).
Many brands try to create foundation and concealer shade options for each undertone, so knowing which category you fall into helps narrow down all the options. “It’s good to know [your undertone] because when choosing a foundation by yourself, it will guide you to the section you’re going to end up,” celebrity makeup artist Beau Nelson told PeopleStyle. “So if you know you’re light and warm, that already narrows down your choices so you stop wasting time.”
The best way to know if you have the right foundation? You won’t even look like you’re wearing makeup.
“The ultimate test is when someone leans forward to look in the mirror,” Cover FX Global Ambassador and celebrity makeup artist Derek Selby says. “You shouldn’t be able to see [the foundation]. It should blend into your skin. Which one disappears? That’s your best color.”
If your head is already spinning, don’t worry. Below, we’ve got goof proof ways to determine the undertone of your skin — then tips on what to buy to find that “your skin, but better” foundation shade.
YOU HAVE WARM UNDERTONES IF…
Your skin will have a yellowish, golden and/or peachy hue if you fall on the warm side of the undertone spectrum (think of celebrities like Jennifer Lopez, Kim Kardashian and Beyoncé — or, pictured, Lucy Liu, Jessica Alba and Halle Berry). People of Asian, Mediterranean and South American heritages typically fall in this category, according to Selby. But anyone can have warm undertones, from the fairest of fair to the deepest skin tones.
Look at your wrist and compare the color of the veins to a blank, white surface, like a towel, sheet or table, Selby says. The veins will look like a “kind of weird, khaki green color, because of the warmth of the pigment above [the blood] in the skin” if your undertones are golden.
The foundation shades meant for you will appear slightly yellow and will often have “G” or “W” in the product name.
Products above (from left to right): Anastasia Beverly Hills Concealer in 2.0, $20, anastasiabeverlyhills.com; NYX Ombré Blush in Strictly Chic, $9.99, ulta.com; Makeup Geek Eyeshadow Pan in Cosmopolitan, $6, makeupgeek.com; Make Up Forever Artist Shadow in Gold Nugget, $21, sephora.com; L’Oreal True Match Super-Blendable Makeup in W7, $7.99, target.com; Anastasia Beverly Hills Concealer in 7.0, $20, anastasiabeverlyhills.com; Too Faced Melted Matte Liquified Lipstick in Feelin’ Myself, $21, toofaced.com; MAC Cosmetics Eye Shadow in Nylon, $16, maccosmetics.com; Revlon Super Lustrous Lipgloss in Pango Peach, $8.49, ulta.com
Noticing the colors of clothing in which you look and feel best can also help determine what undertone you are.
“My experience has been, 100 percent of the time, the colors you feel better in or that people compliment you in, are totally in line with your undertones,” Selby says. Autumnal colors like olive green, orange and rust will look better on those with warmer undertones. Also, you may notice you lean towards wearing yellow gold and rose gold jewelry, which work well with your skin.
When it comes to makeup, Nelson says selecting shades in the same undertone are easier to pull off. Think of trying out orange-y coral lip shades, peach blushes and reddish-brown eye shadows.
YOU HAVE COOL UNDERTONES IF…
For fair and light-skinned people, your skin will show hints of pink if you have cool undertones. Celebrities like Nicole Kidman, Adele (pictured, above left) and Emma Stone fit this bill. The darker the skin gets, the more you will see hints of red and blue in the skin, which indicates a cool undertone, like Iman, center. Nelson says model Alek Wek, right, is good example of a deep-skinned girl with cool, bluish undertones.
“When I’ve worked with her, I have to make a foundation that was a dark, dark brown,” he says. “I mix a cool undertone foundation with black to create it.”
If you see lots of pink in your knuckles, have blue-ish, purple veins and tend to burn easily in the sun, you most likely are cool-complected. Select foundation and concealer shades with a pink undertone, which is usually indicated by a “P” or “C” in the product name.
