Do you know what your skin’s undertone is? It’s an important thing to know! It’s important when it comes to figuring out what clothing colors will look best on you, and it’s absolutely the key to choosing your perfect shades of makeup. I touched on undertones briefly two years ago in a post called How To Pick Your Perfect Red Lipstick, but today we’re diving deeper into understanding your skin tone and how it should influence your makeup selection.
As always, click on any pink text link or image for more information.
The Three Types of Skin Undertones
To put it simply, your skin is made up of two layers — the undertone is the second layer. While your skin tone may change with sun exposure, your undertone will stay constant. Everyone has either a cool, a warm, or a neutral undertone. Not sure which one you are? Keep reading for five easy ways to figure it out, and to get my recommendations for the best makeup products for each undertone!
Cool undertones include hints of pink, red, and blueish hues. Courtney Cox is a great example of cool undertones!
Warm undertones include hints of golden, yellow, or peachy hues. People of South American, Mediterranean, or Asian descent typically fall into this category, but anyone can have warm undertones! Kathy Lee Gifford is a good example of a celeb with warm undertones.
Neutral undertones are a mixture of warm and cool. If you have neutral undertones this means that your skin tone and undertone are roughly the same color. Jennifer Aniston is a great example of neutral undertones!
Olive undertones are a combination of cool, warm, and neutral undertones. It may appear ashen or grey, with a green tint. Certain colors in all three undertones flatter olive complexions. Mila Kunis is a great example of a celebrity with olive undertones. Here’s a photo of her without makeup, clearly showing her olive skin tone.
How To Figure Out Your Skin’s Undertone
1. The Vein Test
The vein test is probably the easiest way to determine your skin’s undertone. Simply look at the veins on the undersides of your wrists. If they appear blue or purple, you probably have cool undertones. If they look more greenish, you probably have warm undertones.
2. The Clothing Test
Which colors do you look the best wearing? Which ones snag you the most compliments? Do certain shades brighten up your complexion, while others make you look tired or emphasize the dark circles under your eyes? If you look better in blues, pinks, and white, then you’re more likely to have cool undertones. If you’re better in browns, yellow, green, or orange, then you probably have warm undertones. Throw on something neutral, like a white shirt. Cooler tones tend to look better in white or black. Those with warm undertones tend to find off-white or brown shirts more flattering.
3. The Tan Test
I know we all try our best to stay out of the sun, but way back in the day when you oiled up with baby oil and soaked it up (We all did it, y’all!), did you tan or burn? Cool undertones burn. Warm undertones tan.
4. The Jewelry Test
Which looks better against your skin, silver or gold? If it’s silver, you have cool undertones. If it’s gold, you have warm undertones. Even if you’re not personally a fan of one of them, is there one that looks “better” on you? If you don’t notice a difference between the two, then you may have neutral undertones!
5. Eye and Hair Color
While our natural eye and hair color alone cannot definitively tell us our undertone, generally speaking, people with deeper skin tones and darker eye colors tend to have warmer undertones, while fair skin and people with lighter eye colors tend to have neutral or cool undertones.
If you’re not super confident that you’ve figured out your undertone, I have a hack that you’ll only have to do once! Take three bottles of the same foundation, but with different undertones. Take a drop from each bottle and do a single swipe of each across your cheek. Then look into a mirror and cross your eyes! When your vision is blurred, the swipe of makeup that disappears is the one that matches your skin perfectly!
Helpful tip: if you’re thinking about dying your hair, you may want to take into account your undertone! Cooler undertones are typically flattered by platinum or ash-colored dyes, while warmer undertones pair well with golden or mahogany dyes. Those with neutral undertones can typically go either way! A good hairstylist should be able to guide you.
I have warm undertones. My dad had red hair (before it turned gray) and I have auburn undertones in my natural hair color. I always get the most compliments when I’m wearing colors like sage green, orange, gold, and brown.
The Best Makeup Products For Your Skin’s Undertone
If you have warm undertones as I do, then you’ll want to look for makeup with warm undertones. The same goes for those with neutral and cool undertones. Thankfully, makeup companies sometimes label and sort their products by undertones. This is a huge help when you’re purchasing products online! You may even see helpful descriptions like C, W, or N (which stand for cool, warm, or neutral). City Beauty, my favorite brand of plumping lip glosses, does this, and I find it so helpful! Click HERE to see their plumping lip glosses and HERE to see their plumping matte lip colors. (Empty Nest Blessed readers can use the promo code EMPTYNESTBLESSED for 15% off at checkout!)
My Favorite Makeup Products
Below you will find a mix of my all-time favorite makeup products, plus some of the most highly recommended products for women over 50. As we age, the products we buy and the way we apply makeup should evolve too. For application tips, check out these posts.
