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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

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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

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how to tell foundation undertone

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Lynn M

Saturday 25th of September 2021

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!

Ruby

Sunday 11th of April 2021

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.

Terri

Friday 19th of March 2021

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?

Thanks!

Clare Bristow

Tuesday 19th of January 2021

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?

Molly Gardner

Tuesday 26th of January 2021

Hi Clare! Have you seen this post? The Nars might be a great fit for you. https://girlgetglamorous.com/the-best-foundations-for-dry-mature-skin-fair-skin-shade-swatches/

Johnna Manna

Tuesday 15th of December 2020

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.

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