Well, it has everything to do with tonal families! And girl, you know me, it’s all about ‘dem details! So, sit back, get comfy, because today we’re going to breakdown skin tones. From what they are, if & why they matter, and how to figure out what yours is.
1. What ‘undertone‘ means.
2. The definitions of warm, cool, and neutral.
3. How to categorize colors
So let’s begin.
#1 What Is An Undertone?
Then you have undertones.
Undertones are created when at least two colors (or a neutral plus a color) are combined. The proportion of color is what creates an undertone.
Another way to look at it is seeing that there is a “dominant” color, and then a “hint” of another color. Because if you mixed equal parts you’d simply end up with a secondary color.
So, let’s take blue for example. We’ll start with a “pure” blue — meaning that it doesn’t have any other color added to it.
If we again, started with that true blue color and then, this time, added a tad of red, we’d get a third hue of blue.
The same thing can be done with neutrals.
Neutrals are essentially an absence of color. Think in terms of variations of white, black, gray, or browns. They can have color undertones, but the result is a much more muted hue since it’s being mixed with a non-color.
#2 Cool, Warm, and Neutral Categories
These terms describe hues, shades, and undertones by grouping specific colors under one of those umbrella categories.
In other words, the colors that go into the specific grouping must have the presence of specific hues.
For example, the grouping of ‘cool colors’ must have enough of the presence of blue. So whether it’s an undertone or a purer hue, if its got enough blue, then it’s cool.
So let’s go through each grouping/category.
You likely thought of blue ice waters, white snow, silver sparkling icicles, gray clouds, deep forest green pines, and black nights. These all fall into the grouping of cool colors.
And in essence, the grouping of any color that’s going to get labeled as cool is going to have a “stronger” presence of blue.
You can take a hue or a neutral, add enough blue to it, and it will cross into the cool zone.
You could even take a warm color and start adding blue to it to cool it down. Now, it’s important to understand that while you can make a color cooler that does not necessarily make it cool. Yellow can be cooled down, but never cool (for our purposes). Orange can be cooled down but never cool. Only greens and red derivatives can completely cross the category line, which I’ll get into in a moment.
Here’s an example with turning a warm red hue a bit cooler (black was added with a smidge of blue).
The grouping of anything that’s going to get labeled as warm is going to have a “stronger” presence of yellow & red. And since, orange is only made from two naturally warmer colors, it is also part of the grouping.
You can take a hue or any neutral, add enough yellow, red, and/or orange to it, and it will cross into the warm zone. Now, it’s important to understand that while you can make a color warmer that does not necessarily make it warm. Blue can be slightly warmed up, but never warm. Again, Only greens and red derivatives can completely cross the category line, which is dependent on their dominant color. More blue, as the dominant color, means it’s still cool. More yellow or more red means it’s crossed over to the warmer side (and it’s going to be a completely different color at that point).
And just as you can with cool tones, you can also take a cooler hue, and add a warmer hue to it to warm it up.
The first is: neutral as an independent “color” (neutrals aren’t technically colors because they’re essentially an absence of color). So any variations of white, black, gray, or brown is typically just called “neutral”.
The second term is: the neutral tonal category. And it has nothing to do with the individual neutrals (in fact, white, black, & gray actually fall into the cool category), but again, everything to do with undertones.
There are technically only two neutral “category” colors (red-purple & yellow-green, which have an equal balance of warmth & coolness; we’ll dive into the specifics about that in just a moment).
So hopefully you can see that since there are only two colors that are perfectly balanced with cool & warm, the neutral category is really two separate groupings: cool neutrals & warm neutrals.
It’s the undertones of the independent neutrals that end up swaying them into neutral cool (think light heather gray) or neutral warm (think beige).
Since tones in this category are created by taking individual neutrals and then adding some small amount of color to it, neutral tones do tend to appear more balanced with warmth and coolness when you aren’t savvy to undertones —this is likely due to their muted-ness.
The bottom line, or big takeaway, for this category is that there’s warm neutrals and cool neutrals. Each are muted, softer versions of pure tones that are created by mixing an individual neutral + color.
