Understanding Skin Tones

How to determine your skin tone
How to determine your skin tone

Understand what skin tone means.

Your skin tone, or undertone, does not refer to the shade of your skin (light, medium, dark)–that is your complexion or the surface color of your skin. Your skin tone is determined by the amount of melanin, or pigment, in your skin and does not change from sun exposure or skin conditions like rosacea or acne.[1] So while a person’s skin may become pale in the winter and a rich brown in the summer, their skin tone will remain the same.

In general, we have three undertone categories:

  1. Warm – think yellow, peach, and golden.

  2. Cool – think red, pink, and bluish.

  3. Neutral – think olive or a mix of those above.

  • Your skin tone will be one of the following: cool, warm, or neutral.
  • Keep in mind your skin tone does not necessarily match what you see on the surface. So you may have pink or ruddy skin, but your skin tone may actually be yellow.
  • Before attempting any of the following steps, make sure your skin is clean and free of any makeup, lotion, or toner. If you just washed your face, wait about 15 minutes before proceeding, as your skin may appear pink from scrubbing and make it difficult to see your true undertone.
  • Always use natural lighting when examining your skin. Different light bulbs can affect your skin differently–they may give it a yellow or green cast, and interfere with the appearance of your skin tone. That’s why when you are in the cosmetic store trying on foundation and you think you’ve found that perfect color and when you get home it doesn’t look the same. It’s simply the lighting plays tricks on your eyes in doors versus the outdoors natural sun light.


Guide to your Skin Tones
Guide to your Skin Tones- Pinterest

Look at the color of the veins on the inside of your wrist.

This is a quick way to determine your undertones.[4] Make sure you are examining your wrists in natural light, either standing near a window or outdoors, and that your wrist is clean and free of product.

  • If your veins appear blue or purple, you have a cool skin tone.
  • If your veins appear green, you have a warm skin tone.
  • If you can’t tell if your veins are green or blue, you may have a neutral skin tone. If you have an olive complexion, you likely fall into this category.




Consider how your skin normally reacts to the sun.

Do you tan easily? Do you burn or get freckles? The amount of melanin in your skin determines how it reacts to sun exposure and can help you determine your skin tone.[8]

  • If you tan easily and rarely burn, you have more melanin and you likely have a warm or neutral skin tone.
  • If your skin burns and doesn’t tan, you have less melanin and therefore a cooler skin tone.
  • Some women with very dark, an ebony skin may not burn easily but still have a cool skin tone. Try a few more tests to figure out your undertone.


Hold a white piece of paper up to your face.

Looking in a mirror, try to see how your skin looks in contrast to the white paper. It may appear to have a yellow cast, a blue-red or rosy cast, or it may not appear to be either, but a gray color instead.

  • If your skin appears yellowish or sallow beside the white paper, you have a warm skin tone.
  • If your skin appears pink, rosy, or bluish-red, then you have a cool skin tone.
  • If your skin appears gray, your skin probably has an olive complexion with a neutral undertone. The green from your complexion and the yellowish undertone combines to create this effect. You can experiment with neutral and warm tones since you fall somewhere in between.[13]
  • If you can’t determine any cast of yellow, olive, or pink, you have a neutral skin tone. Neutral tones can look good in foundations and colors on both ends of the cool/warm spectrum.




Use gold and silver foil or jewelry to find your skin tone. Hold a sheet of gold foil in front of your face so that it reflects light back on your skin. Note whether it makes your face look grayish or washed out, or if it enhances your skin. Then try with a sheet of silver foil.

  • If the gold foil looks best, you have a warm skin tone.
  • If the reflection from the silver foil makes your skin glow, you have a cool skin tone.
  • If you don’t notice a difference (both silver and gold are flattering), then you likely have a neutral skin tone.[15]
  • If you don’t have gold or silver foil, try laying gold and silver jewelry on your wrist, and notice which one is more flattering.


Ask a friend to look at the skin behind your ear. If you have acne, rosacea, or another condition that might mask your skin tone, you can have a friend look at the skin directly behind the shell of your ear, as this area is less likely to be affected.

  • Have them examine the skin right in the little crease behind your ear.
  • If your skin is yellowish, then your skin tone is warm.
  • If your skin is pink or rosy, then your skin tone is cool
  • If they have difficulty, they can try holding a white piece of paper near the skin. That should help them see if it appears yellow or pink.

Usually, those with golden brown, green, hazel with gold flecks, and blue eyes are warm-toned. Those with black or deep brown, steel blue, hazel with gray or blue flecks, and gray are cool toned.

Different Skin Tones
Different Skin Tones
Consider these general categories if still unsure
  • Fair types often have freckles and may suffer some redness. They burn easily, may have sensitive skin, and may have cool or warm undertones.
  • Light types may burn in the sun, but then that burn often turns to a tan. They may suffer some spotty redness, such as on the cheeks only, and their skin may be somewhat sensitive. Both cool and warm undertones are possible.
  • Medium types don’t usually have to worry about burning much, and often have warm undertones. Those who look like they have a tan year-round even without sun exposure may have “olive” skin with a warm or neutral undertone.
  • Dark types rarely burn and usually have warm undertones. Often describes African Americans and women of Indian descent.
  • Very dark types may be described as “ebony” or “deep” and can have warm or cool undertones.

When trying out foundations, keep in mind the following:

  • Warm shades are often labeled beige, golden, tan, caramel, and chestnut.
  • Cool shades are often labeled porcelain, rose, sable, cocoa.
  • Neutral shades are often labeled ivory, buff, nude, and praline.

Disclaimer: Portions of this article were taken from http://www.wikihow.com/Determine-Skin-Tone. Also, this post contains affiliate banners that I earn a commission on each sale made through these links at no extra cost to you. Thank you for visiting Simplyeverythingbeauty.com