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How to match your foundation shade

January 1 | 5 minute read

Foundation Shade Match Guide Hero 16x9

Originally published on | May 17

Foundation is the bedrock of your makeup, so getting the shade right is one of the most important things you can do to build a look you love.

Foundation should enhance your natural skin, rather than covering it up like a mask. In fact, the sign of a perfect foundation match is when you can’t see it at all. But easier said than done, right? Many of us experienced that unfortunate teenage phenomenon of going out with a full face of makeup that sat three to four shades away from our neck colour. Not so chic. And if you’ve ever gone out feeling great, only to show up like a ghost in all the pictures, then you know the perils of a mismatched undertone mixed with flash photography.

So how do you ensure your foundation colour match is on point? First you’ll need to identify your skin tone and your undertone, and then check your matches in natural light. Here’s five simple steps to nail your foundation shade match.

Step 1: Identify your undertone

Not to be confused with your skin tone, your undertone is the ‘warmth’ level of your skin. There are three categories of undertone: warm, neutral and cool undertones, and all present differently (although you may sit on the cusp between two).

To determine your undertone, take a look at your veins. Generally, if your veins appear blue or purple, your skin has a cool undertone. Green veins indicate a warm undertone, while blue or green veins suggest a neutral undertone. This method works best for paler skin, since darker skin can make it harder to see the vein colour.

Another method is to wear a white top and stand in front of a white surface. Simply looking in the mirror (or at a selfie) should reveal your undertone, since your natural skin colour shines in contrast to the white.

Cool undertones will often have a pink, red or blue cast, while warm undertones have a more golden, peachy or yellow-based glow. Neutral sits somewhere in the middle.

Other tips to help you narrow down your undertone include considering what colours you look best in (if you have a cool undertone you may gravitate towards blues and greens, and vice versa). It’s also said that cool undertones suit silver jewellery, while warm undertones suit gold, and neutrals can wear both (but we’re all for breaking rules on that one!).

Knowing your undertone is very important when it comes to selecting your foundation because even if you have the right shade match, a mismatched undertone can really throw your colour off. Cool-toned foundation on warm-toned skin will often appear ashy and dull, while warm-toned foundation on cool-toned skin gives that yellow, red or oxidised appearance.

Step 2: Understand your skin tone

Your skin tone refers to the colour of your skin, placing you in a range from light to dark. Shades in the fair range are the lightest and tend to burn very easily, often with porcelain skin and cool undertones. Light skin tones can be either cool or warm, and may tan or burn in the sun. Medium skin tones tend to generally be warmer tan or olive shades, while deep shades are the darkest, rich in melanin and range from warm-toned dark brown to cooler-toned deep dark.

Once you know both your undertone and your skin tone, you can start to narrow down your shade options. While it is possible to shade match online, we’d always recommend doing so in person if at all possible, since everyone’s skin is different, and shades can vary greatly between brands and even between products.

Step 3: Test your selection

Once you’ve narrowed down your options to around three potential shades, it’s time to test them.

First things first, make sure you’re testing makeup-free (and that includes skipping the tinted moisturiser. You want to match as closely to your natural skin as possible.

While you may see shade swatches being compared on wrists, this is not recommended for foundation since the skin on your arm can be multiple shades away from your face. Instead, match against three areas on your face: your jawline, neck and cheeks. Some skin tones may have a range of variations throughout the face – if this is you, it’s best to match to your jawline, since cheeks can carry colour, and since you want your foundation to blend seamlessly from your jaw to your neck without that telltale line where the colour changes.

If you self-tan regularly, bear this in mind too. You may want to colour match when you have a fresh tan, and you might even need to have two different shades on hand to match tanned and natural skin.

Remember that your coverage preference will affect how precise your shade match needs to be. If you like a sheer coverage foundation, then you can be less specific with your colour match. But if you’re going for full coverage, any shade variation will be more obvious and dramatic, so you’ll want to get your match just right.

Step 4: Check your match in natural light

Time to step outside! Natural light is the best light source to examine your shade match in, so grab a sample or get shade-matched in store, and then take yourself out into the sunshine. Foundation shades can look markedly different under fluorescent lighting, so it’s a good idea to wear your shade around for a day to see what it looks like in different lighting scenarios.

You might also like to take a selfie (use the flash!) to check how your foundation looks on camera. Some foundations, particularly if they contain illuminating or highlighting properties, can reflect and throw light – so be wary of this, especially if you’re shopping for a big event like a wedding where you’ll be having your photo taken.

The other thing to be aware of is oxidation. Depending on the formula, some foundations can dry down to a different shade or consistency as they oxidise, so you’ll want to see how your foundation looks and feels after a day of wear.

Step 5: Update your foundation for the season

As the weather changes, so too does our skin. And while your undertone won’t change, most of us tend to be a couple of shades lighter in winter, as we stay covered up and indoors, and then darker in the summer months with more sun exposure.

One solution is to cycle between foundation shades or formulas, and you may prefer different consistencies regardless. For example, going for a more mattifying foundation in the humid summer months and a dewy liquid in the drying winter.

Or, if you have your holy grail and want to stick with it, you can also try mixing in a few drops of liquid bronzer to darken the formula in summer. Just be mindful that this will sheer out the consistency, so it might not work for full-coverage lovers.

Related topics and brand tags

MakeupHOURGLASSNARSCharlotte Tilbury

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