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/ June 7, 2019

How To Know Your Skin + Foundation Undertone | Cool . Warm. Neutral … Peach!?

Knowing if my skin’s undertone was cool, warm, or neutral used to baffle  me.  I did all the color matching “tricks”: looking at veins, what jewelry looks best, etc. and still could not figure out my skin’s undertone. My foundation and concealer always just looked a little *off.*

Below is the easy 5 step method I use to color match myself and my makeup clients quickly and accurately! These are the tips I wish I had known forever, they really make matching foundation and concealer so accurate and easy.

This Post Goes Over:

1 | Cool vs. Warm

2 | Undertones vs Surface Tones

3 | Shades of Undertones

4 | Color Striping

5 | Cheek Swatches


How To Figure Out Your Undertone

Step 1 | Cool or Warm

Look in the mirror or down at your skin for a second and without overthinking it: does your skin look like you are cold (think skiing in December) or warm (beach day in August)?

The majority of people have warm skin tones.

cool vs warm skintones undertones

Step 2 | Undertones vs Surface Tones

This is where I went wrong for so many years.  I would see the reddish tones in my skin and confuse them with having a pink (and therefore cool) undertone.

Surface tones are the colors on the surface of your skin: redness, under eye circles, etc.

As the name indicates, they are only on the surface of your skin and can change with lifestyle (drinking alcohol/sleep), sun exposure, faux tans, and skin care.

Undertones are the underlying colors in your skin, the true pigment of your skin tone.  These are permanent and can’t be changed.

With base products like foundation and concealer, you want to match your true undertones.  The surface tones will be covered up as soon as you start applying makeup.

surface tones vs under tones how to tell

Step 3 | Shades of Undertones

Think of undertones like a watercolor paint.  It’s not going to be a big, bold color.  You will see subtle hints of whatever shade you are.

Most people have a mix of tones present in their skin, so your undertone will be whichever tone is the most predominant

There are several undertones in both the cool and warm categories:

  • silver (cool)
  • pink/rosy (cool)
  • yellow (warm)
  • peach (warm)
  • olive (warm)
  • red (warm)

If you are a pretty balanced mix of pink and yellow undertones, you are neutral.

Related Post | Testing 30 Concealers on Mature Skin

foundation undertones guide

Step 4 | Color Striping

This is my go-to, most accurate way to find the perfect foundation

Color stripping is what I do with every single client to make sure we have a perfect color match before starting makeup.

It is exactly what it sounds like. 

I’ll take a few different shades and place a tiny amount on my (or client’s) jawline. 

Once the foundation is on, it usually becomes super clear which one or two is closest. From there, I’ll blend those shades out a bit more and see which one is becoming a second skin.

When you step away from the foundation, it should blend right into your neck seamlessly and your face should look clear and bright.

If you’ve picked the wrong undertone:

  • If you are COOL and pick a WARM or NEUTRAL foundation, it will look yellow on you. 
  • If you are WARM and pick a COOL foundation, it will make your skin look pale and icy.  If you pick a NEUTRAL foundation, it will look grey.

I recognize that not everyone has a makeup artist’s kit full of foundations ready to swatch on their jaw. You can go through old foundations you already own and color stripe them next to each other and see if they are a good match or look off, too yellow, too grey, etc.

Also, a lot of brands have testers available, reach out to them through customer service or IG with your best guess of shades and request if they can send sample swatches. Sephora will also make you up to 3 foundation samples.

Related Post | My Favorite Foundations at Every Price 

color striping to match foundations

Step 5 | Cheek Swatches

Once you have two foundations that you are choosing between, apply each shade to each cheek.  Once you start to blend it out over your face, it should become really apparent which shade is the correct match.

The right foundation will look like a second skin.  It will give your face a glow and you’ll be able to wear a minimal amount of other products to make it look natural.

For me, the cheek swatches in when I really have been able to lock in the perfect shade.  The video below does a full demo of this method to (hopefully) make it super clear!

Related Post | Step-by-Step: How To Buy The Right Shade of Foundation + Concealer Online


how to tell foundation undertone


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  1. Hi! I was wondering how this would work for me as I have freckles just on half of my face (left side) and I’ve always had trouble choosing the right foundation shade. I’m also Caucasian-Asian mix so I can’t tell if I’m more pink or yellow undertone on top of having freckles. Should I try just neutral shades?

