Tips on How to Choose the Foundation for Every Skin Color

Have you ever wondered why it’s so hard to find the perfect foundation shade? Even if it appears to be the right color—not too light, or too dark—somehow it’s just not quite right? It may be because you don’t know your undertone. There is much more to skin color than just the obvious lightness or darkness of skin. Underneath the surface of the skin, there is an underlying color tone that affects the surface hue in subtle ways. These undertones are responsible for whether or not your foundation shade choice looks natural or slightly off. 

If you’ve never experienced this, then chances are your undertone is neutral, which means you are an easy match. But if you often find yourself wondering why foundation colors which in the bottle appear to be a good match end up looking wrong, it could be because they are meant for someone with a warm undertone, yet you have a cool undertone. Or you have a warm undertone and your foundation is meant for a cool.

Own Your Tone

All skin has undertones of warm, cool, or neutral, regardless of how light or dark the skin may be. Warm undertones contain hues that are yellow, gold, or peachy. Those with cool undertones have hues of pink, blue, or ruddy (reddish) tones beneath the surface of the skin. Having neutral undertones means you may have elements of both warm and cool hues or you have neither.

Before you try to find your perfect shade match in a foundation there are several ways you can determine your undertone. First, examine the veins on the inside of your wrist or forearm. If they appear blue or purple, you have cool undertones. If they appear greenish, you have warm undertones. If they are neither, or hard to determine, you are probably neutral.

You can also identify your tone by looking at the jewelry that looks best on you. If you seem to shine in silver, then you are probably a cool. If you think you look gorgeous in gold, you are probably a warm. If you look great either way, you are not only lucky—you’re neutral.

If you tend to burn easily in the sun and tan very slowly, you are likely to be cool-toned. If you quickly develop a deep golden tan, you are warm-toned. If you seldom burn but tan slowly you are probably neutral.

Olive toned skin is generally considered warm or neutral with a slight greenish or grayish cast.

How to Choose the Right Foundation Once You Understand Your Undertone

Once you know your undertone it’s easier to find a perfect match when shopping for foundation. Often, they will be displayed according to tone differences and you will notice golden or honey-colored shades for warm-toned individuals and rosier shades for cool-tones. Often you will find a W on the label to indicate warm tones, N for neutral, and a C on the label for cool tones. 

You can also pick up clues in the shade names of foundations. Warm-toned foundations will often sport names which include: golden, honey, cream, and warm beige. Cool-toned foundations may include shade names like fawn, beige, and shell. Neutral shades will often be labeled as “nude,” “buff,” and “ivory.”

Knowing your tone is important for choosing all foundation types from full coverage to sheer foundations, BB creams, tinted moisturizers, and powder foundations.

Switch Your Swatch

While foundation color swatches are often cutely displayed on a forearm, and many people use the inner forearm as a place to shade match because it receives less sunlight than other body parts, experts tell us that the skin on the inner forearm is not as close a match to our facial skin as the skin on the jawline and neck. If you rely only on matching the shade to your forearm you may end up with the dreaded makeup mask line at your jawline or on your neck. You can find your closest match by a testing foundation in a stripe from your jawline down to your neck and finding one that blends well with both.

Find Your Finish

Once you’ve determined your skin’s undertone and found the ideal shade in your foundation, it’s also important to consider your ideal finish. Even if you’ve found the right color and undertone shade for your skin, your foundation still won’t be a good match for your skin if you choose the wrong finish. Foundations come in a range of finishes including sheer, dewy, satin, and matte. Before you can choose the right finish to top off the right shade, you should know what each finish type is and what it does for your look.

Sheer: Sheer finishes are lightweight and leave the skin looking very natural. If your skin is clear and blemish-free, a sheer finish foundation may be all you need. Foundations with sheer finish have minimal coverage, so they will even out skin tone but won’t hide freckles, age spots, or blemishes. Sheer finish foundations are a good choice in foundations for normal or combination skin.

Dewy: Foundations with a dewy finish allow the skin’s natural oils to show through, leaving a glowing, “dewy” look that’s youthful and radiant. Dewy finish foundations are good for mature skin that tends to be dry and not oily but may accentuate deep lines and wrinkles. You may wish to avoid dewy finish foundations if your skin has lines and creases.

Satin: A satin finish foundation is in between dewy and matte. Satin finishes work on all skin types. If you don’t like the shine of a dewy finish or the dullness of a matte, then a satin finish may be ideal for you.

Matte: Matte finish foundations eliminate shine, making it ideal for oily skin. It dries with a flat finish and reduces the appearance of pores and imperfections. Those with dry or mature skin may wish to avoid foundations with matte finishes, as they may be drying and can cake or settle into fine lines and wrinkles. Matte finish is full coverage, so it may feel too heavy for those who prefer a lightweight foundation.

Once you’ve followed these foundation finding tips, you’re sure to have found the right match for your skin color, type, and tone.

Resources — AfterGlow,,

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