Products above (from left to right): Cover FX Cover Click Concealer + Foundation in P30, $18, sephora.com; Makeup Geek Eyeshadow Pan in Barcelona Beach, $6, makeupgeek.com; L’Oreal True Match Super-Blendable Makeup in C8, $7.99, target.com; LORAC Color Source Buildable Blush in Vivid, $22, ulta.com; Marc Jacobs Air Blush Soft Glow Duo in Lush & Libido, $42, sephora.com; Too Faced Born This Way Naturally Radiant Concealer in Deep, $28, sephora.com; Maybelline LipStudio Color Jolt Intense Lip Paint in Orange Outburst, $9.99, ulta.com; Make Up Forever Artist Shadow in Celestial Blue, $21, sephora.com; Milani Color Statement Lipstick in Fruit Punch, $5.49, drugstore.com
If you want to contour but are wary of too-warm sculpting powders, Makeup Geek Cosmetics founder Marlena Stell says you have a little flexibility, but it’s important to get it right when you have cool undertones. “There’s a big myth that you have to contour with [only] a cool tone, but I don’t believe in that at all,” she says. “Most contour powders are naturally warm, so you could even take a pressed face powder three or four shades darker than your skin to use.”
Another helpful tip: when wearing color, pay attention to which ones bring out the dark circles under your eyes. “Cooler colors, like lilac and pale pink, brighten my complexion because I am cool. When I put on orange or khaki, you should see how it accentuates my dark circles,” Selby says.
And for accessorizing? “If silver jewelry is your thing, you’re probably in the cool zone,” Nelson adds.
YOU HAVE NEUTRAL UNDERTONES IF…
If you feel like your skin isn’t clear-cut warm or cool, you may fall into the neutral undertone range. In addition to Miranda Kerr, Jennifer Aniston and Kerry Washington, above, Kristen Stewart and Sandra Bullock fall in the neutral range, because they’re “not too golden and not too pink,” Nelson says.
Take note of how your skin reacts to the sun, too. Nelson says if you initially get red, but then tan, your probably neutral. “If you go golden when you tan, you’re probably a bit warmer. If you get pink and you stay pink, you’re probably cool.”
Those with neutral undertones can pull off the widest range of colors against our skin, whether it’s a blue-red lip, a neutral nude blush or a mixed-metallics bracelet.
“The only thing you shouldn’t break the rules on, really, is foundation,” Selby says. “Foundation should always match your undertone. If it doesn’t, you look weird.” Nelson also adds that for a cohesive full-face look, grab a concealer in the same undertone as your foundation.
Products above (from left to right): Ardency Inn Americana Custom Coverage Concentrate in Medium Beige, $38, sephora.com; Urban Decay Naked Skin Weightless Complete Coverage Concealer, $28, sephora.com; Make Up Forever Artist Shadow in Milk Tea, $21, sephora.com; Cover FX Cover Click Concealer + Foundation in N100, $18, sephora.com; MAC Cosmetics Eye Shadow in Bronze, $16, maccosmetics.com; Sephora Collection Bright Future Gel Serum Concealer in Pot de Creme, $14, sephora.com; Milani Color Statement Lipstick in Nude Creme, $5.49, drugstore.com; Wet n’ Wild Color Icon Blush in Rosé Champagne, $2.99. wetnwildbeauty.com; Marc Jacobs Enamored Hi-Shine Gloss in Pretty Thing, $28, sephora.com
If you go to the makeup counter and still can’t hone in on where you fall on the undertone spectrum, don’t worry. A makeup artist’s best kept secret is that neutral is also known as “not sure” and the best undertone to turn to when you’re beginning to figure out your coloring.
“Start there if you don’t know,” Selby says. “If the foundation looks pink, you have golden (or warm) undertones. If it looks yellow, you have pink (or cool) undertones. If you don’t see pink or yellow, you are neutral.”
What undertone does your skin have? Try these tips and tell us below.