Foundation Color & Shade Matching
If you were personally victimized by a foundation line that abruptly ended at your jawline during the 90s, please raise your hand. Us, too.
No one was teaching us proper makeup routines or to blend as teens, and we definitely weren’t selecting a formula that was even remotely close to our natural shades. Sure, it may have been one of our teen self’s favorite trends to really get that caked-up look, but we’re pretty over it now.
Now that we’re older, we have a chance to get it right, and it’s surprisingly easy once you figure out your skin’s natural tones and highlights. If you’re curious about how to become an expert foundation finder, here is the helpful guide you’ve been Googling for!
What is my base color?
Your base skin color is, in essence, the “true” color of your skin—it’s the overall hue you see when you look in the mirror. When we talk about base color, we’re referring to your skin’s most dominant tone, which will be light, medium, or deep.
Your skin tone is based on the amount of melanin you have in your skin. Melanin is the skin pigment that determines the color of your skin, your hair, and your eyes. The more melanin you have in your skin, the darker your skin will be.
Melanin also plays a role when your skin is exposed to the sun. When ultraviolet rays hit your skin, your skin’s defense is to create more melanin to protect your skin. This is why your skin gets darker in the sun.
You shouldn’t attempt to determine your skin’s base color when your skin is tanned because that isn’t an accurate depiction of your true skin color. Unless you plan to keep your skin tanned (which is so not a good idea), you’ll want to determine your base color on untanned skin.
Light skin tones are fair, sometimes freckled, and burn easily in the sun. If you have a very light base skin tone, you probably don’t tan easily. If you have a light skin tone, you probably find yourself slathering sunscreen over your entire face multiple times when you’re outdoors.
Many light skin tones have cool undertones, but you can also have light skin with neutral and warm undertones.
Medium skin tones usually tan when exposed to the sun. In fact, you may tan so well that you avoid using sunscreen (big mistake). Sorry to burst your bubble, but the sun damages your skin whether you burn or not. Photoaging—i.e., aging faster due to sun exposure—happens to all skin types.
Medium skin tones are beige to olive in appearance and usually have a neutral undertone, making it one of the easiest skin tones to find a foundation shade match.
Deep base tones are also referred to as dark tones. These skin tones have the most melanin, although they should still be using their SPF as well.
You may think you’re unable to burn if you have a deep skin tone, but the sun is still sending down those pesky UV rays. Deep skin tones are also prone to hyperpigmentation, which can create dark spots on the skin that are several shades darker than your natural skin tone.
What is my undertone?
Once you know your base color, you can hone in on your undertone. Your undertone is what makes the difference between a perfect match and looking slightly sickly, so you’ll need this info to pick the perfect foundation shade.
Cool undertones will be pink to red and have a bluish tint. Cool undertones are primarily found in lighter skin, but occasionally you’ll have a deeper skin tone with a cool, blue undertone. If you look best in silver jewelry and jewel tones, you likely have cool undertones.
People with cool undertones typically burn easily in the sun and rarely tan.
Neutral undertones are balanced. Imagine a gas gauge directly on half a tank, and you’ll get a picture of how much a neutral undertone pulls in elements of both warm and cool together.
Neutral undertones have a mix of beige and olive that are similar to a medium skin base color. Neutral undertones tend to tan easily and rarely burn.
Warm undertones are golden, peach, or yellow. Warm undertones may be found in any base color skin tone, especially medium and deep.
Warm undertones rarely burn, and it may be difficult to tell if they tan.
How can I figure out my undertone?
It’s simple. Sometimes, you can determine your skin undertone just by looking at your skin. If you can’t determine your undertone just by looking in the mirror, there are two methods that are virtually foolproof.
Check your veins
The color of your veins can help you figure out your skin tone. Check out the veins on the inside of your wrist, on your temples, or under your eyes. If they look blue or purple, you’ve got cool undertones.
See veins that are more greenish-blue? Your undertones are warm. If you have trouble seeing your veins at all, you likely have neutral undertones.
Tanning vs. burning
If you still can’t make a determination, rely on whether or not you tan or burn. If you almost always burn and never tan, you have cool undertones. If you always tan and never burn, you have warm undertones.
If you’re somewhere in the middle with skin that can tan but will burn if you stay in the sun too long, you’ve got neutral undertones.
How should I swatch my foundation?
With your base color and undertone info in hand, you’re ready to shop for the right foundation shade. You’ll need to swatch it on your skin to test it, but for the love of all things vegan, avoid swatching it on your wrist.
Your wrist skin isn’t identical to your face. Go check; we’ll wait.
See? Wrist swatching is probably how we all ended up with a mask of foundation in the 90s.
Instead, swatch your foundation on your jawline or upper cheek in natural light. If you’re really in it to win it, try it on your forehead. The more skin you’re able to “sample” with a new foundation, the more likely you are to get a perfect match. This applies whether you’re choosing a full-coverage foundation or sheer foundation.
How do I know if my foundation looks right?
Not noticing your foundation is the easiest way to know you’ve got the right shade. If you can see your makeup, especially where your foundation starts and ends, you probably need to readjust.
You should also take into account the kind of coverage you’re using—if you’re using a full coverage foundation to conceal acne or discoloration, you may find that it’s a bit more work to find the perfect shade. A light or medium coverage product will be a bit easier to match since it doesn’t show up as much on the skin.
Test your color by looking at your skin in different lighting. Sometimes shades that look perfect in your bathroom look completely different in the sun.
Even if you’re a blending pro, you won’t be able to out-blend a mismatched foundation shade. If the skin on your neck and décolleté looks obviously lighter (or darker) than the skin on your face, your shade isn’t matched correctly.
Find Your Perfect Foundation Color Match
Finding your perfect foundation shade isn’t rocket science, but it does take a little bit of practice and the right know-how. If you’re concerned you won’t get it right the first time, have a professional help you select a shade. There’s no need to get overwhelmed by the rows of store testers.
As always, make sure the foundations you choose are vegan, cruelty-free, and safe for your skin. The Kinder Beauty Blog is your go-to source for tips, tricks, and up-to-the-minute information about the cleanest beauty products available (including foundations).
If you want to get the best vegan, cruelty-free skincare products sent right to your door each month, the Kinder Beauty Box is the easy way to try new products and find products you love. Make a kind decision for yourself, animals, and the environment the next time you search for your foundation.
Trust the Kinder team to deliver products that outperform your old standbys and keep your furry friends safe at the same time. If you’re in the process of foundation hunting, here are some of our top picks!