When it comes to makeup, understanding the real colour of your skin is primarily about discovering your skin’s tone and undertone. That’s the key to buying the right foundation and concealer shades, allowing you to create a flawless makeup look. It’s something top makeup artists can do in their sleep, but sadly we can’t all have a glam squad at the ready. So if you’ve ever wondered: “what skin tone am I?” you’ll be happy to know that figuring out your skin tone and undertone is much easier than you think.
Determining your skin tone is fairly straightforward. Simply take a look at the descriptions below to see which one resonates with you:
Fair: the lightest tone. You are likely to have blonde or red hair and tend to burn easily in the sun.
Light: your skin is quite fair but has a ‘warmer’ look and tends to tan, rather than burn, in the sun.
Medium: you always look fairly tanned and have a warm, golden or olive appearance.
Dark: this is the deepest skin tone, which is very rich in melanin.
Your skin’s undertone is more subtle. It’s the hue beneath the skin’s surface; the warm, cool or neutral tinge that shines through. Although the colour of your face changes through sun exposure or with concerns such as rosacea or acne, the undertone will always remain the same.
Figuring out which undertone you have will help you find a foundation that’s best-suited to your skin. You’ve probably heard the terms "cool," "warm," and "neutral" before when shopping for base makeup. Here’s what they mean:
Cool skin tone: Hints of blue, pink, or a ruddy complexion.
Warm skin tone: Skin skews yellow, sallow, peachy, or golden.
Medium skin tone: This has no obvious overtones of pink, yellow, or sallow skin, but rather the skin’s natural colour is more evident.
You can only choose the foundation that will be best for you when you know whether your undertone is warm, cool or neutral. The right one will give you a natural appearance and brighten dull-looking skin. But if you use a foundation that does not suit your skin’s undertone then your face would look (too) orange, pink, red or grey.
Your skin tone is more obvious at a glance, but it can be affected by external factors, such as sun exposure or skin conditions. Whereas your skin’s undertones are more subtle and will always remain the same.
There are several ways to determine your skin’s undertone. Start by looking at the inside part of your arm, where the underlying colour shows through fairly well. This area is naturally hidden from the sun so it isn’t sun damaged or discoloured, which is why it can reveal how warm or cool your skin really is, or if you have neutral undertone skin.
Answering the following questions can also be helpful:
Does your skin tan easily and rarely sunburn? If so, you probably lean toward a warm or neutral undertone. If not, there’s a good chance you fall into the cool-undertones category. (But we’re all using sunscreen, right?)
Do your veins appear bluish or more deep purple? If the answer to either question is yes, you’re likely in the cool-toned spectrum. If your veins appear greenish, you most likely skew toward the warm-toned. Those with neutral undertones will have difficulty discerning either colour—it will just all look neutral.
Do you look better in silver or gold? Personal preferences aside, cool undertones tend to be flattered by silver/platinum; those with warm undertones look better in gold-toned jewellery. Neutral skin tones look equally great in both (lucky you!).
Does your skin look somewhat ashen or grey? You might have the wild card of the bunch – olive skin – which is a combination of the neutral, slightly yellow undertone everyone has plus the greenish ashen hue that’s unique to olive skin. Olive skin tone is very specific, but is not neutral, as some tend to call it.
What if you have an uneven skin tone, meaning it’s more than one colour? Although a great foundation helps neutralise this, the secret sauce is routine use of a skincare product that contains ingredients shown to make all skin tones look more even (and smooths skin texture, too). Two research-proven ingredients to promote a more even skin tone are vitamin C and niacinamide.
Now that you’ve determined your skin’s undertone, we must caution you: using a foundation categorised as your respective "cool" or "warm" skin tone may not always be the most flattering choice. For instance, some foundations labelled cool-toned can end up creating an overly pink skin tone, and those labelled warm can skew toward an overly yellow skin tone. The goal is to select neutral foundation shades that have only the slightest hint of your skin’s undertone. You never want your foundation to be too pink, too yellow, or too ashen.
If you have cool skin, the foundation undertones should be slightly, and we mean slightly, pinkish or bluish-pink in the bottle. If your undertone is warm, then the foundation shade should have a subtle yellow or golden tone, and we mean very, very subtle.
Of course, there are always exceptions. If you have medium to deep skin colour with a reddish undertone, there is a likelihood that you will look better with a foundation that has a hint of brownish red (but not copper, orange, or peach).
Purely neutral-toned foundations may seem like a slam-dunk for olive skin, but it’s best to experiment with foundations that have a slightly gold tone to warm up the "green" undertone in your skin.
In the long run, don’t overthink it – the final deciding factor is to try the foundation on your face and check the results in daylight to see how it looks. It is especially important to look at your jawline after applying – if you see a noticeable line of demarcation between your neck and your face, then the foundation is the wrong colour!
This might sound like a lot of work, but it will be worth it, because once you find the right foundation, everything else becomes far easier. You’ll be amazed by how natural-looking the results can be!
Sign up for our newsletter and become a Paula's Choice Member. Your benefits:
+ Welcome gift*
+ Exclusive deals*
+ Skincare advice
+ Birthday gift
Need help with finding the right product for you skin? Our customer care team are skincare and product experts and can guide you to the best skin of your life.
Sign up for our newsletter to receive exclusive offers and expert skincare advice