Cool vs. Warm: What’s Your Undertone?

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Today we’re discussing one of the most buzzworthy topics in the beauty industry—what’s your skin’s undertone? It’s an important concept to understand, yet it’s shrouded in mystery!

Let’s start by clearing up the confusion around skin tone vs. skin undertone. Your skin’s tone can be described as being porcelain, ivory, medium, olive, deep, etc. Your skin’s undertone is beneath the surface and can be described as being cool, warm, or neutral. Don’t buy in to the assumption that fair-skinned girls are cool and dark-skinned girls are warm—this is one of the biggest undertone misconceptions out there! If you’re fair, it’s possible for you to have a warm undertone, and if you’re dark, it’s possible for you to have a cool undertone. We’re talking about undertones after all, so they’re not always easy to detect, but we’ve got some quick tips to clue you in on whether you’re cool, warm, or neutral!

1. Vein Check

Take a good look at the veins on your forearm…do they look blue or green? If they appear blue, you probably have a cool undertone. If they appear green, you probably have a warm undertone. If they look teal (a mixture of blue and green) you probably have a neutral undertone. It’s worth noting that a person with warm undertones doesn’t actually have green veins, but rather that blue veins are being viewed through yellow/olive/chocolate (warm) skin. Make sense? Ok, moving on!

2. Jewelry Test

Put a silver bracelet on one arm and a gold bracelet on the other…which one looks better? Note, we didn’t ask which one you like better…try to put your personal preferences aside to identify whether silver or gold complements your skin the most. Does gold make you look sallow while silver makes you look radiant? You probably have a cool undertone. Does silver make you look dull while gold makes you glow? You probably have a warm undertone. Can you rock both silver and gold just the same? You probably have a neutral undertone.

3. Sun Exposure

When you’re out in the sun, do you tend to burn or tan? If you prefer to stay under the shade of the cabana to avoid looking like a lobster, you probably have a cool undertone. If you’re able to soak up those rays and walk away with a bronzy sun-kissed bod, you probably have a warm undertone. This test isn’t quite as finite as the others, but more of a general guide. Regardless of your undertone—don’t forget to wear sunscreen!

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The Importance of Knowing Your Undertone

Shopping for makeup can be a hassle as it is, so knowing your skin’s undertone will help you narrow down your selections to products that suit you best. Don’t worry, your skin’s undertone does not affect your eye makeup options. Girls with cool undertones can wear warm eyeshadows and vice versa—the eyeshadow shades that look most flattering on you will have more to do with your hair/eye color and your personal preferences. Where your skin’s undertone does come in to play is when it comes to face makeup, like foundation, concealer, contour, and blush.

Choosing Foundation/Concealer

Cool Undertone: Look for shades that include one or more of these keys words: tan, shell, fawn beige. Most companies will label cool-toned foundations with a “C” and they tend to look a bit more pink in the bottle.

Warm Undertone: Look for shades that include one or more of these key words: golden, honey, warm beige. Most companies will label warm-toned foundations with a “W” and they tend to look a bit more yellow in the bottle.

Neutral Undertone: Look for shades that fall somewhere in the middle on the cool–warm spectrum…not too pink and not too yellow. Most companies will label neutral-toned foundations with an “N”. In the case that your preferred brand doesn’t offer a neutral shade, err on the warm side—the yellow tones can cancel out redness and are generally more flattering.

Choosing Contours

Similar to foundation, if you have cool undertones, you should select a cool-toned contour and if you have warm undertones, you should select a warm-toned contour. Contouring is meant to create a natural, shadowed effect that’s achieved by applying a shade that matches your skin’s undertone to the hollows of your cheekbones, under your jawline, along your temples, and down the sides of your nose. If you choose a shade that’s opposite from your skin’s undertone, the results will be far less natural!

Cool Undertone: Avoid warm-toned contours as they can appear orange and unnatural. Instead, look for shades that have just a smidgeon of gray in them.

Warm Undertone: Avoid cool-toned contours as they can appear muddy or ashy. Instead, look for shades that have just smidgeon of red in them.

Neutral Undertone: It’s up to you! A neutral contour (not too gray and not too red) will obviously be right up your alley, otherwise, a warm-toned contour will make you look a little more bronzy and a cool-toned contour will make you look a little more chiseled.

Choosing Blushes

Bear with us, we’re about to throw a wrench into things! When it comes to blushes, it’s generally best to wear a blush that’s opposite from your skin’s undertone (this is just a suggestion!). A blush shade that’s different from your skin’s undertone will pop more, while adding depth, dimension, and balance to your look.

Cool Undertone: Avoid blushes with a pink or purple tint as they can appear too bright and overdone on your already cool skin. Opt for a warm peach or soft orange blush instead.

Warm Undertone: Avoid blushes with an orange or peach tint as they can appear unnoticeable (matchy matchy) or add too much warmth to your already warm skin. Opt for a cool pink or mauve-y purple blush instead.

Neutral Undertone: Consider yourself a lucky gal—you should be able to wear both cool and warm blush shades without risking a major blush disaster.

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Now that you’ve grasped the convoluted topic of skin undertones, it’s time to go shopping! And remember, these tips are all generalizations and in no way the be-all and end-all answers…so do what makes you feel good and call it a day!

Products Mentioned in the Video

Nars Blush Orgasm (Nordstrom)

Makeup Geek Blush Hanky Panky (Makeup Geek)

Makeup Geek Blush Rendezvous (Makeup Geek)

Makeup Geek Blush Spellbound (Makeup Geek)

Makeup Geek Blush Bliss (Makeup Geek)

Makeup Geek Blush Infatuation (Makeup Geek)

Too Faced Matte Bronzer (Ulta)

Kevin Aucoin Sculpting Powder (Nordstrom)

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Posted in Articles, Makeup Basics on (last modified: October 20, 2016)