#3 How To Categorize Colors: Cool & Warm
We already know that we can have a hue, then we can start to add blue to it to cool it down, or we could start to add yellow, orange, or red to warm it up.
Which means there are “degrees” to the warmth or coolness that a color has.
If we take yellow (aka a warm color) and add a smidge of blue to it, and then add again, and again, we are cooling down the yellow.
But the big question is: where does that new mixed color actually belong?
Is it cool? or is it warm?
The chart below demonstrates how adding to warm colors and/or cool colors doesn’t actually make the “new” color switch sides. It’s just become slightly less warm (or cool).
Because of this, variations will arise when it comes to where a person thinks a hue belongs.
This becomes especially true when there is more than one undertone (or an undertone and an overtone), or the undertone is so faint, it becomes really dependent on how a person sees color.
However, to help us be a bit more accurate when categorizing colors, let’s consider this another way: Every color has a tonal value.
Since blue is cool and it is a very “strong color” (aka it easily overpowers other colors) it is worth 2 points for the cool side. Yellow and red both get one point each for the warm side.
Let’s do a quick exercise with the color purple.
First, How do you make purple? Equal parts red and equal parts blue.
And now, what is purple’s tonal value? Since we use one red, and one blue, we get 1 point warm and 2 points cool.
So, we see that while purple is warmer than blue it’s still a cool color (& therefore a cool tone).
With tonal value we can better categorize a color as warm/cool, while understanding that it’s just a “cooler” or “warmer” color in that zone.
We could keep going, and give every color a value so we’d know what side of the line it falls. However, we’ll eventually find that there are two colors that have an equal amount of warmth and coolness. And those colors are: red-purple & yellow-green.
It’s interesting because if you do a quick google search of color wheels with warm & cool, you’ll often see that the red-purple is sometimes on the cool side or vice-versa. The same is true for yellow-green.
From this we can deduce that people have a harder time determining if those colors are warmer or cooler — but now you know it’s because their tonal value is dead even.
What does this mean for us with makeup? It means there’s a good chance those colors could look good on cool girls or warm girls.
Applying These Concepts to Skin Tone
Whether you’ve got porcelain skin, caramel complexions, deep ebony, or any level in-between you’ve got an undertone to the shade of your skin.
So you’ve got to look beyond, creme, tan, beige, brown, or ebony to find that underlying pigment aka your undertone.
We use that undertone to help us properly choose foundation. We can also use ‘undertones’ to help guide us when it comes to choosing eyeshadow colors that will enhance our eye color (with analogous & complimentary colors).
Skin tones, however, really come about because, in spite of having an undertone, all skin regardless of shade/level has a combination of colors present.
It’s that combo of colors that creates an overall tone, which we can particularly see when we place other colors next to it.
While we use undertones to classify individual colors, we do not use them for skin classification.
In other words, skin tones aren’t as simple as finding a single pigment (aka an undertone) and then categorizing. Nope. You’ve always got to consider the second factor: how does that color and all the other colors in your skin look next to other colors? It’s really about an overall visual effect.
So, skin tone categories are useful because they help guide you in what color of clothes to wear, what colors of hair to have, and what color of eyeshadows/blush/contour will flow nicely. When there’s a mismatch, it’s really like a visual cacophony.
Why So Many People Are Confused About Skin Tones
It’s easy to see how “misclassifications” start to happen. But honestly, the most confusion takes place, when it comes to skin tone classification, because the definition of “cool & warm” changes based on who you ask.
First up we have the makeup industry: Brands are focused on a single undertone and classifying it. Some (not all) brands label foundation as cool (red), warm (yellow & orange), Olive (blue & yellow), and neutral (supposed to be a balance between red & yellow).
I’ve told this story before, but awhile back, I mostly had a makeup kit full of MAC cosmetics. So, I was used to asking for ‘cool’ foundations and getting foundations that have a yellow undertone & sometimes a tad olive undertone. One day, I decided I wanted to add some Esté Lauders into my kit. I asked the sales girl to point me in the direction of the cool toned foundations, and she took me to a specific area of foundation. I started swatching on my arm only to find that every single “cool” toned foundation had a red undertone. This is when I learned that there are different brands (and even people) who define these terms differently.
