If you’ve ever worn makeup, talked about makeup, had your makeup done for you, or even just been in the vicinity of a makeup lover, there’s a good chance you’ve heard mention of skin undertones. But while it all sounds very scientific and important, how relevant are undertones when it comes to choosing the right makeup colours? In this article, I’m going to demystify undertones once and for all, plus we’ll dig into how to use your colour knowledge to choose the best makeup colours for your kit.
What are undertones + overtones?
Put simply, your skin overtone is the surface colour of your skin, whereas the undertones are the colour coming through under the surface.
If you’ve heard about cool, warm and neutral skin types, this is connected to the undertones. We use these to determine what clothing colours suit us as well as metal types for jewellery.
Cool = pink, red or bluish undertones
Warm = yellow, peachy, golden undertones
Neutral = if you’re a mix of both
This has nothing to do with how dark or light your skin is (it’s very common to see fair skinned women with warm undertones and dark skinned women with cool undertones).
How to identify your undertone
If silver or platinum “pops” the most on your skin, you’re probably cool toned, whereas warm toned people generally suit yellow gold better.
Do colours like baby blues, greens and pinks or jewel tones like royal blue, emerald green and magenta flatter you and make you look extra fresh and healthy? This usually means you’re cool toned. If mustards, oranges, burgundy and khaki green bring out your best features, you’re probably warm toned.
Still not sure? Have a think about which neutrals work best for you — cool toned blacks and clean whites? Or warm toned off-whites/ivory and browns or tans?
If you look at the veins on the back of your wrist, what colour do they appear to be? Blue looking veins indicate cool toned skin while green looking veins are usually a feature of warm toned skin.
Tan (or lack thereof)
Are you someone who immediately tans a golden brown after some time in the sun? You’re probably warm toned, whereas if you burn and turn pink first (eventually tanning or not tanning at all) you’re likely cool toned.
Undertones + your foundation
Good news. Your undertones actually have nothing to do with finding the perfect foundation match. For instance, I’m very cool toned, but I find that neutral or yellow based foundations match my skin better, whereas cool toned “pink” based foundations are more visible and also make me look flushed.
For your foundation to blend perfectly into your skin, it’s important to match it to your surface colour so it essentially “disappears” when applied. The best place to test this is on your jawline and neck, as you want the colour to be as invisible as possible on both areas.
Undertones + your blush
Blush is a product that you can have some fun with and not worry too much about your undertones. While I suit cool toned colours (and love a pale pink blush), I actually find that wearing a light coral blush (which is warm toned) makes me look healthier. So instead of over-thinking it, I recommend trying a handful of blush colours and see which makes you look and feel the best.
Undertones + your eyeshadow
Eyeshadow is one product that’s worth considering your undertones for. See, while the first way to choose eyeshadow colours is by looking for complementary colours to your eyes, if you choose colours that are too warm or too cool, you may end up looking a bit sick or tired.
For example, on someone very fair and cool toned, using oranges and orange browns can be too intense, and on someone warm toned, very cool greys and mauves won’t flatter. To play it safe, stick to the tones that suit you (use your clothing colour preferences as a guide) or go for neutral colours (taupe, dusty pink, light chocolate brown and burgundy). Apply the same rules when choosing an eyeliner (a neutral brown is more universally flattering than a charcoal grey).
Undertones + your lipstick
Being cool, warm or neutral toned will determine how you should choose lipstick and lip gloss colours. You’ll find that reds come in cool (blue based), neutral and warm (yellow based) options, so either choose your own tone or go for a neutral to be safe. Other than that, use your wardrobe colours to help guide your colour choices (if you wear lots of blue and green, you’re best wearing pinks or plums, if you love yellows, oranges and browns, try corals or shades of brown). If in doubt, nudes tend to suit just about anyone as they’re fairly neutral.
And that’s it, my friend. You’re ready to take on the world (and the makeup counter) with your undertone demystified, and your makeup kit ready to be stocked with all the right colours.
Kat is an actor and personal branding coach as well as the host of The Personal Branding Project Podcast and her self-titled YouTube channel. She started her career off by playing Marilyn at Warner Bros Movie World, went on to perform in the original Australian casts of Jersey Boys & Hairspray and eventually found herself writing/producing her own work before becoming a self-employed copywriter and marketing strategist. She now offers 1:1 Coaching and Online Courses for entrepreneurs, freelancers + multi-passionate creatives.