How to Determine Your Skin Tone
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Skin Tone Test
- If you tan easily and do not burn, your skin's natural melanin (the pigment that gives skin its color) level is higher, and you most likely have a yellow-to-olive undertone.
- Those who burn and either tan minimally or not at all have significantly less melanin, which results in a pink, bluish-red, or ruddy skin tone. In addition, look for telltale signs: a ruddy skin tone has obvious signs of redness or is one that tends to flush easily. Some neutral skin tones fall into this category, particularly if rosacea is a factor.
- If a yellow (usually referred to as "sallow") tone is predominant, you'll notice that a foundation, concealer, or powders with too much yellow will make skin look worse, not better.
- Olive skin tones tend to look somewhat ashen or gray, from the combination of the natural yellow undertone everyone has and the greenish hue that’s unique to olive skin of any depth.
- Neutral skin tones are those with no obvious overtones of olive, sallow, or pink.
These categories hold true for all women, including women of color; your underlying skin color will always relate to one of these skin tones. You may have been told that you are a particular “season” and your wardrobe and makeup colors should be a specific undertone, either cool (blue or pink tones) or warm (yellow or sallow/olive tones). Unfortunately, the rampant misinformation surrounding skin tone can be misleading when it comes to choosing your most flattering makeup shades.
Shopping for Foundation
When you’re testing foundation shades, it is critical to identify your overall underlying skin tone and find a foundation that matches it. This can be tricky because your underlying skin color but that may not be what you see on the surface. For example, you may have a ruddy (red) or ashen (gray) skin tone on the surface but your underlying skin tone is actually slightly yellow to beige. You want to neutralize whatever overtones are present with a neutral- to slightly yellow-toned foundation, thus matching the skin’s natural undertone.
Why a slightly yellow undertone? Because skin color, more often than not, always has a yellow undertone: that’s just what the natural color of melanin tends to be. For the most part, regardless of your race, nationality, or age, your foundation should be some shade of neutral ivory, neutral beige, tan, dark brown, bronze brown, or ebony, with a slight undertone of yellow but without any obvious orange, pink, rose, green, ash, or blue. Adding those shades to a foundation is never flattering and can look obvious and contrived.
There are a few exceptions to this guideline: Native North American or South American women, a tiny percentage of African-American women, and some Polynesian women do indeed have a red cast to their skin. In those instances the information about neutral foundations should be ignored. Because their skin has a slightly reddish cast, they need to look for foundations that have a slightly reddish cast to them—but that’s only a hint of brownish red, and not copper, orange, or peach.
Regardless of which of these categories you fall into, trying foundation on and making it sure it matches your skin exactly (especially in daylight) is the best way to get a color that looks natural, not like you’re wearing foundation or, even worse, a mask.
Choosing Makeup Colors
Flipping through the pages of a fashion magazine is great way to determine which colors work best with your skin tone.
- Redheads with fair to medium skin tones like Susan Sarandon, Nicole Kidman, and Julianne Moore tend to wear corals, salmon, browns, ambers, bronze, and other earth tones.
- Blondes with fair skin to medium skin tones like Gwyneth Paltrow, Paris Hilton, and Kirsten Dunst favor a range of pink shades.
- Brunettes with fair to medium skin tones like Julia Roberts and Jennifer Garner are often seen in light rose and soft red shades.
- Women with dark brown hair and fair to medium skin tones like Demi Moore, Sandra Bullock, and Penelope Cruz wear more vivid shades of rose and cherry.
- Black hair and deeper skin tones such as Halle Berry and Angela Bassett wear soft natural tones such as nude pinks, soft browns, and pale corals.
It is also easy to see that there are exceptions to the rule and as a change of pace all kinds of color combinations (not to mention changes in hair color) are typical. In other words, choosing color can be as diverse and versatile as changing your clothes. To be safe, stay with the basics listed above, but in truth, anything goes as long as it is worn in balance and the colors work together.