Have you ever wandered up and down the cosmetic aisle looking for your next product, but get stuck asking yourself, “How do I determine my skin tone?” Determining your skin tone can be a daunting task and buying the right shades to beautify your complexion is sometimes overwhelming.
The wrong foundation, concealer, bronzer or blush can turn you into an orange clown or uncanny porcelain doll if you aren’t careful. Your makeup needs to blend seamlessly with your natural skin tone at the jawline to avoid looking unnatural or ‘caked’, and determining your skin tone is paramount for accomplishing this task. Here is a comprehensive guide on how you can (correctly!) discover your skin tone—and prevent those dreaded makeup disasters.
What is Skin Tone?
The “tone” of your skin is the genetically endowed amount of melanin in your epidermis (the outermost layer of skin). Melanin—a complex polymer produced by cells called melanocytes—refers to a group of naturally-occurring dark brown or black pigments present in human skin (and animals, too!).
When the skin is exposed to damaging ultraviolet light from the sun, melanocytes kick into overdrive as a natural defense mechanism, producing an abundant amount of melanin spread across the epidermis is absorb the sun’s harmful rays. For that reason, determining your skin tone will vary depending on how much time you spend in unprotected sun exposure, but the skin tone you were born with is based on your genetic makeup. Our ancestors adapted to their environment; those in sunnier regions and climates evolved to naturally produce more melanin for sun protection, and therefore had darker skin tones. It’s hard to group skin tones into categories, since each of us has uniquely varying hues, but generally speaking there are three different categories you can use to determine your skin tone:
- Light: Light or fair skin tones tend to historically derive from northern European countries which faced frequent snow or cloud coverage, and therefore did not need much melanin protection. Paler people are usually very sensitive to the sun and burn much easier than those with darker skin. If you find that this is your skin tone, be extra diligent with your UV protection.
- Medium: Medium complexions are typical of Southern Europe and Northern Asian descent. Sometimes referred to “olive”, this skin tone is a neutral, well-balanced beige appearance and will make finding the right foundation shade much easier. If you determine this is your skin tone, you probably tan well in the sun (note: that doesn’t mean you’re immune to sun-related aging!).
- Dark: Dark complexions typically originate from parts of the world that have the most exposure to ultraviolet radiation, such as the Middle East, India, and Africa. As with those who have medium skin, you are not exempt from sun damage if you have this skin tone, and are in fact more prone to hyperpigmentation, so hold onto that sunscreen!
Again, these three skin tones are speaking in broad, general terms which can be broken down to much smaller specifications. For example, you can differentiate between light and fair, while “dark” could mean espresso, brown or ebony. Determining skin tone and its slight variations depends on your unique undertone.
What are Skin Undertones?
If you have ever shopped for makeup products, you’ve probably heard the terms “cool”, “warm”, and “neutral” describing different shades of skin tone. These terms refer to the skin’s “undertone,” or the subtle, muted color beneath your skin’s surface. Think of it as a shadow that’s always there; while your determined skin tone may change, the undertone remains the same. Learning how to determine skin tone to find the right cosmetic relies largely on matching your unique undertone. Let’s break down the different undertones:
- Cool: red and pink with bluish hints
- Warm: yellow, peachy and golden hues
- Neutral: olive or a balanced mix of the shades above
The surface color of your skin tone, or the first thing you see when you look in the mirror, may appear ruddy, but your undertone could be golden or yellow. Therefore, when determining your skin tone for foundation, concealer or any other type of cosmetic, pay equal importance to your undertone.
What is Skin Complexion?
Before teaching you how to determine your skin tone for those who are still unsure, it’s worth noting that skin tone and complexion are not one in the same; tone refers to the color of your skin while your complexion encompasses your overall appearance. Think of rosy, red cheeks or dark under-eye circles; “complexion” includes these colors in addition to your natural skin tone. It also refers to texture, such as dry versus oily. Learn more about identifying your skin type here.
Pick products suited to your complexion as well as tone, i.e. those with excessive shine should seek mattifying products, or those with uneven tone should find color correctors, and so forth.
How to Determine Your Skin Tone
Before going up and down that cosmetic aisle to find the perfect product, check out these handful of ways to determine skin tone and nail your perfect match:
- Look at Your Face in Natural Light
If you notice a gray tone when you’re wearing makeup, your foundation doesn’t complement your undertones. Thoroughly wash your face clear of any makeup or grime. Wait at least 15 minutes and find some natural lighting, since different lighting affects the appearance of your skin (we all know florescent light does no one any favors). Grab a small mirror and head out into the sunlight or a well-lit window to determine your most natural tone. Observe your jaw line (it’s usually less affected by color changes than the rest of your face) to find your surface color; remember, the jaw is where you need to blend, so this is the shade you need to match!
- The Silver/Gold Test
If silver complements your skin better than gold, you likely have cool undertones. If you have warm skin tones, gold likely looks better—helpful information when it comes to shopping for jewelry!
- Look at Your Veins
In natural light, check the appearance of your veins beneath your skin.
- If your veins appear blue or purple, you have a cool skin tone.
- If your veins look green or a greenish blue, you have a warm skin tone.
- If you can’t tell whether or not your veins are green or blue, you probably have a neutral skin tone. Those of you with an olive complexion will probably fall into this category.
- How Does Your Skin React to Sun Exposure?
When you’re out in the sun, does your skin tan easily? Do you rarely sunburn? Examining the way your skin reacts to the sun’s rays can help you determine skin tone. Those who tan easily have a medium or dark skin tone, while those who burn easily likely have a very fair skin tone.
Buying the Right Makeup
Now that you know how to determine your skin tone, it’s time to start finding the right cosmetics to beautify your complexion. If you can determine the skin tone that goes with the corresponding color, perfect makeup application will be a breeze.
- Cool Undertones
If you determine your skin undertone is cool, consider: blue-based eye shadows, accentuated lips in red, pink or purple hues, and enhancing your pink pigment with pale, rosy blush.
- Warm Undertones
Those with golden brown skin should try: earthy eye shadows to complement a natural yellow glow, highlight cheeks with a coral blush, and find lip shades of a darker red.
- Neutral Undertones
If you’ve determined your skin tone is neutral, lucky you. Just about any cosmetic looks great on your complexion. Consider instead wearing colors which compliment your eyes and hair.
Note: When shopping for foundation, always start with a small test patch (at the jaw) to determine if your skin tone matches the given product. Keep in mind that your tone will vary by season, and that many women choose to go one shade lighter or darker than their surface color based on preference.
By using this guide and learning how to determine your skin tone, you’re well on your way to finding the perfect color cosmetic for your complexion. Browse our catalog and pick the shade that suits you best.