Everything You Need To Know About Undertones

Know your tone, but don't let it limit you.
Publish date:
January 25, 2015
makeup, skin tones, cool tone makeup, warm tone makeup, undertone

One of the many things I learned when working as a stylist was that, thanks to a few well-meaning suggestions and articles, people are often obsessed with finding out whether they have warm (olive or golden) or cool (pink or blue) undertones, even if they don’t know what to do after they have the answer. So, I’d take their wrist and look into their eyes and, like a skin tone oracle, inform them that they were either warm, cool, or a combination of both/neutral, the latter of which often resulted in confusion.

Here are some quick ways to find out for yourself at no extra charge from me.

Vein Test

Check the inside of your wrist. If your veins appear more purple or blue, you’re cool toned. If they’re green, you have a warmer skin tone. If you, like me, went "Huh?" while looking at your inner arm, you might be neutral.

Gold vs. Silver

Looking majestic in gold jewelry indicates that your undertones are probably warm. If silver is more your thing, you’re probably cool-toned. If you rock both with equal grace, you’re likely neutral.

Color Test

This is quite overly simplified, but if you look like a million bucks in jewel or pastel colors, you have cool undertones. If you look ravishing in more earthy colors, you have warm undertones. A better way to test is by wearing the opposite and looking sickly in it, thus eliminating what you’re definitely not. Again, if it’s ambiguous or you look fab in both, you’re a goddess and probably have a neutral undertone.


This is an iffy sort of way to know, but if you burn easily or look pink when you go into the sun, you’re cool-toned and, if you become more sun-kissed, bronzed, or olive when you hit the beach, you’re warm-toned.

Eyes And Hair

People with cool undertones tend to have green, blue, or gray eyes, with ashier (can we please come up with a more appealing way of referring to this?) toned hair, while people with warm undertones tend to have hazel or brown eyes, with richer hair tones. People who haven’t seen their natural hair color in decades disagree on all points.

Now that you’ve determined whether you’re cool- or warm- toned, what do you do with that information? Well, finding a foundation is a lot easier, to be honest. Other than that, I can see why they don’t include the answer on your birth certificate and/or driver’s license.

When It Matters

Shopping for foundation can be a pain, but knowing your skin tone makes it a bit easier, especially under those fluorescent lights. If you have warm undertones, look for a foundation that is more yellow. If you have cool undertones, your foundation should be more pink. Confusingly, MAC labels its pinker foundation as NW (neutral warm) and their more yellow foundation as NC (neutral cool). Just tell your brain that the N stands for NOT and it will make more sense. To some, it might make sense to contrast your foundation in order to neutralize your undertone but this isn’t the case. If you’re warm toned and apply cooler foundation, you will get a much less natural finish.

When It’s More Of A Loose Guide

While we’ve seen that your undertones can affect your choice in the colors you want to wear, it should be viewed as more of a guide and not a rigid requirement.

Warm-toned skin looks best in earth-toned and gold eye shadows, warm peach and coral blushes, and a more true red or orange lipstick. Cool-toned skin looks best wearing jewel-toned, silver, and pink eye shadows, cool pink blushes, and a more blue-based red or pink lipstick.

This isn’t to say that if you're warm-toned you have to abandon that blue-toned red lipstick that you love. Don’t allow guidelines to make you shy away from having fun with your makeup. Playing with color is fun, and policing your makeup based on your skin tone is not worth abandoning that fun.

  • Do you let your undertone determine what you wear, or are you a rebellious teen when it comes to colors?
  • Does MAC’s NC/NW foundation labeling also stump you?

Cover image: Nik Merkulov