Have you ever tried on a top or a shade of lipstick that makes your skin tones, eyes, and face come alive, only to test out another that’s almost exactly the same shade but makes you look tired, washed-out, and just generally blah? There’s a reason for that, and it has to do with the the surface and undertones of your skin color.
What’s that? You kinda understand, but don’t really know the difference between surface tone and undertone? Join the club. When it comes to fashion and beauty, there are few buzzwords as prevalent as “cool colors” and “warm colors.” In fact, we’re always hearing that identifying which category we fall into is integral to our overall attractiveness, but finding out what is my undertone is still shrouded in confusion.
The first step in grasping the concept is understanding that our skin’s surface tone is the color you’d describe yourself as having (ivory, light, medium, tan, dark, etc.) Your skin’s undertone is the color underneath the surface. You can have the same skin color as someone, but a different undertone, which are broken down like this:
Cool (pink, red or bluish undertones)
Warm (yellow, peachy, golden undertones)
Neutral (a mix of warm and cool undertones)
One big misconception: That pale girls can’t be warm-toned. In fact, many fair-skinned women have warm undertones (Nicole Kidman is one of them!) and dark-skinned women have cool tones (supermodel Alek Wek is a cool tone.)
So, how can you determine which category you fall into? Read on!
1. Check Your Veins
Push your sleeves up right now and look at the veins on the inside of your wrist. Are they blue or green? If they look more blue, you likely have cool undertones. If the veins look greenish, you’re warm. It’s worth noting, warm girls, that you’re veins aren’t actually green—they look it because you’re seeing them through yellow-toned skin (yellow + blue = green.)
2. The Old Jewelry Trick
Think about whether you look better in silver or gold jewelry (Not which you like more, but which actually makes you look more radiant, glowing, and awake.) Typically, girls with cool undertones look better in silver and platinum metals, and warm-toned women look better in gold.
3. The Neutral Test
Think about what neutral shades flatter you best. Does your skin, eyes, and face look better in bright white and black hues, or ivory, off-whites, and brown/tan shades? The former means you’re probably cool-toned, and the latter, warm.
4. Eye and Hair Color
Your natural eye and hair colors can help figure out your coloring. Customarily, cool people have eyes that are blue, gray, or green and have blond, brown, or black hair with blue, silver, violet and ash undertones. Conversely, warm-toned women usually have brown, amber, or hazel eyes with strawberry blond, red, brown, or black hair. Their hair tends to have gold, red, orange, or yellow undertones.
5. The Sun’s Effects
When you’re out in the sun, does your skin turn a golden-brown, or does it burn and turn pink first? If you fit into the former category, you’re warm-toned, while cool tones tend to burn (fair-skinned cool girls will simply burn, while medium-skinned cool-toned girls will burn then tan.)
6. Identify with a Celeb
A few celebs who have cool undertones: Martha Hunt, Scarlett Johansson, Anne Hathaway, Lucy Liu, Cameron Diaz, Cara Delevingne. A celebs who have warm undertones: Jennifer Lopez, Nicole Kidman, Jessica Alba, Rachel Bilson, Jennifer Aniston, Beyoncé, Kim Kardashian.
7. Find Which Colors Look Best on You
There’s no denying that certain colors will make you look better regardless of your skin’s undertone. Warm-toned girls should lean toward yellows, oranges, browns, yellow-greens, ivorys, and warm reds, while cool-toned girls should wear blues, greens, pinks, purples, blue-greens, magentas, and true “blue-based” reds.
Check out the above color chart for an in-depth look!
A version of this article was originally published in March 2017.