How to Choose the Right Foundation Shade

We’ve all experienced a moment where we’ve inwardly cringed when a friend or relative has a visible makeup line. Should we mention it? Ignore it? One thing is certain, we know that we want to avoid it happening to us and putting someone else in the position of trying to decide whether or not to tell us.

So, how do we avoid the dreaded makeup line on the neck or jawline? How do we choose the perfect foundation shade to match our skin color?

Understand Your Undertone

Have you ever held a bottle of the best full coverage foundation you could find up to your wrist and found it was a perfect match, only to try it on at home and find out that it looks too orange, or too pink? Or somehow it just doesn’t seem to work with your skin tone? Why does this happen?

The fact is, there is more to matching a foundation shade than just choosing how light or dark it is. In order to get a good match, you have to know what your skin’s undertone is.

The overall hue of your skin is not from surface color alone. Skin also takes on a cast from the color underneath the skin’s surface. This is your skin’s undertone. Undertones are generally grouped under the descriptions: warm, cool, and neutral. This is why the names of foundation makeup are often something like, “Warm Honey,” or “Cool Bisque.”

Cool undertones will have a slight hue of pink, red, or even icy blue. Warm undertones are golden, yellow, or peachy. Neutral may be in-between the two, or neither.

How to Own Your Tone

Before you can choose a foundation that’s a good match for your skin, you first have to determine your skin’s undertone. There are several ways to figure out if your undertone is warm, cool, or neutral.

Read your wrist! The simplest way to find your undertone is to look at the inside of your wrist. If the veins appear to look blue or purple, you have cool undertones. If they look green, you have warm undertones. If your veins are a more indeterminate color, or both green and blue, you are neutral.

Which Jewelry Brings You Joy?

Do you naturally prefer silver jewelry because it just looks better on you? If so, you are probably cool-toned. If you feel you look your most gorgeous in gold, you are probably warm-toned. If you look great in either (or all!) jewelry you are a lucky neutral.

Does the sun make you say, “Oooh!” or “Ouch?” If you tend to turn red in the sun and then burn and peel, you are probably cool toned. If you turn into a beautiful bronzed beauty in the sun, you are probably warm-toned. If you tan, but it takes a long time to build a noticeable color, you are likely to be neutral.

Here comes the bride… all dressed in white—or off-white? Another way to test your skin tone is to pick a white and an off-white fabric and hold them up to your face. If the white fabric complements your skin tone and gives you a glow, you probably have warm undertones. If the off-white fabric flatters you, then you are probably a cool-toned person. If either shade suits you, you are a lucky neutral.

How to Find Foundation in Your Own Tone

Once you know your skin’s undertone, look for clues in the name of your foundation. Many will include warm or cool in their foundation names. Other brands will indicate the undertone on the bottle by using the letter W, C, or N for warm, cool, and neutral, respectively.

Knowing your undertone is even more important when choosing a powder foundation. You will need to read the package details to determine shade and undertone. The best powder foundations are so compressed in their pans that it’s really difficult to judge by looking at the color without trying it on.

Where to Test Match

While it’s common to see ads for foundation featuring the array of shades swatched on a forearm, that isn’t actually the best place to try to match your skin tone with a foundation. Experts tell us the best place to color match your foundation shade is to your jawline and neck. This is where you get the closest match to your face and lessens the possibility of a noticeable, mask-like line. If you match your shade directly to the skin on your face, you may discover once you wear it, that your foundation doesn’t match your neck—and that’s where the dreaded demarcation line appears. And that is never a good look.

It’s also a good idea to test match in natural lighting. That might mean moving over to a store window to check your color, because the lighting in a department store probably won’t get you the best match. If it’s night time, you should check your color match in LED lighting to get the best match.

Experts tell us to wait a few minutes after smoothing the foundation into your skin to check the color in outdoor lighting. Foundation makeup oxidizes with the natural heat of your skin and the color may subtly change. To see the true color of the foundation you are trying, give it a few minutes to melt into your skin.

Seasons Change and So Do I…

You may need to change your foundation shade with the seasons. If you like to tan, or get a little sun glow in the summer, you may have to choose a slightly darker shade. Experts tell us that we can keep a summer shade and a lighter winter shade on hand and then mix them to find our ideal color match as the seasons are changing.

You can also go with a more sheer tinted moisturizer for summer that not only lets your own shade shine through, but also won’t sweat off the way a heavier foundation will. In the winter, you might prefer a more full coverage formula that’s moisturizing for dry winter skin. Look for a foundation with a dewy finish for winter to keep your skin looking fresh and moist, rather than winter-dry.

Once you’ve learned your undertone type, and how to test match with your skin, you should soon be able to find your perfect match, so you and your makeup soulmate will have a long and happy relationship together.

Resources—, BeautyStarNetwork, BeautyBakery