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How to Choose the Right Foundation Shade

How to Choose the Right Foundation Shade

Do you have foundation shade paralysis? You’re not alone! Nailing the perfect foundation shade can be tricky, but it all comes down to determining your undertone.

The goal of a foundation is to match your natural skin tone and even out the overall appearance of your skin. Using the correct foundation shade will allow your natural skin tone to shine through.

Use these quick tips to determine your perfect foundation shade by first understanding your beautiful skin’s natural undertone.

What is an ‘undertone’?

Your undertone is the underlying shade of your skin.  

Undertones generally fall into four groups:

  • WARM: yellow or golden – light and medium skin tones
  • COOL: pink or red – light and medium skin tones
  • OLIVE: medium tan or brown skin with yellow and golden undertones with a slight greenish (olive) cast –  medium and medium-deep skin tones
  • NEUTRAL: balanced coloring with no obvious pink/re (cool) or yellow/golden (warm) tones –  light and medium skin tones

In fact, your undertone has nothing to do with how light or dark your skin appears. It also has nothing to do with the amount of pink or redness you see on your skin due to irritation, rosacea, eczema, or acne.

Focus on your undertone first, rather than matching your foundation to your skin color at the moment.

Look at your face, neck, and chest in daylight.

Then, read the following descriptions and select the one that most resonates with you.

COOL UNDERTONES

Cool undertones in the skin have a beautiful pink, red and may even have subtle hints of blue. Does this sound like you?

Your skin shade is very light with hues of pink to medium tan if you are on the lighter end of the spectrum.  If your skin tone falls towards the deeper end of the spectrum, you could characterize your coloring as coffee or chocolate with varying degrees of cream. No one would ever say that your skin has a “golden” or “honey” glow to it.

You look amazing wearing jewel-toned clothing in fuchsia, rosy pink, violet, emerald green, sapphire blue, aqua coloring, as well as grey and black clothing.

You don’t look so hot wearing mustard yellows, burnt sienna, ochre, tomato red, orange, brown, hunter green, spring green, olive green, orangey-red, burnt orange, coral and peach clothing.

You look best in silver jewelry.

Check the underside of your wrists your skin has red or pink hues and the veins on your wrists are mostly blue and purple.

The wrong foundation will look too orange.

You have blue, green, grey, or brown eyes.

You have light to medium ash blonde or light to medium ash brown hair, neutral brown or black hair.

When you get in the sun: If you are at the lighter end of the spectrum, you burn first and then tan (maybe).

Celebrities with cool undertones:  Anne Hathaway, Nicole Kidman, January Jones, Christina Aguilera, Amy Poehler, Reese Witherspoon, Naomi Watts, Gwyneth Paltrow, Emily Blunt, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Kate Middleton, Olivia Wilde, Oprah Winfrey, and Alek Wek

Choose foundations with cool undertones and stay away from anything that looks golden.

WARM UNDERTONES

Warm undertones in skin has a beautiful golden, peachy or honey glow. Does this sound like you?

Your skin shade is very light with hues of peach to golden beige if you are on the lighter end of the spectrum.  If your skin tone falls towards the deeper end of the spectrum, you could characterize your coloring as honey or golden. No one would ever say that your skin has a “pink” or “red” hue.

You look amazing wearing earthy brown, olive green, orangey-red, burnt orange, mustard yellow, brown, coral, cream, ivory, and peach clothing.

You don’t look so hot wearing jewel-toned clothing in fuchsia, rosy pink, violet, emerald green, sapphire blue, aqua. G rey and black clothing are never your most flattering choice.

You look best in gold jewelry.

Check the underside of your wrists to see that your skin has peachy, yellow or golden hues and the veins on your wrists are greener.

The wrong foundation will look too pink, red, or ruddy.

You have blue, brown, hazel, or olive green eyes.

You have golden blonde, brown or black hair.

When you get in the sun you tan easily and don’t burn very often.

Celebrities with warm undertones:  Jessica Biel, Jennifer Aniston, Sandra Bullock, Taylor Swift, Kate Hudson, Gisele Bündchen, Amanda Seyfried, Cameron Diaz, Lindsay Lohan, Kate Beckinsale, Beyonce, and Mary J. Blige

Choose foundations with yellow or golden undertones. 

OLIVE UNDERTONES

Olive skin tones are comprised of a variation of two undertones, yellow undertones or green undertones. This beautiful combo generally comes off as a muted bronze with subtle hints of green (olive) coolness. Does this sound like you?

Your skin shade is very light to medium tan bronze that could be mistaken for a classic “cool”. However, the “olive” skin tone is a slight deviation from the classic “cool” due to the subtle green hue that gives you that gorgeous cool bronze tone.  

You look amazing wearing almost anything! But you look especially brilliant in light pink, light apricot, plum, emerald green, olive green, turquoise, faded blue, denim blue, marine blue, and golden yellow colors.

You don’t look so hot wearing neon colors, brown, mauve, and beige. 

You look best in both gold and silver jewelry. Lucky you!

Check the underside of your wrists your skin has a muted golden hue and the veins on your wrists are more green than blue. 

The wrong foundation will look too white, ashy, or pink.

You have green, hazel, amber, or brown eyes.

You have blonde, red, brown, dark brown or black hair.

When you get in the sun you tan very easily.

Celebrities with olive undertones:  Eva Longoria, J-Lo, Jessica Alba, Selma Hayek, Lucy Liu, Kim Kardashian, and Demi Moore  

Choose foundations that look balanced or are very subtly leaning towards golden with a slightly olive green hue.  Stay away from any bright yellow/golden foundations, cool pinks, and reds.

