How to Determine Your Skin Type, Color and UndertonesNovember 02, 2022
Have you ever applied a new foundation only to realize that it doesn’t quite look right with your natural skin color and undertone? We’ve all been there. Like discovering effective skin treatment tips that work for you, finding the right formula and shade of foundation is no easy feat.
There are, however, three things that can drastically help you match makeup to your skin: identifying your skin type, skin tone, and undertones. With these three tools in your arsenal, you’ll become an expert at your own skin and how to find the products that are best suited for it. Here, we’re explaining how to do just that with tips from Dr. Joshua Zeichner, a board-certified dermatologist and Skincare.com consultant.
What Are Fitzpatrick Skin Types?
When we say skin types, you might think you know yours already — oily or dry, combination or sensitive. When it comes to skin tone, however, we look at skin type through a different lens: its ability to tan and burn.
“In dermatology, we typically define skin type according to its ability to tan or burn,” says Dr. Zeichner. “We call these the Fitzpatrick Skin Types, which range from type one skin which always burns and never tans, to type six skin which always tans and never burns.”
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, the scale was developed by Thomas Fitzpatrick, M.D. in 1975, and it can help predict your likelihood of skin cancer.
It is, however, important to note that people from all ethnicities are susceptible to skin cancer and sun damage, no matter where on the Fitzpatrick Skin Type scale they fall. The Fitzpatrick Skin Type scale is helpful when it comes to knowing your skin color and how to find the perfect color match for your shade, but if you have concerns about sun damage or skin cancer, see a dermatologist for a full diagnosis and exam.
How to Determine Your Fitzpatrick Skin Type
Knowing your Fitzpatrick Skin Type can help you to get a better understanding of your skin color and undertone.
Consider these guidelines from the Skin Cancer Foundation to find out your Fitzpatrick Skin Type:
Type 1: You always burn and never tan in the sun.
Type 2: You almost always burn and rarely tan in the sun.
Type 3: You sometimes burn and sometimes tan in the sun.
Type 4: You tan easily and sometimes burn.
Type 5: You tan easily and rarely burn.
Type 6: You do not burn.
You might be asking – since when are foundations labeled by their Fitzpatrick Skin Type? They aren’t, but knowing your Fitzpatrick Skin Type is extremely helpful not only to taking care of your skin, but to knowing what your skin tone is, as the two are often correlated. To look further into your Fitzpatrick Skin Type, you can take this quiz at the Skin Cancer Foundation.
What Is Skin Tone?
Skin tone is the surface color of your skin, determined by how much melanin you have — different from the hues underneath it, which are your undertones.
When searching for makeup products like foundation and concealer, you’re most likely to shade match primarily based on your skin tone, and secondarily your undertones. Whereas there are generally three types of undertones, there is a much wider range of skin tones for humans.
The four main categories of skin tone are fair, light, medium, and deep. Within these categories, however, are a vast spectrum of tones. It can be difficult to determine your exact skin tone, but doing so can make shopping for complexion products much easier.
How to Determine Skin Tone
Frequent changes to your skin, like tanning or skin conditions like rosacea, can sometimes make identifying your natural skin color a difficult task. Do you really have a medium skin tone or did you just spend a lot of time in the sun? Luckily, there are a series of different tests that you can do on your own to help you determine your skin color.
One of them is the jawline test. To determine your skin tone, don’t use the center of your face as a point of reference but rather, your jawline. It tends to be a better representation of your skin color because the jaw is typically less impacted by color changes. Examine this area and see if it’s fair, light, medium, dark or deep.
Another test you can do to determine your skin tone is a shade match with different makeup products labeled light, fair, medium, and deep or dark. Depending on which ones most seamlessly blend into your skin, you can find your skin tone. Once you have a good idea of what skin color you are, you can move on to your undertones.
What Are Undertones?
Undertones are the subtle hue of color underneath your skin. There are three main undertones present in the skin: cool, warm and neutral.
If you have cool undertones, your complexion may have subtle hues of pink, red or blue. Typically, people with cool undertones have blue, green-ish blue, gray or deep brown eyes. You can also tell if you have cool undertones by looking at your natural hair color. Redheads are a prime example. “Redheads tend to have less pigment in the skin than those with darker hair color,” says Dr. Zeichner. Less pigment often equates to cooler tones.
If you’re someone with warm undertones, your skin will lean yellow, peachy or golden. Those with these tones tend to have green, hazel, amber or warm brown eyes with hair that has gold, red, orange or yellow undertones. “People with darker hair and darker eyes usually have warmer skin tones,” says Dr. Zeichner.
Finally, there are neutral undertones, which is when you have a balance of both warm and cool tones.
How to Figure Out Your Undertone
If you’re unsure of your undertone, there are a few quick and easy tests that you can do to help you determine what you are. First is the white versus cream test. You’re going to need two articles of clothing (or towels) — one white and the other cream. Hold the articles of clothing against your skin. If the white complements your skin tone better, you are probably warm-toned. If the white washes you out and the cream is more flattering, you most likely have cool undertones.
You can also try the jewelry test. If gold jewelry enhances your complexion, then you likely have warm undertones. If silver is more complementary, then you are probably cool-toned.
If both cream and white and both silver and gold look great on you, then you’re probably neutral.
Another option is to look to your veins on your wrist for some help. If your veins are green, you have warm undertones. If they are blue, you have cool undertones. If they appear a mix of a blue-green shade, then, you guessed it — you have neutral undertones.
As a general rule of thumb, however, Dr. Zeichner says, “The lighter the skin type, the cooler the tone tends to be.” Therefore, skin types that fall under type one through type three on the Fitzpatrick Skin Types may identify with having cooler undertones whereas someone who is between type three and type six might be warmer.
How to Color Correct Your Skin
If you bought a foundation that doesn’t match your skin color and undertones, don’t worry. There are a variety of products available that can adjust the shade of your foundation to help match and even out your skin tone.
Using color-correcting makeup is one way to color correct your skin with products. Shades of concealer and foundation in complementary tones to your skin can cover discoloration right up — dark purple under-eye bags, for example, call for orange concealer underneath your regular concealer shade to hide darkness. Red bumps and blemishes, on the other hand, are best covered with green color-correcting concealer.
We love the YSL Beauty Nu Tone Corrector. The golden shade adds warmth while the rosy shade adds cool tones to your foundation to create a custom match to your complexion. Our editors also recommend the Dermablend Cover Care Full Coverage Concealer, which has a thick coverage that works to conceal blemishes and discoloration in the skin.
Sans makeup, you can also color correct your skin with skincare products. Products aimed at treating uneven skin tone and discoloration, such as the SkinCeuticals Vitamin C Serum for Dark Spots, can treat discoloration over time for a more even skin tone that won’t need color-correcting concealers. The SkinCeuticals Discoloration Defense is also packed with ingredients like tranexamic acid and niacinamide, which help diminish the appearance of dark spots over time.
While guides can be helpful in understanding your skin tone and how to find the right makeup for it, when it comes to blemishes, discoloration, and any other serious skin concerns you have, our editors recommend seeing a dermatologist for professional medical advice.
Additional reporting by Trishna Rikhy