Next we have stylists: Not necessarily focused on a single undertone, some talk about overtones. And most add in some other dimensions (like hair/eye color, and a thing called “seasons”). One (talented) stylist in particular says that red & green are neutral. Which means you are always adding to either yellow (aka her warm) or blue (aka her cool). Thus, there is no such thing as a cooler yellow, because yellow is always warm.
Then we have artists who use color theory: In general, blues are cool, yellows/reds/oranges are warm, and the lack of color is neutral. BUT you can technically have warm blues, cool yellows, etc. if you start to get into more advanced color theory.
Last we have hair colorists who, typically subscribe to what artists believe on the most basic level. They use the same principles from color theory to cancel colors out (aka neutralize), cool colors down, warm colors up, and even change the level of your hair properly. In this realm, both cool and warm can actually exist at the same time (take for example an ashy brown hair color but then add in warm highlights).
This is why, when it comes to SKIN, everything gets so confusing. Because each type of industry/person is typically using a different definition & measuring system for warm, cool, & neutral. (e.g. A makeup brand says “Red is cool.” A stylist says, “Red is irrelevant, blue is cool.” An artist says, “Red might be cool, but it depends.” A hair colorist says, “I agree with the artist in this case.”)
*Quick side note: I’m not saying EVERY individual in these groups thinks/feels the way that their respective industry does. I’m just creating some general examples, in addition to the fact that even within an industry there are different definitions going on — so you can understand why the heck you feel so confused.*
So here, for me, I subscribe to the definition of these terms that artists use at a very basic level. Makeup is art, so it doesn’t make sense to use definitions that corporations came up with. No, no.
Here, on this blog, we’re artists.
Even if you’re just starting to learn how to use makeup, girl, you’re an artist. So, we’ll go through, define, and use these terms the same way that artists do. Basic Color theory plays really really well with makeup.
With that said, red typically is considered warm, but it can be cooled down (aka you’ve added blue or black to it to cool it down).
When it comes to skin…
The issue I take with (some of) the makeup brands is that red is not cool. Labeling red as only cool is implying that there are no cool girls without red-dominance in their skin. Which isn’t true (take cool girl Audrey Tautou who has an olive undertone).
And further, I’ve seen people who have a decent amount of “pink” in their skin but actually have a warm skin tone (Cate Blanchet comes to mind), & don’t even get me started on skin conditions like roscea — so there’s a major issue with that terminology.
I do think the stylists are on to something, because when it comes to individuals being classified as ‘warm’ or ‘cool’ I generally agree. But the real issue I find is that almost everyone has yellow in their skin, and that’s typically what the eye is seeing. So maybe “the stylist skin scale” works 100% when it comes to clothing, but it does NOT work when it comes to makeup. Partly due to the fact that stylist disregard/don’t use some parts of color theory. They tend to cherry pick — which again, may be wonderful for selecting clothing but honestly not so great for makeup.
Take foundations for example. Most people need yellow-based foundation — of course, not 100% of people because there is a percentage of people who do actually need more of a red-based, or even green-based foundation (I’m looking at you, my olive-skinned gals).
However, for both cool girls & warm girls my base selection is typically some variation of yellow that I either warm up with Red/orange or cool down with blue/gray.
Now, if a person follows the stylist scale and gets labeled as “cool” what kind of foundation are they going to go out looking for? “Blue” foundation isn’t really a thing, so she’ll probably go after red-based foundations which is NOT going to work for her.
For warmer-skinned gals that are more golden, they tend to have more orange in their skin. So if she uses the stylist scale, what foundation color is she going to search for? Probably a really yellow foundation. Which might work, but it’s actually the addition of red that will be a better match.
So are you seeing the issue with a makeup artist using the stylist’s scale? We share some pieces in what we believe about color (like blue cools things down), but we can’t lean 100% into it because it doesn’t work for our field.
And since hair colorists use traditional color theory in their designs, you’ll usually see a lot more harmony between what artists, colorists, and makeup artists believe.
