Many people ask this question, and it's very highly Google'd, so I thought I'd lead with this. Lesson 1 is about skintones, or "undertones". There's a lot of confusion about skintones, and a lot of people are passing on misinformation. Let's clear up the fog, shall we!?
- What's the difference between a "skin tone" and an "undertone"? Good question! Often, when people talk about "skin tone" they are really referring to whether someone is light/fair, medium, or dark complected. When people say "undertone" they usually mean being "cool" or "warm". You can have cool undertones and any depth of color to your skin; in other words, you can be fair and cool, medium in shade and cool, or dark complected and cool. The same holds true for warm skin, which can be found in the fairest of fair and the darkest of brown skins.
- So what is "cool" and what is "warm"? Well, folks with cool complexions have blue undertones in their skin, while warm complexions are usually more yellow.
- I don't look blue or yellow. What's up with that? This used to drive me nuts, too! I just couldn't see the blue or yellow! But after awhile, it gets easier, though sometimes people still trip me up (but not often!). Here are some ways that make it easier to identify your own undertones:
- Push up your sleeves and take a look at the inside of your forearms. See the veins there? Are they blue or green? If they look more blue, you're probably rocking the cool undertones (like me!). If you see green veins, you're a warm complected type. Why is this? Remember the old Ziploc commercial? Yellow + blue makes green. Veins are blue, but when viewed through skin with a yellow (warm) undertone... VOILA: green. Cool, huh? So, blue veins = cool skin, green veins = warm skin.
- If you're still not sure, lets talk jewelry. Do you look best in silver (platinum!) or in gold jewelry? If you're not positive which is best on you, wear some gold jewelry and show your best friend or mom (someone who will be honest). Then show him/her your silver jewelry. Which makes your skin look more radiant? Which really shines on you? Usually people with cool undertones really look their best in silver/white metals, while those with warm undertones show off the best in gold/yellow metals. White metals = cool skin, yellow metals = warm skin.
- Another way to test is to try on some clothing in certain colors. Beg, borrow or steal shirts or fabric in these colors: rust/orange, baby blue, white, and ivory/cream. Grab your best friend or mom again and, in good lighting, stand in front of a mirror for the test. Put each color up to your face, or drape around your throat and neck. See how it makes you look. Does the rust make you look healthy and sun-kissed, or sort of peaked? Does the baby blue really do something for you, or do you feel you appear a bit tired in it? Which of the light shades brings out your beautiful, healthy-looking you: the ivory or the white? Please make sure you're looking at The Big Picture and not just noticing your eyes or your hair. If blue and white are your colors, you're cool; if rust and cream are best, you're warm.
- Here are some other generalizations (but not rules!): Cool undertones are most often present in fair skinned people (like myself) who burn but never tan; those who look more "pink" than "peachy"; dark brown skins with "red" tones (Native Americans, some people of African descent); and those whose skin is often described as "bronze" or "brown" when tanned. Warm undertones are present in fair skinned people who can tan; those who tend to look "peachy" rather than pink; people who have visibly "yellow" tones (some Asians, some people of African descent); those whose skin is often described as "golden" when tanned.
- Do you (really) look like any of these people, skintone-wise? I always think of Snow White when I think of cool complexions, but Elizabeth Taylor, Oprah, Meg Ryan, Courtney Cox, and Demi Moore are also cool, as is the real live Snow White: Dita Von Teese. Warm beauties should have Jennifer Lopez as their postergirl, but can also count Nicole Kidman, Heidi Klum, Beyonce, and Lindsey Lohan in their ranks.
- OK, those tests resulted in mixed results, or I'm just great looking in all of these situations. Now what? You may have neutral skin, meaning you look equally good in cool and warm colors. Lucky you!
- The darkest of dark skins on people with African anscestory (those who are truly nearly "black") have cool undertones. Think Alek Wek.
- People who are true redheads, or those who really can pull off faux red hair (and we need complete honesty here - not people who tell themselves that they look good, but don't!) are usually warm compected.
- Olive skin has warm undertones. Some people have been told they have olive skin, but they do not. Please take the tests above and check it out. You may have been misled!
- People from India can be tricky, as can many African Americans and mixed-race folk! What makes these skins tricky? Sometimes there's what I refer to as an undertone and "an overtone". When I see this, skin is most often "olive" or warm, but the surface of the skin has a slightly pinkish tone. These people need custom-mixed foundation (Red Door Spas or Prescriptives) or specifically-blended shades (try MAC's NC42 or NC43 or maybe even NW43).
- Sometimes you find folks with cool skin and warm eyes/hair. That can be confusing! I'm a perfect example of this. I'm without a doubt part of the cool undertone team, but, awkwardly, my hair is pretty neutral and my eyes are defintely warm. Therefore, I wear cool tones for clothing, but sometimes "pop" my eyes with warm eyeshadows. Brilliant, eh?
So what does it all mean!?
COOL UNDERTONES: You'll look best in white metals, as discussed, so please specifcy platinum when the conversation lends itself to the tip! Your wedding dress should be (should have been!?) bright, snow white. When it comes to clothing and/or makeup, think sunrises, berry bowls and Spring shades (but you're not limited to pastels!). The following colors suit you: pink, rose, fuschia, blue, silver, white, black, blue greens, blue-purples. See the color swatches on the left in the pic below.
WARM UNDERTONES: You'll look best in yellow metals, as discussed, so go 24K! Your wedding dress should be (should have been!?) cream or ivory. When it comes to clothing and/or makeup, think sunsets, Thanksgiving, and Autumnal shades. The following colors suit you: peach, yellow, orange, olive green, bronze, brown, rust. See the color swatches on the right in the pic above. THE CAVEATS: Just because you have a warm complexion, you're not limited to the colors mentioned above. You don't have to wear "your" colors! Just keep in mind: wearing warm colors if you're warm complected will look most natural and flattering, while wearing cool colors if you have warm skin can really stand out (or go horribly awry, if done wrong). More on that later.
I'll talk about how to apply this info to picking your foundation, how to pick makeup shades for eyes/cheeks/lips, and how to understand the craziness that is MAC foundations.