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How to Determine Your Skin Tone and Undertone

March 23, 2021

How to Determine Your Skin Tone and Undertone

Understanding the color of your skin is the key to getting your makeup right. Ever tried a shade that looked close, only to see that dreaded demarcation line at your jaw? That’s because you got your skin tone or undertone wrong. 

Your foundation should blend seamlessly into your skin to avoid looking cakey or unnatural. And determining your skin tone is the first step towards a flawless face. 

Figuring out the tone of your skin is primarily about knowing your skin’s undertone.  Skin tones range from very deep to very fair in color, while undertone refers to the shade within that color.

Your skin tone can change. Often it goes a shade or two deeper in the summer or lighter in the winter months. But, your undertone never changes. Ready to figure out your skin tone and undertone to get your makeup shade right once and for all? Let’s dive in!

What is Skin Tone?

The tone of your skin refers to the genetic amount of melanin in your epidermis (the outermost layer of skin). Melanin is a complex polymer produced by cells called melanocytes. Melanin refers to a group of naturally-occurring dark brown or black pigments present in human skin. 

When the skin is exposed to damaging ultraviolet light from the sun, melanocytes kick into overdrive. This natural defense mechanism produces an abundant amount of melanin spread across the epidermis to absorb the sun’s harmful rays

For this reason, the skin tone you were born with is based on your genetic makeup. Your ancestors adapted naturally to their environment. Those in sunnier climates evolved to produce more melanin for sun protection and had darker skin tones. This is also who your tone can change as you receive more or less sunlight.

Types of Skin Tones

Generally speaking, there are three main cosmetic categories of skin tones. These are broad categories that each include a broad spectrum of diversity. For example, “light” could mean porcelain or fair or honey, while “dark” could mean espresso, brown, or ebony.

  • Light: Light or fair skin tones historically derived from countries which faced heavy, frequent snow or cloud coverage, and didn’t need much melanin protection from the sun. Paler skin tones tend to be more sensitive to the sun and burn much easier than those with darker skin. If your skin tone is light, be extra diligent with your UV protection.
  • Medium: Medium complexions are often referred to as “tan”. This skin tone has a neutral beige to golden or olive-tone appearance. Those with a medium skin tone tan well in the sun. But that doesn’t mean you’re immune to sun-related aging.
  • Dark: Dark complexions typically originate from the parts of the world that have the most exposure to ultraviolet radiation. Just like those with medium skin, dark skin tone types are not exempt from sun damage. If you have dark skin using sunscreen is still a must. 

What is Skin Undertone?

Determining your skin tone and its individual variations depends on your undertone. The skin’s undertone refers to the color beneath your skin’s surface. Your undertone stays the same regardless of the season. 

Skin undertones also fall into three main categories, cool, warm, or neutral. These are the colors that come through your skin from underneath the surface to affect its overall hue. This doesn’t mean how light or dark your skin is. 

It’s important to note that fair skin can have warm undertones, and dark skin can have cool ones. Here’s a breakdown of what each of these terms means:

    • Cool: red and pink with bluish hints
    • Warm: yellow, peachy, and golden hues
    • Neutral: olive or a balanced mix of all the shades above

    Seven Hacks to Determine Your Skin’s Undertone

    We’ve got the best hacks for figuring out whether you’re warm, cool, or neutral. Below are seven tried-and-true tests to help you figure out your undertone.