So what does this mean for you? Pay attention to who you are asking about skin tones AND consider what you’re needing help with.
If you need styling help it’s best to use the stylist’s scale. If you need makeup help then it’ best to use basic color theory (which is a relatively different scale & I think it has a bit more “flexibility” meaning you can get away with wearing some tones that might technically be opposite your skin tone).
So when I’m giving recommendations to you, I’m only talking about makeup & hair. Not clothing. That’s a different beast with different “rules” (and actually additional dimensions that you need to pay attention to).
The Skin Tone Scale
You’ve likely had the experience that you look good in some cool colors but not all (or same thing but with warm colors).
So what gives?
When it comes to skin and what’s going to look good up next to it, there’s a new dimension we have to look at for colors in addition to tonal category, and that’s the level of the color (aka how bright they are or how muted they are.)
Some colors are more opaque (bright) and others are more muted (aka white, gray, or black was added to it). We see that neutral tones naturally tend to be more muted.
So we can place cool on one end of the spectrum, and warm on the other. With neutral falling in the middle. Colors that are further away from neutral are going to be brighter, more opaque, and colors that fall in the middle, or closer to the middle rather, are going to be more muted.
Now, people aren’t colors, however what we’re learning here is that there are going to be people who are TRULY cool (very far left in the scale) and people who technically have a little more warmth to their skin but still qualify as cool — so they are more of a muted cool (aka cool neutral). And same thing vice-versa.
All that to say that there are going to be degrees to the brightness of warm and cool (irrespective of level of skin) making some people warmer (aka warm skin tone) & less warm (aka warm neutral), or cooler (aka cool skin tone) & less cool (aka cool neutral).
This is why some people cannot wear certain cool colors (or certain warm colors), because it’s too cool for them (or too warm), but that shouldn’t discredit that color grouping all together. They are still cool (or warm). (eg This is why a cool toned girl may look great in Navy but a brighter blue looks terrible.)
As always, the whole point in finding out what category you belong in is to be able to choose colors that are a bit more harmonious with your skin tone.
Additionally, even though we’re talking about skin, skin tone categories are a TERRIBLE way to try to find foundation. So take foundation out of your mind (I know I mentioned that as an example earlier, and due to the way that all brands use different definitions it’s honestly pointless. The best method is to match the specific undertone, along with some other things, which I talk about in great depth in The Ultimate Guide to the Best-Looking Foundation.)
So the whole point about the scale, is to make a mental note, that just because there are some *Fill in the blank (cool/warm)* colors that you don’t look good in, doesn’t disqualify you from that grouping.
In other words, just because you don’t look good in bright red, doesn’t mean that you aren’t a warm skin tone. Maybe you just need muted warm colors.
You also need to be aware of the fact that your skin tone can change. It usually has to do with changing levels in your skin because your natural melanin may be warmer. But that’s not always the case. I’m just saying to pay attention to that.
How To Find Your Skin Tone Category
First of all: I do not recommend the vein method or even natural eye color/features as a way to discover your skin tone. There’s too many potential things that would “throw you off”, so my feeling is: why add to the confusion by using an unreliable method?
Remember, skin tone is all about the overall look of the skin (and not specific undertones, overtones, or any other lingo you’ve heard.)
So, one easy way to see the overall look is by putting other colors up and around your face.
If you’re in the right zone you’ll notice things like:
- This evens out my complexion.
- I don’t look gray/yellow/ruddy.
- I see my face first, the fabric second.
- I look vibrant.
- The shadows on my face are softened.
If you’re in the wrong zone you might think things like:
- Help! I have jaundice! / or My face is _____ (red, gray, green, yellow, etc.).
- I look sick (not the good kind).
- I look older.
- All my blemishes & shadows are exasperated.
- I’m getting lost in this color / I see the fabric before I see my face.
Because you typically can’t tell just by looking at yourself & your overall coloring, you need other colors up next to you to reveal what I call “the clash” or “the harmony effect”.