- A Pro Answers Your Biggest Makeup-Over-50 Questions
- What I Learned When I Took A Professional Makeup Lesson!
- Midlife Makeup Mistakes You May be Making
Skin Perfecters: Primer & Foundation
One of the most common makeup mistakes that I think women over 50 make is not wearing primer! I’ve used several brands over the years! No matter what your undertone is, all of these will work on your skin.
- My very favorite is Hourglass Veil Mineral Primer.
- If I’m looking for a clean beauty “glow,” I like Tula’s sheerly tinted Blurring & Moisturizing Primer. (Use code 15SUZY for 15% off your entire Tula purchase.)
- Lots of people who have large pores love Benefit’s POREfessional Pore Minimizing Primer, so if that’s an issue for you, know that it comes highly recommended!
When it comes to foundation, knowing your skin’s undertone is critical! Look for a brand that indicates whether a foundation has warm, cool, or neutral undertones. Great brands that I either use or are highly recommended by those I trust are itCOSMETICS , Make Up For Ever, and clean beauty brand Ilia.
itCOSMETICS makes selecting your shade so easy! They will also do a LIVE consultation with you. Yep! I’m talking about a real person over video that can overlay a foundation onto your skin right as you’re talking!
- In the cooler months, I’ve used itCOSMETICS full coverage CC Cream with SPF 50+ for years.
- When the weather turns warm, I want something more lightweight. So this spring, I did a LIVE consultation with one of their experts! She helped me select the perfect shade of their Your Skin But Better Foundation for me, and even answered a few application questions I had!
- When I’m going to be on camera either for a photo shoot or for video, I use Makeup Forever’s Ultra HD Invisible Cover Foundation. It was designed for news anchors back in the late 90s when HDTV first came on the scene, and it’s been a favorite of models and makeup professionals ever since!
- If you’re looking for a clean beauty foundation that also contains serum, you’ll want to try Ilia’s medium-coverage, serum-infused True Skin Serum Foundation.
Youthful Color: Blush, Highlighter & Contour
I am fiercely loyal to Chanel Joues Contraste powder blushes because the pigments are so good, it doesn’t fade out over the course of a day like other brands I’ve tried! My makeup artist friend, Bebe, turned me on to them, and I’ve never looked back. I buy mine at Nordstrom so if I order and don’t like the color on me, I can just send it back. (Free shipping/returns — yes, even on makeup!)
If you know your skin’s undertone, it’s pretty easy to figure out which shades work for you. If it looks pink, it’s for cool undertones. If it looks more coral, it’s for warm undertones.
Highlighter & Contour
A midlife makeup mistake that I think trips up a lot of women over 50 is not using highlighter and contour. I think it’s important no matter what your undertone is! Contouring and highlighting can make the loss of volume that occurs naturally as we age less obvious.
Contouring creates the illusion of structure and lift. It makes your cheekbones and jawline appear more defined. Highlighting attracts light and creates the illusion of brightness and lift. If the idea of contouring and highlighting intimidates you, you can follow my easy instructions for your specific face shape in THIS post. Know that it gets easier with practice and the secret to doing it well is to blend, blend, blend!
- I use Benefit Cosmetics’ Hoola Matte Bronzer for contouring. To select the right shade, consider the overall shade of your face. For example, a fair skinned complexion should use the Lite shade, while the Medium (original) shade works on most other caucasian complexions. For darker complexions, the darker contours should work.
- If you’re a contouring/highlighting newbie or if you’d rather use a creamy products, I highly recommend Clinique’s Chubby Stick Sculpting Contour. It looks like a big crayon, and is so easy to blend! There’s a corresponding Clinique Chubby Stick Sculpting Highlighter that works great for highlights. I own both of these and use them in the winter months when my skin tends to be drier.
- Another great highlighting option that I own is Charlotte Tilbury’s Hollywood Flawless Filter. Again, select your shade according to the skin tone descriptions. I dab it on the top of my cheekbones, the inside corner of my eyes, on my brow bone, on the tip of my nose and chin, and on my cupid’s bow.
- If you’re a clean beauty aficianado, you can use Tula’s much-beloved eye balms for highlighters! Use Rose Glow & Get It Cooling & Brightening Eye Balm if you have cool undertones, and Glow Hour Brightening & Neutralizing Eye Balm if you have warm undertones.
Bright Eyes: Concealer, Eye Shadow, Mascara, and Brows
I’ll be honest, I find concealer the most difficult product to skin match! According to the makeup experts, you’re supposed to use a concealer that is one to two shades lighter than the rest of your face. I can’t seem to tell which shade that is! I think I’ve thrown more concealer in the garbage than any other beauty product! Hahaha! If you have one you love, please leave me a comment and let me know what it is!
