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Understanding Undertones
Jul 30

Understanding Undertones

I often get questions about foundation matching, and why it’s so difficult. When I first started as a Mary Kay Consultant, in college, I remember hearing my director talk about “undertones.” It wasn’t until I actually dove into makeup as one of my professional endeavors did I really learn how important, and how confusing matching foundations could be. Most make-up artists will tell you, the key to perfect matching is understanding and being able to translate your client’s undertones.

The lowdown on undertones

If you’ve ever been matched for a foundation professionally, say at the cosmetics counter, you will find that people will often tell you what your undertone is. Most cosmetic brands actually categorize their colors by the undertones, putting them into 3 categories: cool (pink, red or bluish undertones), warm (yellow or golden undertones), and neutral (a mix of warm and cool undertones).

This woman has both red and yellow undertones, which can either give you options or problems when matching undertones if you don't understand them

This woman has both red and yellow undertones, which can either give you options or problems when matching undertones if you don’t understand them

So what the heck is an undertone, and why do I need to know about it? Just like everything in our body, skin tone is complicated. We have the skin tone that we see on the surface, identified from fair to dark. Then we have the undertone, which is the color that’s beneath the surface of the skin. So guess what is more important in finding your flawless foundation match? You guessed it, what falls underneath the surface.

From beauty to life

And this is why I love writing about make-up and life, what’s under the surface is what really determines a person’s perfect match. I’m a single mom, who is reluctant to get back in the dating game. But I can definitely reflect on those not so great choices I made in my previous relationships, and it really reminds me about how important it is to focus on what’s under the surface. Physical attractiveness, career success, financial stability, and good credit, have topped my list of things that I was focused on in the past. But really, I find that the people and relationships that I long for the most, are those that have substance and depth to them. People that I can talk to and relate to on a different level. People that I can develop and grow with. But it takes time to find out these qualities, and that is actually the most valuable part of the process. It’s just as important for you to know yourself, and those things that may be under the surface that will come to the surface later. Insecurities, secrets, fears, lies, hopes, desires, talents… I’m not saying that any of these things are good or bad, I’m just telling you that you need to know what they are, so they don’t show up in strange places at inappropriate times.


When possible match your foundation in natural light

And back to beauty

So how do you determine you understand your undertone? Here are a few tips and definitions that may help you.

  • Most skin tones fall into general categories. There are of course always exceptions, but for the most part you can assume that fair complexions will have pinkish undertones, olive/medium complexions will have yellowish undertones, and dark complexions usually have a mix of warm and cool undertones.
  • Your ethnic background is a factor. Women of African descent tend to become dull, grey and ashy looking with the wrong foundation, they also rarely have uniform skin all over. Often times, you just kind of have to go with your preference in more of a red vs. a yellow tone. Latin, Indian, and Asian skin tones are more olive-toned, so makeup with yellow undertones works best.
  • Get matched in natural lighting. Florescent light gives your skin a greenish tint that will give you everything but a good match. If you go get color matched, ask for a hand mirror and walk outside to see how well the colors blend.

Do you have challenges understanding undertones?

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