Choosing a makeup look is all about enhancing your natural beauty. To do so correctly, you’ll need to be familiar with your true complexion first. This is hard to do without a bit of guidance, as you might not know exactly what you’re looking for.
Learning your true complexion takes a bit of time. You’ll need to make sure you have the right lighting and look at the right features for an accurate result. Still, this isn’t necessary for all parts of your makeup look since lipstick and eye shadow don’t need to follow the same “rules” as foundation and blush. To learn more about choosing the best makeup for you, see the tips below.
Understand What an Undertone Is
Too many people look at their reflection and see only one hue in their complexion. Although most people refer to their skin tone as “dark,” “pale,” or anything in-between, this is not an accurate way to describe the color of your skin.
For example, imagine that you have brown skin. While your skin is prominently brown on the surface, and that is the color that most people would use to describe your face upon recall, this shade is only one of a few that comprise your face. The ones that are less apparent to onlookers and even yourself are described as the “undertone.”
Your skin’s undertone is the color that lies beneath the surface. When viewed in combination with the hues of your skin’s surface, it can make your skin look darker or lighter. This is why you might have the same color skin as someone else, but for some reason, when you stand next to one another, you or they believe that one of you looks redder or more washed out than the other.
It’s difficult for the average person to evaluate their undertone. In a sense, this requires that you see “past” your skin and carefully study the layers underneath. This is why it is so essential that you either hold a white sheet of paper beside your face or stand under a bright white light when selecting your makeup color. This and the steps below will help you accurately identify your undertone.
Learn Your Undertone with a Shade Test
Before you try to identify your specific undertone, you’ll need to understand the types to choose from. Further, know that you won’t always be able to recognize a particular color. For instance, you might only be able to categorize your complexion into the “warm” or “cool” category without ever knowing if you specifically have a “red” or “yellow” color. On that note, the types of undertones are:
- Warm: These are generally red or pink hues.
- Neutral: Red undertones are also in this category, along with yellow.
- Cool: You’ll likely discover that your skin has shades of yellow or gold in this group.
There are three primary methods you can use to narrow down which of these categories you’re included in:
- White paper test. Take a white sheet of paper and stand in an area with lots of natural sunlight. Although it’ll still be challenging to identify specific colors, the direct comparison to the white paper will make those undertones jump out even more. Look in the mirror and observe what colors pop out at you. Are you more red, pink, yellow, or gold?
- Jawline test. Most people incorrectly assume that the best way to ensure you’ve got the right makeup color is to test a sample on the back of your hand. Unfortunately, this is wrong, as most people’s hands are a different color than their faces. If it’s safe and allowed, test a sample on your jawline. This will enable you to compare your neck and facial skin.
- Note: Your neck and face are the lightest and darkest regions of your skin, respectively. Testing a bit of makeup here will not only help you match your color, but the light against dark skin will enhance the undertone’s visibility.
- Make a custom foundation. When all else fails, do it yourself. Unfortunately, even after you take the right steps, you might still be left without answers for which makeup tone is right for you. This is the case for many makeup shoppers, so don’t feel bad. If you think you’re between a few shades, it’s best to mix them up and create a custom foundation that way.
Be Mindful of the Season When Choosing Your Foundation Color
After you can accurately identify your skin’s undertone, you must remember that your full complexion can be enhanced depending on which season you’re in. For example, some people tend to “lose” their color in the wintertime. Once temps start to drop, some folks notice that their skin looks a lot paler than it did in the warmer months.
This can lead to the appearance of your undertone “changing,” in a sense. You may not adopt an entirely new hue below the skin’s surface, but it will likely be a heck of a lot easier to identify the yellow you were struggling to spot earlier in the year. This happens for a few key reasons:
- Dehydration. During the winter, the air is significantly more arid. Since the air’s moisture content is unusually low, the water in the skin easily evaporates, leaving the skin to look relatively ashy, and thus, lighter.
- Reduced sun exposure. In many areas around the world, wintertime means less sun exposure. The fewer UV rays that hit your skin, the less melanin you’ll produce, leading to a lighter skin tone.
