Fun fact: You’re probably wearing the wrong foundation shade right now. Sorry, but someone had to tell you. It’s not totally your fault, though, because finding the best foundation (or tinted moisturizer or BB cream) is a weird, difficult game of guesswork that usually results in you with a mismatched, slightly-too-pink-and-pasty face that nobody has the heart to tell you looks weird as hell. And the reason behind it? We’re all deeply, terrible wrong about our skin’s actual undertones, which, you know, is only the most important factor when choosing makeup.
So we went to the mother of all shockingly pretty makeup, Robin Black, makeup artist and founder of Beauty is Boring, to tell us exactly why we’re all basically colorblind to our undertones, and how we can stop the vicious circle, so we can all look our most flawless a.s.a.p. And no, her advice doesn’t require you to hold silver or gold jewelry up to your skin to “determine” your undertones. (Which, by the way, is almost always bullshit.)
First off: You need to stop thinking your undertones are pink. “I’m always surprised by how many people tell me that they have a pink undertone,” says Black. “Pink undertones are the least common of all complexions, and they generally only occur in those with very fair skin—like, if your skin is the same shade as snow—but even people with very light complexions often have neutral or even yellow undertones.”
OK, but what if you’re, like, pretty damn sure you have pink undertones, because your cheeks are super rosy, or you have red, inflamed acne? Nope; think again. “Many people automatically assume that because they have visible red or pink patches on their skin that are caused by acne, irritation, dryness, wind burn, or rosacea, that their undertones must be pink,” says Black, “But it simply isn’t true, and when you apply something that is a mix of red and white pigment over a skin color that has, for example, a yellow undertone, the result is going to be an unattractive pale grey with hints of orange.” You know, like every girl you saw in high school.
Of course, your gravitational pull toward pink-hued products isn’t totally your fault, notes Black, because, up until recently, most drugstores and cosmetic counters only offered pink-toned shades. “I suspect that the surprising amount of pink-hued foundation still on the market is a leftover beauty ideal from previous centuries, when very fair skin was the most desirable,” she says. “Some brands, like Bobbi Brown and Laura Mercier, do focus on yellow, olive, and neutral undertones, but many others still haven’t updated their selection to fit a variety of skin tones, especially when it comes to dark skin,” adds Black. “Why do so many deeper foundation shades have an inexplicable amount of red in them? Dark skin, just like medium and fair skin, comes in a variety of undertones, too, and it’s frustrating that so many lines still remain limited in their foundation colors.”
Though you may totally represent the teeny, tiny group of pink- or red-hued individuals in the world, your best and safest bet is grabbing whatever bottle of foundation looks more yellow than pink. Or, three bottles, to be exact. “Pick three shades of foundation that look close to your natural skin color and swatch each one down your cheek, then stand in natural light—no retail lighting allowed—and look in the mirror,” says Black. “Then cross your eyes and continue to look at your cheek in the mirror. The swatch that disappears in your blurry, cross-eyed vision is the right match, and if all three stand out against your skin as being too light, too dark, too pink, or too yellow, then try again with three more shades.” And don’t worry—you can totally try on and return open bottles of makeup to both drugstores and Sephora (we’ve done it many a time), so don’t be freaked about buying three shades and getting stuck with them.
And, if you’re still not sure where to begin, Black recommends starting with brands that specifically list their undertones, like Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturizer, which is one of Black’s favorites for “sheer, natural-looking coverage.” For buildable coverage, “I’m addicted to the Koh Gen Do Maifanshi Moisture Foundation,” she says, “and for medium coverage that you can double up as concealer and get an incredibly flawless finish, the Tom Ford Traceless Stick Foundation is my ultimate go-to.” Of course, if you’re a long-wear lover, like, “full-coverage foundation with a capital ‘F,’ try the Estee Lauder Double Wear Stay in Place Makeup or the Armani Power Fabric Foundation,” says Black.
Now go forth into this world as a new, yellow-toned foundation wearer, and never find yourself staring into a mirror with a chalky, slightly pink complexion ever again. And maybe mention this article to the next stranger on the street whose face has a pasty-pink tint to it. They might thank you.