How to Determine Your Skin's Undertone

Are you cool, warm, or neutral?

Base beauty products are beloved for their ability to conceal, transform, and perfect complexions. However, in order for them to live up to their full potential, they must first be matched to your skin's undertones. While some products, like eyeshadow and eyeliner, don't rely as much on these hues, others, like foundation, blush, and lipstick, won't work if they don't speak to your skin's organic color palette.

woman applying foundation with makeup brush in mirror
Getty / Prostock-Studio

Here's how it works: Complexions are often broken down into light, medium, and dark categories—but it ultimately goes one step further. Ask any makeup artist or salesperson and they'll tell you that cool, warm, and neutral undertones come into play, as well. To ensure that you are wearing the best shade for your skin, we chatted with a few experts for their tips on determining and interpreting undertones.

Understanding Undertones

When trying to find your undertone, Michele Shakeshaft, a Bobbi Brown Cosmetics national makeup artist, says to first look for facial skin where you don't carry sun damage, rosacea, or any other concerns (makeup artist and brand founder Kirsten Kjaer Weis advises using your wrist when you shade match). "These are considered surface tones and are usually what we are trying to correct—not match our foundation to," Shakeshaft says of those inflamed areas. As a general rule of thumb, Shakeshaft says that warm undertones will carry a golden hue, cool undertones carry pink, red, or bluish notes, and neutral undertones are a balance of both. "Olive skin tones tend to fall in the neutral category," she adds. "This is true whether you have the fairest or richest of skin colors."

Base Products

Once you know whether your skin leans cool, warm, or neutral, you'll be able to find the perfect base shade for your complexion. "In America, we tend to want our foundation to look like our skin," Shakeshaft continues, "but if the undertone of your foundation differs from that of your skin, it looks like foundation sitting on skin. Not perfected skin." The same is true for powder, blush, highlighter, and just about any face-based product designed to conceal, shape, or perfect. In short, Shakeshaft says the more accurate a product's undertone, the more natural the formula will look once applied. You can create dimension by using a lighter or deeper shade, she says—but stay within your skin's undertone for a more seamless finish, every time.

Going Rogue

Here's the thing: We often think that once we learn our undertone, we must work within it at all times. While it certainly lends to a natural-looking complexion, switching up undertones in eyeshadow and even lipstick can lend to a bolder look. "I think everyone can wear cool or warm colors—it just depends on if you're trying to create a more natural or statement style," Shakeshaft says. "If you have cool undertones, cooler colors will look more natural on the skin because you just aren't creating a contrast." For example, a blue-based pink will stand out on someone with a warmer skin tone, but will feel more native on someone with a cooler complexion. On the other end of the spectrum, a coral will pop on cool skin tones, while it will look more organic on warmer ones.

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