Makeup Undertones

Updated March 28, 2018
three beautiful women wearing makeup

Knowing your skin's undertone is important when selecting your foundation, blush, eyeshadow, and lipstick shades. Skin undertones have little to do with skin that is light, medium, or dark on the surface. Regardless of the skin's surface color, it will have an underlying tone that is either cool, warm, or neutral. This holds true for women of all skin colors, including Asian women and women of color.

Discover Your Undertone

Makeup experts break undertones into three distinct categories: cool, warm, and neutral.

Observe Your Skin in Natural Light

Start by cleansing your face and wrapping a white towel around your hair. Then, look at your face in natural light.

  • If your skin has yellow, golden, or peachy pigments, your underlying skin tone is most likely warm.
  • If your skin has red, pink, or blue pigments, your underlying skin tone may be cool.

Examine the Color of Your Wrist Veins

woman wearing makeup in cool tones
Makeup in cool tones

Look at the veins on the inside of your wrists in natural light.

  • If they appear to be blue or purple, the skin tone may be cool.
  • If they appear green, the underlying skin tone may be warm.

Pay Attention to How Your Skin Handles Sun

How easily you burn or tan does is not determined by how pale or dark the surface color of your is, it depends on the undertones of your skin.

  • If you burn easily, your undertone is probably cool.
  • If you tan easily, you're probably warm-toned.

Check Your Jewelry Preferences

Your choice of jewelry can also help determine your skin tone.

  • If you always wear gold you're probably warm.
  • If you normally wear silver, you're probably cool.

If you've done all the above and still have a problem, determining your skin's undertones then neutral is a safe bet, lucky you!

Selecting a Foundation

Now that you've deciphered your undertone, it's time to select a foundation that will enhance your natural complexion. Are you cool, warm, or neutral? Is your surface skin light, medium, or dark? When selecting a foundation, you'll need to consider both. Luckily, most brands make this easy by labeling the undertones that work with surface skin colors of porcelain, light, medium, tan, and dark.

  • For cool undertones use a foundation that has a slight pink tone.
  • For warm undertones use a foundation with a slight yellow- olive tone.

Once you've found a foundation, test it on your jawline. Not only is your jawline truer to your undertone, but you'll also be able to see how the color blends with your neck.

Contour and Conceal

Keep your undertone in mind when you contour and conceal. Stay with products that match your undertone, as well as your surface skin color when you're looking for a bronzer, highlighter, or a bit of extra coverage to hide an occasional blemish. However, for purple under eye circles, regardless of your undertone, a bit of yellow under the eyes will conceal it.

Correcting Undertones

Undertones, in general, don't need to be corrected. However, there are undertone-specific discolorations, such as ruddiness and sallowness. When correcting discoloration, keep in mind you're not concealing, you're correcting. If you want the correct ruddiness, use a hint of green. If you want to correct sallowness, use a hint of lavender. Corrective primers are the perfect solution.

Blush, Eyeshadow, and Lipstick Color

Woman wearing makeup in warm tones
Makeup in warm tones

Now that you've decided on your skin's undertone and your foundation, it's time to start thinking about color.

If you have a warm undertone

  • Choose lip and blush colors in shades of orange, coral, orange/brown, peach, golden brown, bronze, red/orange, red/brown, gold, or yellow/beige.
  • Select eyeshadow colors of charcoal brown, all golden or orange browns, peach, khaki, orange, yellow, green, gold, or cream.

If you have a cool undertone:

  • Pick lip color and blush colors in shades of pink, pink/brown, plum, purple/brown, mauve, rose, burgundy, or blue red.
  • Use eyeshadow colors of gray/black, plum/brown, purple, blue, lavender, mauve, pink, rose, silver, and white.

Keep in mind, the lighter your skin, the paler the hue. The darker your skin the more color you can carry.

Adding Drama to Your Makeup

Dramatic makeup can be achieved by going bold with the colors suggested for your underlying skin tone. Glitter can also add glam for a very special occasion. However, remember it's gold glitter for warm undertones and silver glitter for cool.

Choosing colors that are opposite those of your skin's undertone to accent your eyes and lips can make a dramatic statement. Opposites bring out each other, make a visual contrast, and both colors appear stronger against each other.

Putting It All Together

Knowing your true underlying skin tone is the first step in creating a flattering and flawless makeup. Once you have that knowledge, you can easily begin to pull shades from particular color families together to enhance your looks. The important thing to remember is not to mistake your surface tone for your undertone.

Makeup Undertones