You will need to test both warm & cool colors. But remember, in addition to warm & cool there is also bright & muted. I mentioned this already, but this explains why you may technically be a cool girl and look good in some “cool” colors, but not other “cool” colors. Maybe bright colors aren’t really your thing (for example). Same would be true for a warm girl. However, that is a different dimension that isn’t really important when it comes to makeup per se.
With a makeup-free face, go find fabrics around your home so you can put them up and around your face. It’s also a good idea to get a friend or someone who usually has a decent eye for color to help you. (*Warning: do not use your “imagination”, I tested this with several people. We did the line-up with our imaginations, and then actually draped with fabric 50% of the time we scored totally opposite with what we thought, and what we saw.)
Remember, this isn’t about what you like, it’s about the overall effect a color has on your skin.
Here’s a color line up. Keep a tally on which category you got the most points in. Only pick ONE from each line:
- Icy pink (cool) or peach (warm)?
- Cobalt Blue (cool) or Bright Orange (warm)?
- Crisp White/stone white (cool) or Ivory/Cream (warm)?
- Deep Red (cool) or Orange-Red (warm)?
- Forest Green (cool) or Pea Green (warm)?
- Fuchsia (cool) or Hot Red-Pink (warm)?
- Purple (cool) or Yellow (warm)?
- Dusty blue (cool) or Dusty Coral (warm)?
- Gray (cool) or Yellow-Based Beige (warm)?
- Black (cool) or Terracotta (warm)?
- Blue-Based Green (cool) or Olive Green (warm)?
How’d you score? Did you get more points for warm or cool? Continue for the category below!
(If you’d like to download The Skin Tone quiz which also comes with pro makeup tips then go sign up for the FREE Masterclass on Skin Tones.)
Cool Skin Tones
Celebrities who have a cool skin tone with various undertones & shades: Alicia Keys, Anne Hathaway, Audrey Tautou, Bianca Balti, Camilla Belle, Charlize Theron, Elle Fanning, Fan Bingbing, Jennifer Aniston, Julianne Moore, Katie Holmes, Katy Perry, Kristen Dunst, Lisa Bonet, Lucy Liu, Nazaneen Boniadi, Nazaneen Ghaffar, Nicole Kidman, Reese Whitherspoon, and Zoey Deschanel.
Cool Skin Tone? Try These!
Makeup is all about PLAY. So don’t be afraid to TRY different things and see how they work for you! That’s honestly the best way to learn — by actually putting things on your face.
Just keep track of the undertones you’re trying. That way you’ll start to see a pattern, and know WHAT & WHY you’ve eliminated them.
Having said that, here’s some colors for my cool girls.
For eyeshadow colors it’s really all about undertones. You’re looking for things that have more of a blue base when it comes to the browns & beiges.
This is why buying pallets vs. individual pans is a gamble. A lot of the time, pallets have more warm colors instead of cool colors.
Even as a cool girl, sometimes going too cool ends up looking sort of muddy or creates an older appearance when it comes to makeup. So you always want to pay attention to the balance of cool and warm in your makeup. (I actually, usually recommend choosing eyeshadow colors based off of your eye color instead, but if that hasn’t really been working the way you’d hope, then going into tonal families is great.)
Having said that, I do find that cool purples, blues, dusty pinks, and greens look great on cool girls! It’s just the browns, grays, and beiges that you gotta watch out for because they may be on the warmer side.
You could also go for the pure colors if you prefer bold looks, which means you’d then be looking at things like royal blue, navy, purple, teals, silver, and maybe turquoise.
Be wary of “golden shine” and instead opt for something that matches your skin undertone & level with more of a “soft silver” shine — true for both eyeshadows and skin highlights. But it’s most important for the skin highlight.
Blushes depend a lot on your skin’s level. If you’re paler then you might try an icy pink or regular light pink. Medium level try red-based mauve. Deep level try a brighter red-based blush. All skin levels, need to apply lightly and build coverage to see what amount of opaqueness suits them best.
If you’re a cool olive you may get away with a color between pink & peach, I say that because sometimes the “red” amount in blush makes you look more green, but try the ones I listed above first.
Match bronzer to your tan-skinned undertones (the point of bronzer is for glow) & match contour to the shadows on your face which will typically be more of a taupe color w/ a dash of gray (yep, nothing to do with skin tone categories and everything to do with undertones.)
