Welcome to my first Beauty Basics post! Each post in this series will look in depth at one specific beauty technique or concept. Today’s topic: How to find your undertone.
Why Do You Need to Find Your Undertone?
Have you ever seen a lipstick on someone else and thought it made them look incredible, yet when you try that same shade, it makes you look sick or dull? It doesn’t mean that the lipstick is bad—it likely means that the particular shade doesn’t complement your undertones.
Once you find your undertone, however, you can zero in on the perfect shades of makeup and clothing that make your skin glow. Read on to see 10 tests you can use to find your undertone!
Skin Tone vs. Undertone
Before determining the undertone of your skin, it’s helpful to understand your skin tone. Skin tone refers to how much melanin there is in your skin. Most makeup companies group skin tones into five broad categories—fair, light, medium, tan, or deep—and each one of these large categories can be further divided into several subcategories. Skin tone may change throughout the course of the year, which is why many people have separate foundation colors for summer and winter.
Undertones refer to the underlying color of skin, below the skin’s surface. Undertones don’t change, even if you get a tan. There can be many combinations of skin tone and undertone.
There are four main undertone families: cool, warm, neutral, and olive. Below are the characteristics of each, and 10 tests to help you find your undertone. If you’d like to see the undertone tests in real time on my skin, feel free to check out my video!
Before Testing for Your Undertone
Make sure your skin is clean and free of makeup. I’d suggest using a large mirror so that you can see not only your face, but all the exposed skin on your chest, shoulders and arms. Set up the mirror in daylight, avoiding direct sunlight or any synthetic light. Wear a neutral color, or use a white towel as a shirt.
10 Tests to Find Your Undertone
When doing these tests to find your undertone, think about the dominant or average tones you are seeing in your skin. Skin with cool undertones has an overall reddish, purple, blue, or pink tone. Those with warm undertones have yellow, peach, warm yellow, or gold hues in their skin. Neutral undertones have no apparent dominant warm or cool color, or warm and cool tones are evenly seen across the skin. And olive undertones can have both neutral and warm undertones plus a green tint, though this skin can also have ashy or grey undertones.
A note on redness, rosacea, or acne: These conditions can skew results, as they did for me when I first got into makeup, especially if they are over a large portion of your skin. A good place to check for undertones is on the back of your jaw and onto the back of your neck, as well as on skin that does not have these conditions. What you see in these areas will be your true undertone.
Ok, ready to test? I suggest trying several (or all) of these to get the most accurate picture of your undertones.
1. The Vein Test
Look at the veins on the underside of your wrists. If they are primarily blue or purple, you have cool undertones. Veins that are primarily green indicate warm undertones. If you have a mix of blue and green veins, you are neutral or olive, though veins of those with olive undertones may have a stronger greenish tint.
2. The Sun Test
What happens to your skin when you’ve spent time in the sun? (Though, sunscreen is a must for anyone!) Those with cool undertones usually burn easily and don’t tan. If you tan easily and rarely burn, you likely have a warm undertone. Those with neutral and olive undertones, as well as some with light warm undertones, may burn first but then always tan, or they tan gradually.
3. The Hair Test
Look at your natural hair color. If you color your hair, I suggest looking at childhood photos (or any photos from before you started coloring) to see your natural color. Those with cool undertones typically have blonde, brown, or black hair with hints of platinum, blue, silver, violet, or ash. Hair that is strawberry blonde, auburn, golden brown, or black with gold, orange, yellow, or reddish hues indicates a warm undertone. Those with neutral and olive undertones may have hair with a mixture of warm and cool tones, or no strong dominant tone.
4. The Eye Test
What color are your eyes? If you have dark brown, black, grey, or light blue eyes, you have cool undertones. Those with warm undertones have green, hazel, amber, or golden brown eyes. Like the other tests, those with neutral or olive undertones may have any eye color.
5. The Jewelry Test
Pull out your favorite gold and silver jewelry and try them on. See which one makes your skin look alive and luminous. If you look best in silver, you are cool toned, but if gold jewelry makes your skin glow, you are warm. Olive undertones may look best in rose gold, or muted versions of either gold or silver. And if you can pull off both without any change to your skin, you are neutral!
6. The White Paper Test
Hold up a piece of paper to your face. If your skin looks pink or rosy next to it, you have cool undertones. Skin with warm undertones will look yellow next to the paper. If your skin has a green tint, you have olive undertones. And if there is no change in your skin—it doesn’t look rosier, yellow, or green—you have neutral undertones.
7. The White/Black Test
Try on any white, off-white, black, and brown clothing you own, or use fabric swatches of these colors. As you compare each of them, see which colors highlight shadows under your eyes, make you appear sallow or grey, or conversely, make you glow.
If you look best in true white and black, you are cool toned. Off-white and brown generally look more harmonious with skin that has warm undertones. If you can pull off any color with little or no change to your complexion, you are neutral. Those with olive undertones might prefer tones of cool white, which have a blue undertone, and black. (Though, those with olive undertones may like creamy whites if they fall on the more warm-olive spectrum, or may also prefer black-browns, charcoal grey, or muted black as their neutral of choice, rather than clear black.)
8. The Clothing Test
What colors do you gravitate toward when you purchase new clothes? Or, think back to when someone gave you a compliment. What colors were you wearing? It’s possible that your favorite colors may compliment your undertones best.
Cool undertones sparkle in oceanic shades and jewel tones—deep purple, emerald, sapphire, amethyst, silver, and sky blue, as well as lavender and pink. Warm undertones glow in earthy or sunset colors like olive green, camel, coral, orange, yellow, peach, deep turquoise, and magenta. Neutral undertones can pull off almost any color (lucky!), though you might prefer muted colors in the middle of the spectrum, like light peach, jade green, medium blue, and soft rose. Olive undertones shine in tones like dark teal, purple, and ruby red, as well as navy blue, maroon, and pink.
Also, this test, along with the jewelry and white/black tests, doesn’t mean you can’t wear these other colors. It’s just meant to show which colors look more harmonious with your skin.
9. The Foundation Test
Still not sure what your undertone is? If you have access to samples of cool, neutral, warm, and/or olive-toned foundations (brands like Colourpop, L’Oréal, Fenty Beauty, MUFE, and LYS Beauty cover a spectrum of undertones and skin tones), try them on your face or chest in natural light. Which undertone looks most harmonious with your skin? Seeing each undertone side by side can solidify your understanding of your undertone, and you can directly see which of the different undertones meld into your skin.
P.S. Check out my review of the LYS Foundation here!
10. The Photo Test
Take a look at photos where you are next to one or more people. If you look rosier than the others in the photo, you likely have a cool undertone. You likely have a warm undertone if you look more yellow than your friends or family. If you see no dominant color next to anyone else, or you don’t see a change from photo to photo, you likely have a neutral undertone. And if you see hints of green, you likely have olive undertones.
If you’ve completed some, or all, of these, I hoped it helped give a much clearer picture of which undertone family you belong to. Once you find your undertone, you can choose makeup and clothing colors that flatter you and make you glow!
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