The especially tricky thing about undereye concealer is to make sure it doesn’t emphasize your undereye crepiness and wrinkles. I tend toward more moisturizing undereye concealers. The problem with this is that the creamier concealers can tend to make your mascara smear off with each blink! My hack for avoiding the smeary mascara situation: After I put concealer on and pat it in, I blot that area with Clean & Clear Oil Absorbing Sheets. (Cut them in fourths so they last longer and the pieces are smaller.)
It can be trial and error to find the right shade, but I’ve used all of these brands and can recommend them.
Eye Shadow & Eyeliner
While your complexion and your skin’s undertone definitely should affect your choice of eye shadow and eyeliner, the color of your eyes should come into play as well.
With eyeliner, you probably already know that eyeliner pencils are the easiest to use and they create a more natural look because they’re easy to blend and smudge. (I recommend THIS brush for smudging.) My favorite brand is Make Up For Ever’s Artist Color Pencil Eye, Lip & Brow Pencils. There are 26 colors in the line! What’s the right shade for your eye color?
- Blue Eyes – Copper, emerald and blue eye pencils.
- Green Eyes – Amethyst eyeliner is a perfect choice.
- Brown Eyes – Brown, taupe, and chestnut colors are a safe bet, but dark blue, green, and amethyst can also make your eyes pop. (I often use amethyst on my eyes.)
Liquid liner has a more dramatic effect, but it can tend to look harsh, especially on older women. That said, if you have fair skin, you’re going to want to go with brown eyeliner. Medium- to dark-toned skin can use black eyeliner.
You may think mascara doesn’t have much to do with skin undertone, but the experts disagree! If you have fair skin and prefer a natural look, a rich brown mascara is your best bet. It can give color to invisible lashes if you have light hair and it harmonizes with blonde, light brown, or lighter red hair as well. Black mascara looks good on anyone, regardless of skin tone.
I’m sort of a mascara connoisseur! I love mascara and will and have tried many. Since I take a nap every day, it’s especially important to me that my mascara holds up without flaking. My favorite mascara is probably Lancome’s Hypnôse Drama Instant Volumizing Mascara, but it does flake a bit! I also like L’Oreal’s Voluminous Lash Paradise Mascara, but it does flake too. As I said, I’ve tried lots, but I keep coming back to Maybelline’s Lash Sensational Mascara for no flaking, and true staying power! For waterproof mascara, I like Hypnôse Drama Instant Full Volume Waterproof Mascara.
Consider your undertone and general complexion when it comes to your brows! For lighter and warmer complexions, you need a brown brow. Cooler undertones need a darker brown or black brow. For neutral undertones, look at your natural brow color and try to match that.
Benefit Cosmetics’s Gimme Brow+ Tinted Volumizing Eyebrow Gel is one of those great products that will guide you in the shade selection process by indicating your undertone and hair color right in the name of the shade. It’s what I use! True to my warm undertone and hair color, my shade is 3.5 Medium (warm auburn brown), but there are 10 shades in all. The product brushes on with a wand that is similar to a mascara wand, and it contains fibers that attach to your existing brow hairs to give the appearance of greater volume.
Lovely Lips: Lipstick & Gloss
Your skin’s undertone is key when selecting a lip product. I already told you above that I like the way City Lips labels its products with undertones (Click HERE to see them & use code EMPTYNESTBLESSED for 15% off.) I don’t know of another brand that specifically does this for every shade, (If you do, please leave me a comment and let me know!) but MAC does it at least some of the time.
I don’t like to mess with reapplying my lip color throughout the day, so I like CoverGirl Outlast All Day Lip Color or Maybelline’s SuperStay Matte Ink Lip Color. (Click through on those text links or the images below to see all the shades.) For lip liner, keep it in the same color family as the lip color you choose, with the same undertones.
- Cool Undertones – Look for blue- or purple-shaded undertones. For example, for a red lip, veer more toward deep cherry reds versus more orange reds. For a more neutral lip, use a rosy pink nude, or a taupey beige.
- Warm Undertones – Look for lip colors in warm shades. Think brick reds, orange reds, and terracotta browns. For a more neutral lip, think a paler nude if your skin is fair, or a richer nude is your skin is darker.
- Neutral Undertones – Anything from light nudes to deep wines will look good.
I hope you learned a lot today! I’m not a beauty or makeup expert, but I am a huge fan! Hahaha! If you have questions on anything in this post, please leave them in the comments below and I’ll either answer them myself or ask an expert and get back to you.