Understanding Undertones: How to Select the Perfect Foundation and Lipstick Shades

By Jess / August 17, 2023

When it comes to makeup, especially foundation and lipstick, selecting the perfect shade is paramount. You might have experienced this: you buy a foundation that seems perfect in-store, but when you step into daylight, it suddenly looks off. Or, perhaps you've tried on a lipstick that looked stunning on a friend but washed out your complexion. Often, the culprit behind these makeup mishaps is an oversight of undertones.

understanding undertones

What are Undertones?

Undertones are the subtle colors that come through your skin from underneath its surface to affect its overall hue. They remain constant regardless of whether you're tanned or pale. Understanding them can help you find makeup that complements your skin's natural tone.

There are primarily three types of undertones:

  1. Cool (pink, red or blue): Think of a rosy complexion. If the veins on the inside of your wrist appear blue or purple, you likely have cool undertones.
  2. Warm (yellow, peachy, golden): Imagine golden sun-kissed skin. If your veins look more greenish, you're probably warm-toned.
  3. Neutral: A mix of warm and cool undertones. It's sometimes harder to differentiate, but often, neutral-toned individuals have veins that appear blue-green.

How to Select the Perfect Foundation:

1. Check in Natural Light: When testing foundation shades, always check in natural light. What looks good under fluorescent lighting might look entirely different in daylight.

2. Swatch on Your Jawline: Apply a small amount along your jawline, which will give a more accurate representation of whether the shade blends seamlessly with your face and neck.

3. Understand Product Undertones: Many foundation products specify their undertones like “warm honey” or “cool sand.” Pick the one that aligns with your undertone.

4. Utilize Technology: Many beauty stores now offer shade-matching technology, where a device scans your skin and recommends the perfect shade for you. It's a great starting point.

5. Samples are Your Friend: Before committing to a full bottle, ask for samples. This allows you to try the foundation in different lights and settings.

How to Choose the Perfect Lipstick Shade:

1. Cool Undertones:

  • Reds: Opt for reds with a blue base or those that lean towards plum.
  • Nudes: Rose-nude or soft mauves.
  • Pinks: Berry and jewel-toned pinks.
  • Darks: Wine-colored or deep plum.

2. Warm Undertones:

  • Reds: Coral-reds or those with an orange base.
  • Nudes: Peachy nudes or caramel.
  • Pinks: Coral or salmon pinks.
  • Darks: Browns or brick reds.

3. Neutral Undertones: Those with neutral undertones are in luck as most shades can be flattering. However, you might want to stay clear of shades that are overly cool or too warm. Finding a middle ground is key.

4. The Natural Lip Color Test: Your natural lip color can also be a good guide. If a lipstick shade is a bit deeper than your natural lip color, it's often flattering.

5. Don't be Afraid to Mix: Sometimes, the perfect shade is a combination of two or three lipsticks. Don't be afraid to experiment and blend.

The Science of Undertones:

Undertones are rooted in biology and genetics. The colors we perceive on the skin are influenced by various factors, including blood (which can give a bluish or reddish hue to the skin) and melanin (which can range from yellow to reddish-brown to black).

Subcategories of Undertones: While the primary undertones are cool, warm, and neutral, there are subcategories:

  • Cool: Pink, red, or bluish
  • Warm: Yellow, peachy, or golden. Some people with deeper skin might find they have an olive (a type of green) undertone.
  • Neutral: A mix of both cool and warm tones.

The Role of Undertones in Other Makeup Products:

  1. Eye Shadows:
    • Cool Undertones: Gravitate towards jewel tones like sapphire, emerald, and amethyst or icy pastels.
    • Warm Undertones: Earthy shades like terracotta, bronze, and gold often complement well.
    • Neutral Undertones: A balanced palette of both warm and cool shades suits best.
  2. Blush:
    • Cool Undertones: Rosy pinks and plums.
    • Warm Undertones: Peachy pinks or coral shades.
    • Neutral Undertones: Mauve or rosy brown.
  3. Highlighters:
    • Cool Undertones: Silver or pale pink shimmer.
    • Warm Undertones: Golden or champagne glow.
    • Neutral Undertones: Soft peach or a blend of gold and pink.

Advanced Tips for Foundation Selection:

Custom Foundation Mixing: Sometimes finding the perfect foundation is a challenge. If you're in between shades, consider buying two close matches and mixing them.

Adjusting with the Seasons: Our skin tone can change slightly with the seasons, particularly if you tan in the summer. Your winter shade might differ from your summer one.

Use of Adjusting Drops: Some brands offer pigment drops, which can lighten, darken, or even adjust the undertone of a foundation.

Other Factors Influencing Lipstick Choices:

Occasion: While your undertone can guide you to the most flattering shades, think about the occasion. Soft nudes might be great for a business meeting, while a bold red might be your choice for a night out.

Texture and Finish: The color isn't the only factor. Lipstick comes in various finishes – matte, glossy, satin, and more. Your undertone might love a rose-nude shade, but do you prefer it matte or with a hint of gloss?

Experimentation is Key: As much as guidelines help, there's an element of trial and error in makeup. Sometimes, a shade you never imagined ends up looking fabulous on you.

While the concept of undertones can feel intricate, with practice and observation, it becomes easier to instinctively know what shades will flatter your complexion. Embrace the exploration of colors, textures, and finishes. After all, makeup is as much about personal expression as it is about beauty standards. Use knowledge as a foundation (pun intended!) but let your individuality shine through in your choices.

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