NEUTRAL UNDERTONES

Neutral skin tones are comprised of a beautiful balance of cool and warm with no obvious undertones of pink, olive, or yellow. If you have this skin tone you may have noticed that you are able to wear many foundation shades in a specific shade range. Does this sound like you?

Your skin shade is very light to a deep coffee or chocolate with no specifically distinguishing pink, red, golden, or honey hues to your skin. It’s exactly how it sounds, perfectly neutral.

You look amazing wearing muted shades of baby pink, rose, ruby, jade, mint, grey, taupe, pink, beige and lavender.

You don’t look so hot wearing electric colors, bright yellow, hunter green, bright pink, bright purple, red and black.

You look best in gold and silver jewelry. Lucky you!

Check the underside of your wrists your skin has a balance of golden and pink with no obvious undertones and your veins appear both blue and green

The wrong foundation will look too white, ashy, or pink.

You have grey, blue, hazel, or brown eyes.

You have light to medium ash blonde or brown hair.

When you get in the sun you may or may not burn first and then tan.

Celebrities with neutral undertones:  Sarah Jessica Parker, Adele, Miley Cyrus, Natalie Portman, Kelly Clarkson, and Victoria Beckham

Choose foundations that look balanced or are very subtly leaning towards golden tones. Stay away from any bright yellow/golden foundations, cool pinks, and reds.

Test the Color Properly

Once you’ve chosen a foundation to test, use a Q-tip to swipe a small dab of foundation on your cheekbone, around your nose, and at your jawline on one side of your face. Then, stand near a window or outdoors where you can utilize natural light for a true reading. You’ve picked the right color if your foundation disappears.

Don’t “correct” your skin tone. Your skin tone is perfect the way it is! If you have blemishes or redness, address the color inconsistencies first with a concealer. Then use the foundation that most accurately represents the beautiful skin tone you were born with.

Don’t try to change your skin tone. You will be much more radiant using the foundation shade that most closely matches the beautiful skin you were born with. And remember, depending on your skin, you might need different foundations for different seasons. Evaluate your foundation in the winter and again after sun exposure to make sure you still have a good match.

Now that you know your undertone, check out my recommendations for The Best Natural and Clean Foundations of 2021.

9 thoughts on “How to Choose the Right Foundation Shade

  1. I have recently changed from colored hair (honey blonde) to my natural color, which is very silvery gray/white. The problem is that it makes my skin look so much yellower in contrast, and I’m having problems finding a foundation that looks good. I’m quite light skinned – usually where the lightest or second to lightest shades in a range) but the yellow (which was probably always there) now looks so prominent. Help!!

    1. Fiona, perhaps you are just slightly to the golden side of neutral. I find that with my own undertone. I can wear a neutral but I still need to add a little of a more golden shade so I don’t look so chalky. Try doing a little experimenting blending two foundation shades together. I also suggest you rule out the OLIVE shade range. Sometimes people think they have a yellow undertone when it is actually olive. The switch from a yellow undertoned foundation to olive can make all the difference. I talk through this on my post: How to Choose the Right Foundation Shade And make sure that your blush isn’t too cool or it will just exacerbate the yellow and not harmonize with your natural coloring.

  2. I have an interesting skin/body tone. My face always have pink or flushed looking areas. when I show emotion I turn more red toned through my face and neck. My arms always hold a pinkish tan tint. When I use to tan or be outside a lot I would turn red then a shade darker tan by morning. People used to say I had an Indian red tan because I would be a nice brown tan with a pinkish red glow to it. I unfortunately never get to see the sun except walking through parking lots and with my windows down in the car. My arms, neck and face still hold a tan or pink tan color but the rest of my is a white/grey color with pinkish tone.
    In reading the above information, my guess would be a cool undertone??

    1. Deanne, If you’ve tried golden, olive, and cool pink foundation shades and ALL of them didn’t work… I would go for a neutral shade. Most brands offer a neutral shade in each range (light, medium, deep). I would start with a neutral shade and match that to your jawline. The pink flush in your face may be due to irritation, imbalance, skin condition like rosacea. That redness is not your undertone and you don’t want to match to it. Look at that neutral shade foundation applied to your face… does it still look too pink? If yes, I would add a little of a warm shade in that same range to your neural foundation and MIX. You may need to play with a mixture to achieve the exact shade for your skin tone. On the other hand, if you apply the neutral shade and it looks too yellow… you likely need to add a bit more cool to the product and mix. You may need to get a little artistic and creative and do some of your own blending. Just like cooking… you will soon create your perfect match and be able to recreate it by mixing!

  3. I am quite dark looking but always have quite a red neck and chest although my face would def be a few shades lighter ..people find it hard to match my foundation …

  4. When tanned I go yellowish. Have tried cool nutural and foundation for olive. Warm colours suit me best, but not too warm. Definite cool colours ash or muted look horrible. My skin is light to medium and I have light hazel eyes. Cannot work out what foundation shade to wear. Help me please

    1. Amanda, I would experiment with warm (but not too orangy) shades that have a gentle golden undertone. Try samples if possible and play with blending more than one shade together if you can’t find your perfect shade in one product.

  5. Hi I am 54 with natural grey hair. I am freckles with a suntan, naturally palish without the sun. Not sure which foundation shade is for me

    1. Hi Joanne, thank you for your comment! We’d be happy to help you select a shade that is perfect for you. We’ve sent you an email to better assist you.

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