You’re Hot ‘N You’re Cold: How to Pin Down Your Skin’s Undertone

By | August 31, 2022

Here’s how to find your skin’s undertone — plus tips for picking the best makeup and clothes that make you look (and feel) your best.

Nothing’s worse than a foundation that makes your face look like a completely different color — especially with the dreaded line at your jaw that basically makes you look like Jim Carrey in The Mask.

To avoid this fate, you’re prob gonna finally have to do what makeup artists everywhere urge: Figure out your undertone.

As MUA Kerrin Jackson explains, your undertone is not to be confused with your skin tone (which might be, say, medium-light or deep-dark). “An undertone is the underlying color tone or hue beneath your skin,” she explains.

Basically, “it is that subtle voice that tells you when you put on a sweater that just looks wrong on you.” (Relatable.)  

So how do you find your color match made in heaven? Here’s the deal.

Let’s get deep: What’s an undertone, and why does it even matter? 

“Each person has a unique base temperature within their skin tone that falls into a spectrum of either warm, neutral, or cool,” MUA Fiona Taylor explains.  

And unlike your summer tan or winter boo, your undertone is with you for life. “While your skin’s shade can change throughout the year … your actual undertone will not be so quick to change,” Jackson says.

So yeah — what’s beneath the surface really *does* count.

For example, let’s say you’re a medium skin tone — which essentially refers to the amount of melanin in your skin — it breaks down further into medium-cool, medium-warm, or medium-neutral.

According to the pros, knowing your skin’s undertone can help you:

  • pick the perfect foundation or concealer shade
  • find other makeup (like bronzer, lipstick, etc.) shades that best complement your complexion
  • find clothes and accessories in colors that make you truly glow (and never wash you out!)

Undertone types

You don’t need to be an art student to school yourself on the basics of color theory. “The color wheel helps break down [the undertones] visually,” Taylor explains. One side of the color wheel has hot colors, and the other has cool colors. “Think of red being fiery and blue being icy, and yellow being in between,” she advises.

Here’s the fire ‘n ice breakdown on the 3 most basic types of undertones:

Warm

  • Much like the rays on a hot summer day, warm means golden, yellow, warm reddish, or peachy undertones.
  • Most of the time, true-warm undertones will have some hints of gold or red in their skin, hair, or eyes.
  • Warm skin tones typically don’t burn easily in the sun.
  • Celebs with warm skin tones include Beyoncé, Lucy Liu, JLo, Jessica Alba, Viola Davis, Claire Danes, and Eva Mendes.

Cool

  • Much like a winter wonderland, cool tones mean pink, blue-reddish, or blueish undertones.
  • Cool undertones often have some hints of pink or blue in their skin, and an icier undertone in their hair and eyes. (Think light-blue eyes, platinum locks, or jet blue-black hair.)
  • Cool skin tones often burn easily in the sun.
  • Celebs with cool skin tones include Anne Hathaway, Adele, Alek Wek, Lupita Nyong’O, Sadie Sink, Mindy Kaling, Taylor Swift, and Lily Colins.

Neutral

  • Neutral means a relatively balanced mix of warm and cool undertones.
  • Neutral skin undertones might have some warm tones in their hair, but cool tones in their eyes (or vice versa). They’re a mix through and through.
  • Neutral skin undertones can both burn and tan in the sun (or often, burn and then tan).
  • Celebs with neutral undertones include Selena Gomez, Sandra Bullock, Camille Cabello, Kerry Washington, and Kristen Stewart.

So, what’s your type? How to find your undertone 

If trying to figure out your skin’s undertone feels like trying to figure out that black-and-blue or white-and-gold dress meme from 2015, we get it.

Don’t worry — here’s how to figs it out, according to the experts. 

1. Try the white tee test

“I love a good old white paper sheet test,” stylist Katya Bychkova tells us. 

You’ll need a white tee or even just a sheet of printer paper for this one.

“Take a mirror and a white sheet of paper and stand in front of a window,” Bychkova advises. “Please don’t do this test during the golden hour — [about] an hour before sunset — because it changes the lighting to a warmer one.”

Next, “Analyze your skin in comparison to the white paper sheet. Does it have a more pink, rosy tone to it? Then, your undertone is cold. Does your skin have golden or yellow hues to it? Then, it’s a warm undertone. A skin that has both pinks and golds, or none of all, is typically a neutral undertone.”

Bychkova adds that you should leave your pimples, dark spots, and other skin conditions out of the assessment. “It’s all about the overall complexion,” she explains.

2. Put yourself to the sunburn test 

Taylor always recommends the “burn test” when assessing your undertone. “If someone burns very easily in the sun and doesn’t tan easily, a high percentage of them have cool-pink undertones. If they tan quickly and hold a tan, they may fall into warm-golden undertones.”

Meanwhile, if you burn and then tan, you’re prob neutral.

3. Check your veins

For Jackson, it’s all about the “vein test.” Basically, “take a look at the veins under your skin. If they appear more on the green side, then you are safe to say you have a warm undertone. And if the veins look more blueish and purple, you have a cool undertone.”

“If you can’t really decide, and it’s hard to tell, then we can say you have a neutral undertone.”

4. Try on some jewelry for size (and undertone)

Jackson says another way to figure out your skin’s undertone lies in what jewelry you typically like to wear. Feel like gold complements your skin best? You’re probably warm-toned.

