We are identified by skin color from the moment we are born. Brown, Black, Yellow, White…but that is not all there is. Just underneath our skin color lies our skin undertone. Knowing your undertone is crucial for finding the right shades to complement your complexion. And by selecting the right shades your makeup will look natural, and not like you are wearing a mask.
I am a girl who loves makeup! Before joining the Vapour team everything I had learned about makeup consisted of what I had picked up from the older girls in high school. Looking back at school photos I looked like I was wearing a mask of makeup. Over the years, through trial and error, or well-intended comments from my mom, like “Honey your face doesn’t match your neck!” I changed my foundation shade—many, many times. I mean seriously, I recently moved and found at least ten old bottles of foundation in different shades from various brands, and not one of them matched my skin!
So how does one pick the right shade of foundation?
“What’s your undertone? Are you warm, cool, or neutral?” my teammates asked me on my first day at Vapour. “I have no idea, and what difference does it make?” I thought to myself. Thankfully one of the Vapour girls picked a foundation shade for me and we quickly moved on. (There is a lot to cover as a new member of the Vapour team.)
I learned so much in my first few months at Vapour, but the subject of skin undertone was still eluding me, and I secretly hoped that I was not the only newbie struggling with the concept. So when I was asked to choose a topic and facilitate one of our staff meetings, the first thing that came to mind was skin undertone. I hoped discussing it with the other girls would help shed some light on the concept.
Undertone relates to color theory, which examines how different colors mix and whether they appear warm, cool or neutral. Reds, oranges and yellows tend to be warm colors. Greens, blues and violets tend to be cool colors. But the way undertones influence our skin color can be confusing because most of us show mixes of warm and cool undertones. Neutral undertones show an even ratio of warm to cool coloring, and are often seen in the variety of pinkish hues.
In preparing for the staff meeting I learned several techniques for determining skin undertone, which mainly involve comparing the skin to something specifically warm, cool or purely neutral color-wise. Each technique will not work for everyone—they certainly didn’t for me—but I include them all as a resource with the hope that one or more of them will help you determine your undertone.
Here is what I learned:
Vein, Hair, and Eye Color
One common way of determining your skin undertone is by looking at the veins on the underside of your forearm in natural sunlight. If they look bluish, your skin tone skews cool, and if they look more green or yellow then you skew warm. If they are a mix, or you can't really tell, then you probably have a neutral skin tone.
Looking at your natural eye and hair colors can also help you figure out your coloring. Typically, cool people have eyes that are blue, gray, or green and have blond, brown, or black hair with blue, silver, violet and ash undertones. By contrast, warm people usually have amber, hazel, brown, or black eyes with strawberry blond, red, brown, or black hair. Their hair tends to have gold, red, orange, or yellow undertones.
You can also try using jewelry to see whether your skin is warm, cool, or neutral. Silver, white gold, and platinum accentuate cool undertones, while yellow gold accentuates warm undertones. The metal that works with your undertones will complement your skin and make you look fresh. If you look equally good with both, then you have a neutral skin tone.
A third way of determining skin undertones is to pull your hair back and put a white cloth like a towel or T-shirt around your neck and shoulders. The white fabric will draw out a subtle cast of color in your face. Blue or pink indicate cool undertones, while yellow and peach indicate warm undertones. Neutral undertones tend to look greenish next to the white cloth.
Peek Behind Your Ear
Have someone pull your ear forward and look behind your ear in natural light. The behind-the-ear skin is pure in tone and a yellowish or pinkish hue should be identifiable within the color of your skin. If your helper sees a yellow hue, then you have a warm skin tone. A pinkish hue signifies a cool tone.
I am happy to say that the staff meeting went well, and I was not the only newbie or knowledgeable Vapour girl that had been struggling with really “knowing” her skin undertone. We passed around gold and silver jewelry, white copy paper, some fabric swatches and a hand mirror. The combination of all the different techniques helped bring it all together for me. I now can say with confidence that I have neutral undertones, and my perfect Vapour Atmosphere foundation shade is 123. I am thrilled to say I no longer look like I am wearing a mask, and my mom agrees my face matches my neck!