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What Is Undertone?
Undertone is the subtle natural color below your skin’s surface. While skin tone refers to your skin color, undertone refers to the shade within that color. There are three types of undertones: warm, cold, and neutral. People with the same skin tone can have very different undertones. While your skin tone can change based on external factors, your undertone will always stay the same. Knowing your undertone allows you to select the most complimentary colors for your makeup and attire.
3 Types of Undertones
Wherever you fall on the skin color spectrum—fair skin, dark skin, deep skin, olive skin, or anything in between—undertones fall into three basic categories:
- Warm: golden, peachy, or yellow undertones
- Cold: bluish, red, or pink undertones
- Neutral: a mixture of both warm and cool undertones
Why Is it Important to Know Your Undertone?
Identifying your undertone is crucial for several reasons:
- To select the right shade of foundation. Foundations are categorized according to skin tone and then subcategorized according to skin undertone. To pick the best foundation (the color truest to your skin), you’ll need to know your tone and undertone.
- To avoid harsh makeup lines. When applying a foundation shade, you may notice an intense line along your jawline that separates the makeup color from your skin color. This line makes your makeup look unnatural and disconnected from the rest of your face. Many women try to solve this problem by blending their foundation all the way down their neck. However, choosing the perfect foundation shade with the right undertone eliminates the possibility of creating that harsh line altogether.
- To achieve the most natural look. Knowing your undertone is an essential part of creating a “nude makeup” look—a natural look designed to make you appear as if you’re barely wearing makeup products. If you know your undertone shade, you’ll be able to choose the right foundation and concealer to match your skin, and the most flattering (and natural-looking) colors for your blush, lipstick, and eyeshadow. If your makeup looks unnatural on your face, you may just need to identify your skin’s undertone to get that perfect shade for your no-makeup look.
How to Identify Your Skin Undertone
You don’t have to be a professional makeup artist to identify your undertone. There are a few different ways that you can determine your undertone at home:
- Check your tan. The way that your skin tone changes colors with sun exposure is a great way to tell your undertone. If your skin burns quickly, or tans to rosy, deep cinnamon, or reddish shades (as opposed to golden or peach), then you likely have a cool undertone. If your skin tans to peach, golden, caramel, or olive undertones (instead of rosy or reddish), you likely have a warm undertone. Finally, if your skin doesn’t seem to have a predominant shade and burns or tans equally often, you may have a neutral undertone.
- Hold up a white paper in the mirror. Another way to check your undertone is to see what your skin looks like against true white. In a place with bright, natural light, hold up a piece of printer paper and look at how your skin reacts to it. If your skin looks pinkish against the paper, you probably have cooler undertones; if your skin looks yellow against the paper, you’re probably a warm tone. If you do not see an undertone at all, you likely have neutral undertones.
- Do the jewelry test. You can also check your undertone by performing the jewelry test: Do you think you look better in gold jewelry or silver? If you believe gold jewelry flatters your skin more, you may have warm undertones; if you prefer silver jewelry, you may have cool tones. When in doubt, put on each piece of jewelry and look in the mirror. This test is much more subjective than other ways to determine skin undertone, so use it as a last resort if other methods aren’t working.
- Use your hair and eye color to decide. While not a perfect way to tell your skin tone, often your eye and hair color can help you make an educated guess. In general, those with lighter hair and eyes tend to have a cool or neutral tone, while those with darker hair and eyes tend to have a warm undertone. There are plenty of exceptions to this trend—some people with fair complexions have warm skin, and some people with dark complexions have cool skin. Use this test in conjunction with another method to find your undertone.
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