How to determine your skin tone and undertone

When it comes to makeup, understanding the real colour of your skin is primarily about discovering your skin’s undertone. That’s the key to buying the right foundation and concealer shades, allowing you to create a flawless makeup look. It’s something top makeup artists can do in their sleep, but we can’t all have a glam squad at the ready (wouldn’t that be nice?). But figuring out your skin tone and corresponding undertone can be easier than you think.

What is skin's undertone?

When shopping for foundation, you’ve probably heard the terms "cool," "warm," or "neutral" to describe how a shade will look on skin. Those terms refer to your skin’s undertone and are used to determine which foundation shade will match it the best.

The undertone of the skin is the warm, cool or neutral colour that shines through the skin on your face. Although the colour of your face changes through exposure to the sun or with skin concerns, such as rosacea-prone skin or acne-prone skin, the undertone of your skin is always the same.

Cool: Hints of bluish, pink, or a ruddy complexion.

Warm: Skin skews yellow, sallow, peachy, or golden.

Neutral: Has no obvious overtones of pink, yellow, or sallow skin, but rather the skin’s natural colour is more evident.

You can only choose the foundation that will be best for you when you know whether your undertone is warm, cool or neutral. The right one will give you a beautiful and natural appearance. If you use a foundation that does not suit your skin tone then your face could look (too) orange, pink, red or grey.

How to determine your skin’s undertone

There are several ways to determine your skin’s undertone. Start by looking at the inside part of your arm, where the underlying colour shows through fairly well. This area is naturally hidden from the sun and, therefore, is not sun damaged or discoloured, which is why skin in this area works best to reveal how warm, cool, or neutral your skin really is.

Answering the following questions is also helpful:

Does your skin tan easily and rarely sunburn? If so, you probably lean toward a warm or neutral undertone. If not, there’s a good chance you fall into the cool-toned category. (But we’re all using sunscreen, right?)

Do your veins appear bluish or more deep purple? If the answer to either question is yes, you’re likely in the cool-toned spectrum. If your veins appear greenish, you most likely skew toward the warm-toned. Those with neutral undertones will have difficulty discerning either colour—it will just all look neutral.

Do you look better in silver or gold? Personal preferences aside, cool undertones tend to be flattered by silver/platinum; those with warm undertones look better in gold-toned jewellery. Neutral skin tones look equally great in both (lucky you!).

Does your skin look somewhat ashen or grey? You might have the wild card of the bunch – olive skin – which is a combination of the natural neutral, slightly yellow undertone everyone has plus the greenish ashen hue that’s unique to olive skin. Olive skin tone is very specific, but is not neutral, as some tend to call it.

What if you have an uneven skin tone, meaning it’s more than one colour? Although a great foundation helps neutralise this, the secret sauce is routine use of a skincare product that contains ingredients shown to make all skin tones look more even (and smooths skin texture, too). Two research-proven ingredients to promote a more even skin tone are vitamin C and niacinamide.

Shopping for foundation

Now that you’ve determined your skin’s undertone, we must caution you: using a foundation categorised as your respective "cool" or "warm" skin tone may not always be the most flattering choice. For instance, some foundations labelled cool-toned can end up making skin look overly pink, and those labelled warm can skew toward overly yellow. The goal is to select neutral foundation shades that have only the slightest hint of your skin’s undertone. You never want your foundation to be too pink, too yellow, or too ashen.

If you have cool undertones, the foundation should look slightly, and we mean slightly, pinkish or bluish-pink in the bottle. If your undertone is warm, then the foundation shade should have a subtle yellow or golden tone, and we mean very, very subtle.

Of course, there are always exceptions. If you have medium to deep skin colour with a reddish undertone, there is a likelihood that you will look better with a foundation that has a hint of brownish red (but not copper, orange, or peach).

Purely neutral-toned foundations may seem like a slam-dunk for olive skin, but it’s best to experiment with foundations that have a slightly gold tone to warm up the "green" undertone in your skin.

In the long run, don’t overthink it – the final deciding factor is to try the foundation on your face and check the results in daylight to see how it looks. It is especially important to look at your jawline after applying – if you see a noticeable line of demarcation between your neck and your face, then the foundation is the wrong colour!

This might sound like a lot of work, but it will be worth it, because once you find the right foundation, everything else becomes far easier!

You’ll be amazed by how natural-looking the results can be!

Do you want more skincare advice, tips and exclusive offers?

Sign up for our newsletter and become a Paula's Choice Member. Your benefits:
+ Welcome gift*
+ Exclusive deals*
+ Skincare advice
+ Birthday gift

Email Address*:

* Only valid for new registrations. Valid on orders from £25.

Related products

Customer Service

Need help with finding the right product for you skin? Our customer care team are skincare and product experts and can guide you to the best skin of your life.


Sign up for our newsletter to receive exclusive offers and expert skincare advice, plus get £5 off your next order.