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Raise your hand if you've ever been in a conversation that required you to nod along knowingly, even though you were completely lost. If this is the case when it comes to skin undertones, let us be the first to tell you that you’re not alone. While skin tones are one thing, undertones are completely different, and can often make or break a makeup look. According to celebrity makeup artist Robert Sesnek, while skin tones range from very deep to very fair in color, undertone refers to the shade that is within that color. "Your skin tone may change throughout the year (a shade or two deeper in the summer or maybe fairer or lighter in the winter months), but your undertone never changes," he says.
Ready to learn what your undertone is, once and for all? With the help of Sesnek and pro makeup artist Daniel Martin, we’ve compiled the best hacks for figuring out whether you’re warm, cool, or neutral.
Meet the Expert
Read on for some expert-approved tips on how to identify your skin’s undertone for easier makeup shopping.
Why Is it Helpful to Know Your Undertone?
If you've ever struggled with finding your correct foundation shade, the process could be made easier just by knowing your undertone. "It helps to identify your undertone in order to harmonize and balance skin tone with the appropriate foundation and concealers," says Martin. "When trying to find the right shades, I like to match from the center of the face down to the middle of the neck, as this will give you the most accurate representation and allow you to see any redness you may want to cancel out."
One of the goals of shade matching is to avoid the dreaded line of demarcation. For Sesnek, one of the most common makeup mistakes he sees are mismatched foundations. "Neutral or cool undertones wearing yellow as well as yellow undertones wearing neutral or cool tones will always show a line of demarcation, make the skin look ashy or gray, and possibly oxidize the formula, making the color look even more unnatural," he says.
On the hunt for your perfect concealer shade? Sesnek recommends a neutral or cool concealer if you have a yellow undertone. If you have a cool or neutral skin tone, opt for a yellow-based concealer.
Types of Undertones
There are three types of undertones: warm, cool, and neutral.
Warm includes golden, yellow, or peachy undertones.
Cool includes pink, red, or blueish undertones.
You're neutral if you're a mixture warm and cool.
How to Identify Your Undertone
There are a few tried-and-true tests to help you figure out your undertone.
1. Throw on a White T-Shirt
Grab a pure white piece of clothing or even just a piece of white paper. In bright, natural light, hold the item up to your face. If your skin looks pink or rosy by comparison, you're cool toned. If your face looks more yellow, your undertone is warm. If you feel you look better in off-white or creamy hues rather than stark white, that's another telltale sign that you may be warm-toned. If you can wear both colors without feeling like you look washed out, you may have a neutral undertone.
2. Consider Your Skin's Reaction to the Sun
Sun exposure is very telling when it comes to figuring out your skin undertone. Martin explains: "If you burn easily, you’re a cool undertone. If you tan easily, you’re a warm undertone. If you burn and then tan, you're likely a neutral undertone."
3. Try on Some Jewelry
This is very subjective, but comparing how gold versus silver jewelry looks against your skin can be a helpful way to figure out your undertone. "Gold jewelry tends to be most flattering on warmer skin tones while silver is mostly flattering on cool tones," says Sesnek. If you don't discriminate between gold or silver, then you might have neutral undertones—or maybe you just love all jewelry, which we're not mad about.
4. Check the Color of Your Veins
Martin says that checking the color of your veins is a great way to determine your undertones in a pinch, but recommends looking at the veins in and around your face and neck to truly identify. "You have cool undertones if you can see blue veins in your skin. If your veins appear green on the skin (olive), you're warm. Neutral is a mixture of both warm and cool undertones," he explains.
5. Consider Your Other Features
Still confused? Sesnek says to look to your eye and hair color as a guide to what your undertone may be. "Eye and hair color can have any skin undertone in it, but as a generalization, deeper skin tones and deeper eye color usually tend to have warmer undertones while very fair skin and lighter eyes tend to have neutral or cool undertones," he says.
Finding the Best Color Palette for Your Undertone
Below, Sesnek breaks down each undertone and offers up some tips on what color palettes are most flattering.
Very Fair: Fair skin tends to be neutral or cooler undertones. Cooler-toned shades such as taupe, beige, and soft pinks complement this undertone.
Light: Skin that's light but not as fair look best in cooler-toned shades that are more soft and neutral such as grays and deeper beiges.
Medium: This skin tone usually has the ability to go with both warmer and cooler colors.
Olive: Like medium, olive can also do both warmer and cooler shades, though Sesnek recommends adding more vivid colors, as olive skin tones can usually handle it.
Tan: This skin tone looks great with warmer shades like bronze as well as warmer tones such as orange.
Medium to Dark: Skin can go both cool and warmer in color.
Deep: This skin tone can go both cool and warm in color. Going more vivid with color can really pop against this skin tone.
When shade matching a complexion formula, Martin says to consider the finish and amount of coverage you’re looking for. "The amount of colored pigments found in matte, radiant, and sheer coverage products all vary, as does the product texture," he says.
Finding the Best Foundation for Your Undertone
When shopping for foundation or concealer, your undertone plays a role in choosing the correct shade. Both experts recommend going for a line that offers plenty of options by way of warm, cool, and neutral. Below, our expert-approved picks.
If you're looking for a natural finish foundation but don't want to sacrifice on coverage, this one by Dior is Martin-approved. It can stand up against heat and sweat, and it can be used on both the face and body for a flawless finish everywhere.
You're sure to find your match between all 36 shades of Pat McGrath Labs' foundation. It's got Martin's stamp of approval for being long-wearing, buildable, and oh so creamy.
Sesnek recommends this pick by Catrice. "It's very sheer and has almost like a water consistency, but it also has amazing coverage depending on how it’s applied and layered," he says. "It also has all of the undertones choices I need for the perfect match."