For lips, you still want to choose things that have cooler undertones. So taupes, mauves, blue-based/black-based reds, or anything that is as close to neutral as possible.
Bright or muted lipstick colors might be good for you, gotta play to find out. A good rule of thumb, is to match the undertone in your lips.
You’re typically looking for icy, ashy, cool beige, or even mocha tones. Essentially that’s green, blue, lavenders, grays, purples, whites, blacks & maybe some reds as the undertones. If it’s too cool for you, then lessen the coolness (remember there are degrees of warm and cool). And with hair, you could have an ashy base but then add warmer highlights to help balance the coolness & warmth.
Warm Skin Tones
Celebrities who have a warm skin tone with various undertones & shades: Aishwarya Rai, Beyoncé Knowles, Cate Blanchet, Emilia Clark, Eva Longoria, Gisele Bundchen, Hayden Panettiere, Jessica Alba, Jessica Biel, Kate Mara, and Oprah Winfrey.
Warm Skin Tone? Try These!
By categorizing things, you can eliminate products that just don’t work for you with the added benefit of understanding WHY it doesn’t work.
Here’s some colors for my warm girls.
Again, you’ll want to look at undertones. You’re looking for things that have yellow, orange, or maybe even red bases. So if you love brown eyeshadows you’ll want to choose a red-brown over a blue-brown for example. Be careful when buying palettes because there might be some “cool” tones in there that you’re just not going to use (these are usually gray, navy, and purples).
Go after peach blushes & either golden or rose gold shine in your highlighter. However, always also pay attention to the highlighter’s undertone, because that needs to be an analogous color with your skin’s undertone.
When it comes to your bronzer you’re usually looking for something with an orange base, and for your contour, typically something that matches the shadows on your face with a touch of red in it.
As far as bright colors go (if you like that sort of thing) you can pull off lime, orange, gold yellow, & fire red.
When it comes your eyeliners (unless you also have dark eyes) try to stay away from black, and instead opt for a rich red brown color.
You’re typically looking for golden, honey, auburn, or coppery undertones. If you’re more of a warm neutral be careful about going too warm and consider maintaining a balance of cool & warm. But either way, typically really icy colors / grays /silvers are not going to be the best on you.
Neutral Skin Tones
In my opinion, there’s no one who has a truly neutral skin tone. You’ll likely lean a little warm or a little cool. Which is where the cool neutral or warm neutral come into play.
Perhaps another way to look at it, would be to say a muted cool or a muted warm. And honestly, if this is where you fall then you may constantly find yourself being “mislabeled”, because you’re a little closer to neutral. So people don’t know what to do with your skin.
However, since you are a little closer to the middle you may technically be able to “pull off” more colors. I still believe you’ll look best though in the colors that are on the side that you lean.
And here’s a few celebrities that I would say are warm neutral: Drew Barrymore, Emma Watson, Julia Roberts, Kerry Washington, Mila Kunis, and Natalie Portman.
But here’s a few celebrities that I would say are cool neutral: Alexis Bledel, Angelina Jolie, Kim Kardashian, Liya Kebede, and Victoria Beckham.
As far as makeup and hair colors go for this group, they can follow the same guidelines as their respective group. So neutral cool girls you can do what the cool girls do AND you may be able to dip into some warmer tones. In general, you’ll probably want to avoid really bright colors.
Neutral warm girls you can do what the warm girls do AND you may be able to dip into some cooler tones. In general, you’ll probably want to avoid really bright colors.
Keep These In Mind When It Comes To Your Skin Tone
First, you can always wear whatever you want.
Some people enjoy that visual cacophony, and more power to you! But there is something to be said about color theory (aka all the concepts we went through today), and using it to your advantage. So, everything in this post are not hard and fast rules, they are guidelines to help you choose colors that will create harmony (or clash if that’s what you’re after).
When it comes to makeup consider these points:
- In my professional opinion, DO NOT use skin categories to help you choose foundation. Only use the dominant undertone & color theory for any necessary color correction. (If you’ve been having issues with your foundation, then go read this post “The Ultimate Guide for The Best Looking Foundation“.)