- Losing dead skin cells. Scientists say that humans lose about one million dead skin cells every 24 hours. So, even if you do happen to produce the same amount of melanin in the wintertime but don’t consistently get outdoors due to the chilling temperatures, you’ll eventually “shed” your tanned skin and lose the darker hue you had earlier in the year.
If you’re at the turn of the season and need to replenish your makeup supply, it’s best to wait until the seasonal transition is over. This way, you won’t get caught in the awkward phase of wearing makeup that’s either too light or too dark for you, even though it will match your tone in just a few weeks or days.
Identify Your Seasonal Skin Tone
Another popular way of measuring your skin tone is to categorize your complexion under a specific category, according to the seasons. This is the best possible way to ensure that you can keep up with your slightly changing pigmentation as the year progresses and sun availability fluctuates.
This method is not entirely separate from other undertone or shade tests. It’s essential that you know your undertone before progressing to the seasonal skin tone test. Once you’ve determined this part of the test, you can move on to choosing the season and associated color schemes that work best for you:
- Winter. These are cool undertones. People in this category look great with sharp contrasts. Rich, deep colors and earthy tones are fantastic for these individuals, especially blues, reds, and even hot pinks.
- Spring. Those with warm skin tones fall into this category and look great with light and bright colors. Be careful with the contrast if you’re in this group when it comes to accent colors (i.e., eye shadow, lip color, etc.).
- Summer. These folks are also cool tones and are more likely to have light-colored hair. Pastels and nudes are great for this group.
- Fall. People with warm skin tones also fall into this division, especially those with dark hair, including red and black shades. They have the greatest versatility in color palettes and should be careful with shades that are too light.
Note that these guidelines refer to accent colors and not the shade of your foundation. So, if you’re looking for guidance on picking the proper eye shadow or lipstick – not a color that must match your complexion – then you can heed your seasonal skin tone.
How to Pick the Best Eye Shadow for Your Skin Tone
Luckily, eye shadow is one of the easiest facets of makeup you can choose for your skin tone. While it should match your complexion to an extent, this is one of the products you can experience the greatest level of freedom with.
For example, you can select a color based on your outfit, lipstick, or desire to bring out your eye color. However, if you’re going for a more natural look, it’s best to pay closer attention to your undertones. Here are a few tips to abide by when choosing your eye shadow:
- Avoid using white underneath your brow bone. It’s too bright and will not blend in naturally. Instead, use tones that are one or two shades lighter than your surface skin tone. This will brighten this area up just enough without looking unnatural.
- Transition shades (those applied between your brow bone and eyelid) can either match your skin tone or be slightly darker. Shades of brown and orange are perfect for this.
- Unless you’re doing a smoky eye, your crease color should be the darkest in your eye shadow look. Pick a shade that’s two or three shades deeper than your skin tone. This portion of the eye naturally lies in shadow because of how the skin folds here. So, the intent of applying this crease color is to enhance your “real” look.
- Your lid color isn’t held to the same restrictions as the other parts of your eye shadow look. You can either choose a shade of gold here or another hue that directly complements your undertone.
- Finally, it’s best to use either the same color you chose for the brow bone or a highlighter for your inner corner.
Choosing the Right Lipstick Color for Your Skin Tone
There are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to choosing your makeup colors. Lipstick is the greatest example of that. Unlike foundation and blush, people are far less likely to feel inhibited in their lipstick choice than they would be with their lip color. This is possible because it’s not applied directly to the skin, so there’s nothing you really have to match the pigment with, aside from your outfit, if you want.
Still, some makeup enthusiasts want their looks to be cohesive, from the smallest bits of eye shadow down to their shoes’ patterning. For others, lipstick choice is ideal for bringing out their natural pigmentation, so it’s better if it flows naturally with their complexion.
If either of these is true for you, there are a few ways you can ensure that your lipstick is appropriately balanced between your skin tone and overall look:
- The best lipstick colors for warmer skin tones, especially those with yellow or olive undertones, include orange-red hues, brick-red, and terra cotta.
- Cool skin tones with hints of blue and pink look best with blue, purple, and “berry” colors like cranberry or plum.
- Neutral undertones are perhaps the most versatile, as they don’t veer too far in either direction in terms of light or dark colors. You can experiment with mauves, pinks, and berry colors.