If you feel like silver really makes your skin shine, you’re likely cool-toned. “If you like both? Then you’re more on the neutral side of things.”

Of course, not everyone has a stylist or MUA’s discerning eye — so this might be more of a subjective, personal preference thing. But it *can* help point you in the right direction. 

How to find the best makeup for *your* undertone

Now that you have a good idea of your undertone, here’s how to sift through the swatches to find your perfect match:  

  • First, what’s your skin tone? Don’t forget the basics. “In terms of foundation, you’ll first need to narrow down the scale of your color whether it is fair, medium, or deep,” Taylor advises. If you need help, ask an MUA for assistance or grab a few samples from your local Sephora or Ulta.
  • Swatch it. Swatching will help you nail down both your skin tone and your undertone: Two vital ingredients to the perfect foundation or BB cream shade. When a foundation looks “too ashy, orange, or red on the face,” that’s usually a dead giveaway that the makeup’s undertone is the opposite of what you want, Taylor says. The right pick, meanwhile, should seamlessly blend into your face and neck and leave you looking fresh and vibrant.
  • Know your labels. Most of the time, the shade color should contain the letter C, W, or N, so you know the undertone you’re working with, Bychkova notes. If it doesn’t have this letter, talk with a pro for help or get to swatching.  
  • Don’t bother “neutralizing.” For years, many MUA’s recommended “neutralizing” your skin tone — meaning making a cool or warm-leaning tone more neutral. “As a south Asian person, I am not a great proponent of the idea of putting on either yellow or cool foundation to ‘neutralize’ brown skin’s undertones,” MUA Bina Khan says. “This is routinely the suggestion brown women receive when we go to a store. We will be sold neutral or cool to ‘cancel out’ our skin’s warmth, or a very sallow yellow. … Instead, I think if you put a swipe of foundation on to your cheek and it looks like it could disappear into the skin easily, then you’re onto a winner,” Khan says.

Best makeup for warm undertones

best makeup for warm undertones

For warm undertones, the pros recommend:  

  • According to Bychkova, Charlotte Tilbury Beautiful Skin Foundation tends to run warm, and most of the 30+ shades suit those with warmer undertones.
  • Loreal True Match has an excellent range in general, according to Khan, but for warm-skinned folks especially. “There are loads of variations in tone and depth,” she says.
  • Both Khan and Taylor recommend MAC for a solid range in any shade, but especially warmer tones.
  • Taylor says Fenty has a solid range, and most MUAs seem to agree. “They’re particularly excellent for hard-to-pin warm shades for medium and deep complexions,” Taylor says.

Best makeup for cool undertones

best makeup for cool undertones

Cool undertoned? Here’s where to begin:

  • According to Bychkova, “no one does cool undertones better than Estee Lauder! Try Estee Lauder Double Wear or a concealer from the same line.
  • With impressive shade ranges even Rihanna can love, Fenty,  MAC, and Loreal True Match are also legit for cool undertones.

Best makeup for neutral undertones

best makeup for neutral undertones

Somewhere in the middle? Here’s where you might find your Goldilocks fit:

  • Bychkova recommends Dior Forever Skin Glow. She says it’s recently been reformulated and features many fab shades for those with neutral undertones.
  • Bobbi Brown and Laura Mercier “make the most beautiful tinted moisturizers for neutral undertones,” Taylor advises.
  • MAC, Fenty, and Loreal True Match remain solid bets for finding the perf neutral fit.

How to dress your best, based on your undertone

Want to get dressed without ever feeling gray and washed out or like you have skin the color of a banana peel? We gotchu.

Warm undertones

Warm, golden skin undertones tend to be complemented by earthy tones. Think: Green, brown, mustard yellow, and warm red.

Warm-toned people also tend to find that a cream or brown colored shirt will look more flattering on them than a stark white or black one.

Cool undertones

Cool folks really pop in jewel tones like emeralds, deep purples, and bright or ice blue. Pastels like lavender or pink also work really well.

They also pull off true black or white better than anyone.  

Neutral undertones

Neutral undertones can sample from both the cool- and warm-toned friend’s wardrobe — but may find that they lean a little in one direction.

Since their undertone is a little muted, subtle hues like mauve, mint, blush, and champagne look especially good.

Frequently asked questions

What’s the difference between undertones and skin tones?

Like the name suggests, undertone refers to the subtle hue under your skin’s surface. So, your skin tone could be light, medium, or dark — this pretty much just refers to the amount of melanin in your skin.

Meanwhile, your undertone could be cool, warm, or neutral — this refers to the blueish, pinkish, or goldish hue that lies beneath.

What’s the best way to find your undertone?

TBH, there’s no expert consensus on the absolute best test. But many experts recommend wearing a white tee or holding a white sheet to your skin to get a feel for your undertone.

If your skin appears pinkish compared to the tee, you’re prob cool. If it looks more golden, you’re likely warm. Can’t really tell? You could be neutral.

Make sure to do this in neutral, natural lighting (and not at golden hour) for the most accurate reading.

Why does knowing your undertone matter?

Let’s be real — we could all prob sleep at night without knowing our skin’s undertone. But hey, it’s very useful for ensuring that your foundation seamlessly matches your skin, or helping you pick makeup and clothes in flattering colors. Win!

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