- You can use makeup to warm skin up, or cool it down. Yes, you’ll be implementing more advanced techniques, but it can be done because makeup has the power to create visual illusions. So, you may be able to wear eyeshadow colors opposite your skin tone depending on the overall composition of your makeup. Further, things like jewelry & wardrobe, and hair color play a critical role in achieving the proper balance. The idea is to start with color theory basics and then play with more advanced techniques.
- You’ll find skin tone most critical when it comes to bronzer, contour, & blush. BUT I still say you don’t need to know your skin tone to be able to know what blush will flow (you can simply use color theory).
- Everyone is going to have colors that are “ok” and then they will have colors that look really good. BUT that doesn’t mean you can’t wear “ok” colors. Always PLAY first.
- When it comes to clothing, stylist have different definitions of cool & warm and how colors get categorized. Use their scale for clothes, not for makeup.
So, I hope that what you take away from this is: identifying your skin tone is NOT an end all be all. Rather, it is a guide that can help you choose harmonious colors.
In my professional opinion, skin categories are fun but they really aren’t that critical when it comes to makeup. In fact, it can just add to any confusion you may have when you’re a beginner — particularly when individuals & brands are using different definitions for the same thing.
In one YouTube video I watched a hairdresser (who I absolutely adore!) describe that warm tones are red, orange, and yellow, and then in the very next segment, did a fun “quiz” where you guess the celebrity’s undertone. They proceeded to say, “She has red undertones so she’s cool.” (Insert head explosion emoji) No wonder so many people are confused! (Dude, you just said red was warm.)
Obviously, the issue is that skin tone categories are not based solely on UNDERTONE. So, they were right about classifying people, but not exactly right as to why that celebrity gets that classification.
Again, my advice is to use skin tone categories for FUN and as a supplemental guide when it comes to makeup. And instead, start to learn about what actually is critical to makeup: undertones & color theory (e.g. analogous & complimentary colors, how your eye perceives color, understanding shades, etc.)
*FYI those are exactly the things I teach on this blog and in my online lessons.
To Sum It All Up
Undertones are not to be confused with tonal categories. They are different things.
It’s the presence of very specific hues (and/or hues in undertones) that qualify a color for the specific groupings/categories of cool, warm, and neutral tones. By applying a tonal value, you can categorize much more easily.
A color qualifies for the cool tone group/category when there is a “stronger” presence of blue.
A color qualifies for the warm tone group/category when there is a “stronger” presence of yellow or red.
A color qualifies for the neutral tone group/category when there is a balance of warm & cool. But when it comes to people, what human is perfectly balanced? I think none. So there’s cool neutral or warm neutral.
When it comes to skin, there is always a combination of color present. It’s that combo of colors that creates an overall tone. Thus, SKIN TONE can only be classified by the overall visual effect & the effect of the skin when compared against other colors —and it cannot be based on a single undertone, overtone, etc.
Identifying an overall tone can be done with a trained eye, but is easier to see when its placed next to other colors in a grouping — if it clashes, then it doesn’t belong in that grouping.
Further, what “looks good” always tends to be a bit subjective.
There is a lot of confusion around warm, cool, and neutral due to the fact that different industries/individuals use different definitions and measurements to make the decision.
My advice is to ask stylists for styling recommendations, hair dressers for hair recommendations, and makeup artists for makeup recommendations. Many times another industry’s method/definition does not translate well (I’ve already done enough ranting about matching foundation, so I hope you see what I’m talking about. LOL)
So, all in all skin tones can help guide you in what color of clothes to wear, what colors of hair to have, and what color of eyeshadows/blush/bronzer/contour will flow nicely. When there’s a mismatch, it’s really like a visual cacophony in some cases.
It’s also true that makeup can change your skin tone, because you can warm colors up or cool them down. Because of this, you may be able to wear colors that are technically outside of your zone.
Never limit your willingness to PLAY. Makeup is supposed to be fun!
The bottom line: you can always wear whatever you want, but it’s true you can achieve better harmony by using skin tones as a guide.