    • Hi Danielle! I would recommend trying to find your undertone instead of leaning on neutral. Although neutral could be an option for you. This way the base products will blend in with your neck and chest, etc. Over freckles, I recommend either 1: using full coverage foundation and then “drawing” the freckles back on with a taupe pencil or 2: going with a sheer coverage product and letting the freckles show through. I hope this helps!

      – Molly

  2. Hello. No matter what I do, with medium to full coverage foundation, my neck and chest is always red. Cool toned makeup makes my neck and body look yellow, while a warm foundation makes my neck look extra red. Peach based foundation lessen the contrast, but I still can see the difference. Other than sticking to sheer foundations are there any other recommendations?

    • Hi Beth! Yes, I would recommend using a little green color corrector over any red areas. Since you are going over a larger area, it might be best to use a green moisturizer corrector. Hero Cosmetics makes on (they are my go-to skincare brand for pimple patches) Here is the link | Dr. Jart makes one as well with SPF 30, but it is slightly pricier, here is the link for that one | You can use these on their own if they totally correct the red, or apply them first and then foundation over them. I really hope this helps! – Molly

  3. Hello there, very informative article. The thing is, I’m what is considered a light / fair muted olive undertone. The swatch you are showing is what most consider olive (arguably said to be the same thing as having a tan but it isn’t the same thing). I have seen many articles where they consider olive undertone as actually cool and not warm as you’ve stated. For my particular foundation, I usually try to find a neutral / beige / nude foundation that isn’t too pink or too warm. I have the normal greenness present in my overall skin, neck and chest, and what you call the “jowls” of the face, they are a faint green. I’ve always been confused about my undertone because of the recent onslaught of redness (might be subtype 1 rosacea) present in my cheeks and forehead. But now I realize that I confused the surface redness with being cool when I actually was neutral overall.

  4. What if warm and neutral foundations look orange, even the light ones, and cool foundations look pink?? I cannot tell you how many foundations I havw tried, but so very many and nothing really looks good.

  5. I am finding that the ‘cool’ foundations are still too yellow for me. It is driving me crazy because nothing matches right. Any tips for this?

  6. Very informative! Thank you for addressing the difference between surface tone and undertone, I struggled with the most when trying to identify my actual skintone. I it possible to have neutral peach skin tone? My skin is neutral, but I found some neutral foundations tend to lean toward either cool or warm based, and I’m on the warmer side, but not quite enough to wear the neutral warm shades. Can you recommend any brands that might have a decent selection for neutral peach skin tone? Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us!!

  7. Hi Molly, thank you for pointing out more than just the vein color, for lay people like me. I am still struggling despite my apparent green veins on medium asian skin. I would like to test all the colors on step 3 to see what I have. Would you have any recommendations for where I can buy all at decent price? Thank you!

  8. Thank you for this post and your YouTube video. I was finally able to find a foundation that matched my skin. I thought I was neutral because yellow undertones did not work and cool undertones were too red. No wonder my foundation has been making me look dead. L’oreal Infallible Ivory 410 is awesome for me, it just disappears.

  9. I have grey eyes and a yellow undertone. I read somewhere if you have this combination you actually use cool colors. This presents a problem for me with foundation (or finding the best shade). Warm tone clothes have never worked for me. Any suggestions?


  10. Hi looking for a foundation whilst in a pandemic is a nightmare as there are no samples available. My skin tone is cool apparently as my veins are blue etc, I always thought I was warm so who knew. I’m looking for a full coverage foundation as I need to cover old acne scaring and some new spots I normally get from time to time. What do you recommend?

  11. Just found your website and love it! I just bought luminous silk foundation by Armani in 5.2 which has a peach undertone. I loved your tutorial on the difference between undertone and skin tone… I still struggle with thinking I was a neutral yet everything started looking dull on my 58-year-old skin. I believe I am a neutral but warm foundations look to yellow cool foundations look too red and pink… I’m hoping I picked the right shade of Armanni it does seem to brighten my skin. Can’t wait to watch more of your videos… If you can add anything to tell me if I’ve made the right choice the peach undertone foundation seems to melt into my skin.