        1. Check inside your arm. Start by looking at the inside part of your arm, where your skin is more translucent and naturally hidden from the sun. This area is less likely sun-damaged or discolored and  works best to reveal how warm, cool, or neutral your skin is.
        2. Throw on a white tee. Grab a pure white t-shirt, piece of clothing, or even just a piece of white paper. In bright, natural light, hold it up to your face. If your skin looks pink or rosy by comparison, you're cool-toned. If your face looks more yellow, your undertone is warm. 
        3. Play with jewelry. Comparing how gold versus silver jewelry looks against your skin is another way to figure out your undertone. Gold jewelry tends to be most flattering on warmer skin tones while silver is most flattering on cool tones. If you tend to look good in both silver and gold then you most likely have neutral undertones. 
        4. Look at the color of your veins. Check the veins in and around your face and neck or wrists. If they look blue under your skin, you have cool undertones. If your veins appear green, you're warm. If you have neutral undertones you might have difficulty discerning either color. In this case, your veins may appear colorless or match the color of your skin.
        5. Throw on something neutral. Neutral-colored clothing can also be an indicator of your undertones. True white tends to favor cooler undertones, while warm undertones look better in off-white. Warm undertones also tend to complement brown hues, while cooler tones look better in black. 
        6. Consider how the sun affects your skin. No matter what your undertone, daily use of an SPF 15 or higher sunscreen reduces the risk of developing skin cancerby about 40 percent and melanoma by 50 percent. Still, knowing the way your skin reacts to the sun can help determine your undertone, too. If you have a cool undertone, you’re likely to sunburn easily and perhaps apply sunscreen more often. If you tan but seem to never get burned, then you probably have warm undertones. If you burn and then tan, you're likely a neutral undertone.
        7. Look for ashen or gray tones. If your skin appears more ashen or gray, then you may have a natural olive tone. Less common than warm, cool, or neutral, olive is a combination of undertones. Olive skin has both natural and warm undertones along with green, an undertone that is considered unique to olive skin only.

        Cheat Sheet for Your Skin Tone and Undertone 

        Tried all of our hacks and still not sure about your tone and undertone? We’ve put together a cheat sheet to help you figure it out!

        You’re Warm If...

        Your skin tone...

        • Has a greenish or yellowish (AKA golden) undertone. Olive complexions also fall in the warm category.

        Your hair color...

        • Ranges from dark brown to dark blonde.

        Your go-to colors from the warm family:

        • Oranges, reds, golden yellow, amber, and honey gold.

        Your go-to colors from the cool family:

        • Warmer greens and blues such as olive, deeper turquoise, green moss, fern, pesto, and red-purples (think: magenta and orchid shades).

        Neutrals to try:

        • Taupe, hot chocolate, creamy whites, winter wheat, and latte.

        Colors to avoid:

        • Icy shades and jeweled tones (amethyst, sapphire, ruby).

        You’re Cool If...

        Your skin tone...
        • Has a bluish undertone. It can also range from very fair to very dark.
        Your hair color...
        • Can range from very dark (blue-black or a deep brown) to light blonde.
        Your go-to colors from the cool family:
        • Bright blue, royal blue, sapphire, emerald, amethyst, deep purples, lavender, and lilac snow.
        Your go-to colors from the warm family:
        • Shocking pink (in place of hot pink), cerise, ruby, and bright rose.
        Neutrals to try:
        • Gray, navy, and pristine white.
        Colors to avoid:
        • Oranges and yellows.

        You’re Neutral If…

        Your skin tone...

        • Is hard to determine; you can't tell if you're warm or cool.

        Your hair color...

        • Is a combination of colors — blonde with ashy streaks or brown with warmer tones.

        Your go-to colors:

        • You're best suited for neutral colors that fall in the middle of the color spectrum. Look for light peach, dusty pinks, soft rose, peony pink, placid blue, jade green, and cameo green.

        Neutrals to try:

        • Taupes, grays, or off-whites like vanilla.

        Colors to avoid:

        • Anything too bright or vibrant that can overwhelm, along with reds and yellows. If you do decide to wear yellow, try a soft version like cornsilk or buff.

        What if you have an uneven skin tone, meaning it’s more than one color? 

        The right foundation will help neutralize an uneven skin tone, but the real secret to a more even texture is by using brightening skincare products. Ingredients like glycolic acid and rosehip seed oil fight environmental damage and help brighten areas of unevenness and hyperpigmentation (and smooth skin texture, too).


        Shop Best-Selling Herbal Dynamics Beauty Products for all skin types: