Undertones In Skin: The Secret to the Right Foundation Shade

selecting foundation for undertones in skin

Picture this. You’re walking down the cosmetics aisle. There, hidden behind a group of mineral concealers, you find it – the perfect foundation match for your skin.

Leaving the store, you arrive back home. Reaching for that trusty tube of foundation, you gently apply its contents onto your skin – only to discover an ashen face staring back at you in the mirror!

This Foundation Was the Perfect Shade! What Went Wrong?

There are tricks to finding your ideal shade – no matter the type of makeup you want to apply. And it starts by understanding how undertones in skin work.

If you’re like many women, you’ve probably made the mistake of buying a foundation, concealer, blush – even bronzing powder – that was a little bit off. It was too dull, too peachy, or too sallow.

But why? The foundation seemed like the perfect match.

Sure, the product probably matched your skin tone. But if it doesn’t also complement the underlying colors beneath your skin, you could have a problem.

Below the Surface: Undertones in Skin versus Surface Skin Pigment

surface skin during summer

…Wait. Aren’t they the same?

No, they’re not. Skin undertones are actually very different from what’s on the surface.

Confused? Trust me, it’s less complicated than it sounds. Let’s clear away the confusion and get down to business.

What are skin undertones really? To understand undertones in skin…

We Must Get to Know Our Surface Skin

Are you olive, fair, or tan? Medium or dark skinned?

Surface skin tone is the actual color of your skin. And guess what? It’s determined by melanin – the amount of natural melanin pigment in the epidermis (top) layer of skin.

And just like the golden leaves of fall, your surface skin tone changes with the seasons.

  • Ever tried to get a tan? Your skin pigment might’ve darkened into a beautiful brown – or burned painful red until you either had to cover up or find shaded protection from the sun.
  • What about winter? You might’ve noticed skin that was shades lighter – even pale – as you prepared your wardrobe for the cold months ahead.

Melanin is the reason behind that delightful tan you get every summer, darkening your skin with color as it shields sensitive areas from harmful ultraviolet rays. And since your body produces less melanin during the cold winter months, your skin can appear significantly lighter.

But let’s dig deeper.

Undertones in Skin: They’re Behind the Veil

Skin undertones are the underlying colors beneath the surface, hidden in the deeper layers below the epidermis.

skin undertones beneath surface skin

In a way, surface skin acts like a veil, blurring the underlying tints beneath the surface colors of your skin. And unlike surface skin tones, your skin’s undertones are forever constant – never changing despite the weather.

So if undertones in skin are hidden, how can we possibly know what they are?

Because undertones in skin aren’t invisible. In fact, you can determine your skin’s undertones by taking a peek at your wrist – and looking at the colors of your veins there. Of course, there are other methods you can try (but we’ll discuss those in another article).

So… surface skin on top, skin undertones underneath. Got it.

What’s Next?

When shopping for the best foundation shade, you’ll want to know what your skin’s undertones are (cool, warm, or neutral) and where you stand on the Fitzpatrick Scale.

Equipped with knowledge about your skin type and skin’s undertones, you can purchase that foundation with confidence – and know exactly what your skin needs to stay healthy and smooth.

What do you think? How would you define undertones in skin? Post your responses in the comment field below!

Author: Christina Crowe

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6 Comments

  1. I cant decide wether i have warm skin or olive. And I even if i do have olive skin, i still have to decided if im neutral or not. So complicated! Anyway my question is, is olive skin always dark? Because im as pale as you can get but because im anemic and im never ever out on the sun, when i am i tan like crazy. I hope you were able to understand me because i clearly dont speak english. Thank you very much! Im loving this site.

    Post a Reply
    • Hi Milagros,

      You make perfect sense, and I’m so happy to hear you’re enjoying the website! Olive complexions tend to have neutral undertones, though some can lean more warm or cool neutral. It’s also actually quite common for olive complexions – even light olive skin tones – to tan easily in the summer (though they can still burn).

      But no – olive skin isn’t always dark! So it’s quite possible that you do have olive skin. We just recently published an article about light olive skin that might shed some light. Let me know if you have any other questions!

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  2. can a Caucasian person have an olive skin tone?? I hope I do not sound ignorant, but years ago a woman said I had a beautiful olive complexion, was she joking??

    Post a Reply
    • Yep, Caucasian women can have olive skin! You can even have a very pale olive complexion. Olive skin is really all about the slight green pigment underneath the surface of your skin – not how light or dark you are. Generally, this green pigment is more visible on lighter complexions – especially under direct sunlight. For more info, check out our light olive skin guide. I hope I helped, but let me know if you have any more questions!

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  3. I am Mexican American, olive skin, red undertones, tans easily. Am I warm or cool?

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    • Hi Anita,

      Most olive complexions are neutral, though some can lean more warm or more cool. This article might help. But if your wrist veins appear both blue and green under natural light, you probably have neutral undertones. So you’ll want to find foundation and concealer that matches.

      Both your hair and eye color can also play a role if you’re looking to find flattering makeup that complements your skin. For example, if you have blond hair and blue eyes but neutral undertones, cool-toned eyeshadows might be a safe bet. So while most olive women look great in purple, you’d want to try a bluish purple over something warmer. But definitely experiment! Makeup that looks amazing on you might not look the best on someone else. 🙂

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