Understanding Your Skin Tone

Understanding your undertone can help you play with makeup colors

Your skin’s surface color can change slightly throughout the year (lighter in winter, darker in summer), but your undertone stays the same. Understanding your undertone can help you play with makeup colors and find clothing hues that flatter.

To determine your undertone, hold a piece of white paper up against the bare skin on your wrist in bright, natural light. If your veins look blueish, you’re cool-toned; if they’re greenish, you’re warm-toned.

Warm Undertones

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been confused about what shade makeup best suits your skin tone. While it’s common to think that your skin color is what determines your tone, that’s not actually the case. According to celebrity makeup artist Robert Sesnek, it’s your skin’s undertone—or the color underneath the surface of your complexion—that’s key. “There are three basic skin undertones: cool, warm, and neutral,” he explains. “Cool undertones are characterized by a blueish hue, warm undertones have a peachy or golden tint, and neutral undertones fall somewhere in the middle of the two.”

There’s a reason why some people are more comfortable in certain colors than others—it’s all about your skin’s undertone. And determining your undertone is easier than you might think.

In addition to taking a look at your skin, the expert recommends checking out the color of your eyes. If you have a blue, green, or grey tinge to your eyes, your skin is likely to have cool undertones, while pink, red, and bluish undertones mean you have warm undertones. “You can also tell if you have cool or warm undertones by the color of your veins,” adds pro makeup artist Daniel Martin. If they are a blue hue, your skin is likely cool, while green suggests you have warm undertones and purple indicates you are neutral.

A quick trick to help identify your skin’s undertone is to hold a piece of white paper up to your face, advises Martin. “If your skin appears yellowish or sallow next to the paper and looks more gray in photos, you have warm undertones, while pink, red, or bluish hues suggest you have cool undertones,” he explains.

One big misconception that many have is that fair-skinned girls can’t have warm undertones and dark-skinned women of color can’t have cool tones. But that couldn’t be further from the truth, as proven by supermodel Alek Wek and Beyonce. And as for those who aren’t quite sure what their undertone is, Sesnek says that wearing a range of shades can help you figure it out.

Cool Undertones

A common misconception is that fair-skinned girls are cool and dark-skinned girls are warm, but that is not always the case. Instead of focusing on skin tone—which is the surface color of your complexion and ranges from porcelain, ivory, light-medium, medium, olive, or deep—it’s important to determine your skin’s undertone. “The undertone is the hue that’s underneath your original skin tone, and it comes in three shades: warm, cool and neutral,” says makeup artist Navreet Josan.

There are a few tried-and-true ways to determine your undertone, including looking at your veins and the color of your eyes. According to experts, if your veins appear green or blueish on the underside of your wrist, you have cool undertones. If your veins appear yellowish or pink, you have warm undertones, and if you can’t see any veins at all, you likely have neutral undertones.

Another way to figure out your undertone is to hold a piece of white paper next to your face and see how your complexion looks against it. If your complexion appears yellowish or sallow, you have warm undertones, while a grayish cast indicates neutral undertones. You can also try observing how your skin reacts to the sun: If you burn quickly or easily, your undertone is likely cool and if you tan slowly but don’t burn, your undertone is likely neutral.

You can also find clues in your hair and eye colors. People with blue or grey eyes typically have cool undertones, while green, hazel, and brown eyes have warm undertones. And if you have gold flecks in your eyes, you have warm undertones.

Once you know your undertone, it’s easier to determine what makeup, clothing, and accessories will complement your complexion. When in doubt, opt for neutral or blushes with a slight dash of blue, orange, or pink (depending on your undertone) to ensure you’re not overdoing it.

If you’re a mix of warm and cool, you’re lucky because you can wear both! Try mixing a peachy or orange blush with a dab of pink and you’ll have the perfect shade.

Neutral Undertones

If you don’t fall into one of the warm or cool categories, your skin tone might be neutral. This means that your skin has a bit of both warm and cool undertones and it can be difficult to distinguish them, especially for people with darker complexions. The good news is that people with very fair skin can still have warm undertones, and those with dark skin can still have cool undertones.

There are a few tried and true ways to determine your skin tone, including examining the color of your veins on your wrist. If your veins appear blue, you likely have cool undertones, while green veins indicate that you have warm undertones. You can also look at how your skin reacts to the sun. If your skin burns easily and doesn’t tan as readily, you probably have cool undertones, while if your skin burns quickly but tans well, you likely have warm undertones.

Another way to find out your undertone is by looking at the color of your eyes and hair. If you have blue, gray, or green eyes and blonde, brown, or black hair, you are likely to have cool undertones. If you have brown, amber, or hazel eyes and blond or red hair, you are likely to have warm undertones.

You can also use the color wheel as a guide. The opposite side of the wheel from red is pink and purple, while the other end has yellows and golds. If you have golden, peach, or yellow-ish skin with reddish and pink undertones, you are likely to be warm-toned. If you have a combination of both warm and cool undertones, you are neutral.

Another trick is to try a few different pieces of jewelry on and see which looks best with your complexion. If gold jewelry seems to enhance your skin, you are probably warm-toned. If silver jewelry looks better on you, you are likely cool-toned. Ultimately, understanding your undertone is important because it helps you make more precise decisions when shopping for clothing and makeup. Keep in mind, however, that your skin’s overtone may change with tanning or season, but your undertone is always the same.

Light Undertones

The key to nailing your makeup look (or even just matching your foundation color) is understanding your skin tone. But it’s not just about what color your skin is ivory, fair, medium, tan or dark—it’s also the shade of your undertone that makes all the difference. As celebrity makeup artist Robert Sesnek explains, “Skin tones are your original skin color, while undertones are the hues underneath.”

And determining your undertone is actually pretty easy once you know how. For starters, make sure your face is free of excess oil or sweat so you get the most accurate picture. Then, check out the veins on your wrist. If they appear greenish, you probably have warm undertones; blue or purplish veins suggest cool undertones. Finally, if your veins are a mix of green and blue, you’re neutral.

You can also use the color wheel to help you figure out your undertones. The warmer side of the wheel includes golden, yellow or peachy tones; the cooler side features reddish and pinkish hues.

Once you know your undertone, it’s much easier to select the perfect shade of foundation and other complexion products in-store or online. But to ensure you’re selecting the right shade, you should swatch your favorite colors under natural and artificial lighting to see how they look against your skin.

Finally, if you have sensitive skin, it’s important to test out any new product on a small patch of your neck or cheek before applying it to the entire face. It’s also best to avoid any shades that are too light or too dark because they could be unflattering and cause your makeup to look patchy, says Sesnek.

With that said, if you’re a true beauty lover, don’t be afraid to try out some of the trendiest colors on the market, even if they aren’t your go-to foundation color. You might find that a little experimentation leads to a gorgeous and flawless-looking look! Plus, it’s always fun to switch things up.

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