- Dark lipstick works flawlessly for people with darker skin tones. Still, no matter if you’re fair-skinned or rich in melanin, it’s best to work deeper colors into your look quite gradually. If it’s your first time wearing dark lipstick, try wearing it with gloss at first. The sheen relaxes the pigment’s intensity a bit and makes it more forgiving against your skin.
- Nude colors are very tricky. They can help you pull off a strong fashion statement or make you look sickly. Keep in mind that a “nude” lipstick does not mean nude, as in matching your complexion. Instead, you need to match it to your lips, which are often darker than your skin. Choose a hue that’s one shade darker than your inner lip for the best results.
Use the “Vein Test” to Select Your Lipstick
You can use one more test to make sure your lipstick is cohesive with your skin tone. This is known as the “vein test.” This method doesn’t necessarily rely on your surface skin tone or one specific hue of your undertone. Instead, it clues you into which additional shades might be contributing to your overall complexion under the surface.
To perform the vein test, hold up your wrist under bright, natural sunlight or powerful white light. It would be helpful to have a white piece of paper held directly beside your wrist or positioned underneath it. Note the colors of your veins and take your cue from your lip color based on the following guidelines:
- If your veins appear to be some shade of green, then you likely have warm undertones.
- People with blue or purple veins usually fall into the “cool” undertone category.
- If you’re neutral, then it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to see your veins, as they’ll match your skin.
Based on the results of your vein test, choose your lipstick color based on the suggestions above.
Choose the Correct Blush for Your Skin Tone
Another aspect of your makeup that could very much make or break your look is the blush. Too few people pay attention to this part of their makeup look, often resorting to grabbing the first blush palette that crosses their eye. This is a mistake! For example, lighter pink blushes may look great on lighter complexions but are hardly flattering on darker skin tones.
Further, pink is not the only blush color there is to choose from. Get this idea out of your head right now! Colors like purple, orange, magenta, or rosewood are breathtakingly beautiful on dark skin tones. Even if you’ve managed to choose the correct foundation color for your skin, the undertone considered as well, the wrong blush color could wash you out and ruin the whole look.
Follow the tips below to find your perfect blush color:
- Wear a white shirt. This might not make sense at first, but when you get in the mirror and start trying out those blush colors, you’ll understand right away. Wearing a non-white shirt (especially a patterned shirt) will complicate the blush selection process. Any other color will essentially compete with the shades you’re evaluating and distract from your complexion.
- Recall your undertone. Your undertone will determine which blush colors look best for your complexion. For instance, someone with a neutral undertone – especially with hints of blue, green, or yellow in their skin – would look great with warmer blush colors. Here are some general suggestions to guide your choice:
- Cool undertones go well with peach or nude blushes.
- Medium or deep undertones are absolutely radiant with peach, bright pink, purple, or orange blush colors.
- Nearly all undertones would benefit from a dual-colored blush. For example, some blushes (like the Charlotte Tilbury Cheek to Chic line) feature two colors: a warmer color on the outer ring with a brighter shade in the middle. These create a multidimensional look, which allows them to blend well with almost any complexion.
- Use the correct blush to test and apply the blush. Dual fiber brushes are the best choice for blush application, especially when using a multicolored product that includes cool, warm, and neutral hues. This will ensure that all the pigment is applied evenly to your skin. Below are some tips for applying your blush:
- Swirl the brush around the powder so that you collect all pigments in even concentrations.
- Tap off the brush. Never go straight into face application after loading the pigment onto the brush. This is likely to throw your look off-balance, as the application will be too heavy-handed due to the excess powder.
- Apply on top of the cheekbone in circular motions. Start closer to your hairline and slowly move forward.
- It’s ok to apply small amounts at a time. It’s easier to build up the color than it is to tone it down if you’ve accidentally gone overboard.
Choosing a makeup look that works for your skin tone is all about getting familiar with your undertone. Your undertone can be either cool, warm, or neutral, which you can determine by various tests in bright, natural sunlight.
While your foundation should certainly match your complexion (the combination of your surface skin tone and your undertone), other facets of your makeup look allow for more freedom, such as lipstick and eye shadow.