Undertones: Cracking the Code and Finding the Right Foundation For You
Undertones can be confusing. Am I cool? Am I warm? What the hell do cool and warm mean? Can I be both? Can I be neither? Why does it matter?
Well the only reason it truly matters is to match your foundation. Some people say there are rules about what lipstick and eyeshadow colors look good on different undertones, but I don’t like those types of rules. Wear what makes you feel good.
So what do these terms mean anyway? For those of you coming from a fine arts background, cool and warm undertones can be especially confusing because they don’t exactly line up with the “cool” and “warm” you learn in color theory class. After graduating art school it took me a long time to sort this out in my mind, because the color wheel was ingrained pretty deeply.
First what is a cool undertone and what is a warm undertone?
WARM: Warm means that the undertones of your skin are yellow-ish.
COOL: Cool means that the undertones in your skin are pink-ish.
If you have never taken a color theory class in your life, just remember those two types stated above and skip the next section. No need to confuse yourself.
To those familiar with traditional color theory for painting and design, you are probably thinking “But those are both warm!!!” I know, it sounds like it doesn’t make sense but once you grasp the ideas behind it you will understand better.
The idea of “cool” and “warm” in reference to skin tone are really only cool and warm in relation to each other. Pink tones are cool IN COMPARISON to yellow ones (because pink is closer to blue than yellow) If you think about it, no human is walking around with blue skin, so we are all warm. Some people are just cool toned relatively to people who are more yellow. Make more sense now?
The next thing that is important to understand is that no person is 100% cool or 100% warm. We all sort of fall on a spectrum. You may be more warm than cool and you will be considered to have warm toned skin, but you still have some cool tones in there and vice versa. Those who fall towards the middle of the spectrum have “neutral” skin tones, but even those people usually have a tiny bit more of one than the other.
So how do you tell which undertone you have? There are a lot of different ways that people recommend, and to be honest I think most of them are nonsense.
Many times you will read that you are more likely to have a certain undertone if you have a certain eye color or hair color, but to be honest in my experience that is often not the case. People have such a wide variety of genetic mixes and backgrounds that you can’t possibly tell by your eye color. I understand that some genes are often connected, but in hands on real world experience I can tell you that a good percentage of people do not fall under this rule, and therefore I don’t recommend it as a way of telling what your undertones are.
There is also a “rule” floating out there on the internet that says that warm toned people look better in gold jewelry and cool toned people look better in silver. But this is extremely subjective and down to personal taste. Not to mention opinions are often skewed by fashion trends, so this is also a pretty unreliable method as well.
Why do people look for such strange, easily misinterpreted ways to find out the undertones of someones skin? Why are we looking at their jewelry? Just look at the skin!
Look at the inside of your wrist, where your veins are visible. Veins are a good point of reference because inside of the body everyones veins are blue. For the science lovers out there, the veins are the control in this experiment, and your skin tone is the variable.
If most of your veins look green, your skin in warm toned. Yellow-ish skin + Blue Veins = Green
If most of your veins look purplish-blue then you are cool toned. Pink-ish skin + Blue Veins = Purple
If you look at my wrist in the picture above you can see that my veins are mostly purple, but there are some areas that look slightly more green as well. My undertones are cool, leaning toward neutral.
It’s really that simple, skip all of the other confusing bits and just look at your veins.
Now that you know your undertones, how do you pick your foundation? Unfortunately the answer is still trial and error, but now that you know your undertones you can narrow it down considerably. Once you know your undertones, you are about halfway there.
By trial and error I don’t mean that you need to go out and buy 15 foundations and figure out what works for you, and eat the cost of the ones that don’t. Take an afternoon and go to your local makeup store like Sephora, Ulta or a department store and test some out. Try some on your face and see how they look. Walk around outside and see how they look in sunlight. Don’t be afraid to ask for a sample of something either! The whole idea of samples is so the consumer can make an educated purchase.
If you are really feeling geeky, take notes on what shades work on you. I’ve done it before and I found that it’s really helpful to have a reference later in case you are looking for a different finish or coverage level.
Recently I used a website called Findation in a pinch because I needed a different finish for a look, but didn’t have time to get to a store, and the result was actually very good!
Basically you have to give examples of foundation shades that you already know will match you, and it will tell you which shade is close in the brand and formula you are looking at. It’s definitely a neat idea and can help out in a pinch, but I wouldn’t use it to replace testing the color in person if you can.
So that’s it, it’s really pretty simple. Look at your veins to see the color, try out some foundations and figure out what’s right for you!