Undertones and skin tones; choosing the right foundation is more complicated than it’s been made out to be.

A month before getting married, I took a hard look at myself in the mirror to confront what’s been baffling me for years. I texted my best friend for some supportive wisdom: “Why do I ALWAYS look weird with foundation on?”

“You need to find a shade with the right undertone,” she replied immediately.

As someone who invests more in skin care than makeup to avoid smearing foundation on my clothes, I haven’t thought to ask her this before. But when I did, it sounded like gospel.

Why Conventional Advice Doesn’t Work

To determine your undertone, all you have to do is figure out if you look better in gold or silver jewelry, right? Not exactly.

There are tons of largely unhelpful tips on the internet for finding your undertone. Many of them involve figuring out if you look better in white or off-white or orange-red or bluish-red (if you’re confused like I was about bluish-red, see below!)—but don’t obsess over these subjective points of reference.

The most-often told “tell-tale sign” is probably this: If the veins on your wrist look bluish or purplish in bright, natural light, consider yourself cool-toned. If they look greenish, you’re warm. If they’re in-betweenish, you’re probably more neutral or olive. This test might work for some, but it’s certainly not the definitive way to find the right foundation.

“Everyone sees color differently,” says Marc Reagan, Director of Global Artistry at Bobbi Brown Cosmetics. Your perception of your undertone might vary depending on the season, the lighting, your hair color or your outfit of the day. And that’s fine, because sometimes, undertones are overrated.

Why Your Foundation Might Look Weird, Part 1

Undertones: The Truth (and the Right Way to Find Yours)

So how do you find your undertone? According to Reagan, people generally fall into one of three undertone categories: cool, warm and neutral.


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