How to Identify Your Foundation Color

How to Identify Your Foundation Color

We’ve probably all seen someone whose foundation doesn’t match their skin tone. Their foundation is noticeable: It looks slightly orange or grey, may look like a mask at their neckline, and looks like paint instead of naturally blending into their skin. But, while we’ve all seen this issue on others, have we made the same mistake ourselves? Choosing your foundation color can be surprisingly tricky, so here’s how to identify your foundation color.

Why is it so Difficult to Match Foundation?

There are several reasons why it can be challenging to find the right foundation to match your skin.


While you may see a color on the package or swatch that looks similar to your skin color, it may not match your undertones. For a foundation to look natural, it needs to match both the surface color and the undertone.

Shade Variations

There are natural variations between the skin color on the face, the neck, and the upper chest for most people. This is because the face and upper chest get more sun than the neck, often under clothing. In addition, the face may get more exfoliation, gentle cleansing, or sunscreen than the upper chest that causes further variations in color. The perfect shade of foundation matches all three.

Mistakes during matching. Many people test makeup shades on their inner arm, or in indoor light, or when they are already wearing makeup. However, there are a few simple mistakes that you can avoid to help you choose the right foundation for a healthy, natural look.

How to Know Your Foundation Color

To find your perfect match, here are the key steps to follow.

Find Your Skin Undertone

We define undertones as cool, warm, and neutral. The characteristics of these undertones are:

  • Cool skin has pink, red, or bluish undertones and tends to become red and burn easily when exposed to the sun
  • Warm skin has yellow or golden undertones and tends to tan and darken easily when exposed to the sun
  • Neutral skin has combination undertones and tends to tan lightly but may burn with prolonged or intense sun exposure

Matching your undertone is crucial for choosing a foundation color that matches your skin tone and looks natural. The wrong undertone will make your skin look orange or grey, even when the color looks like a match.

There are lots of ways to identify your skin tone, but many of them are subjective. For example, put on a pure white or an off-white shirt and see which looks better. Or hold a white paper next to your face and compare it to your skin tone. These are good methods but may also be confusing. Instead, use the wrist test to identify your undertone. To perform the wrist test:

In natural light, look at the veins on the inside of your wrist and note what color the veins are. If the veins are:

  • Blue to purplish in color: cool skin tone
  • Green to olive in color: warm skin tone
  • Pale bluish-green in color: neutral skin tone

Find Your Foundation Shade

  • When choosing your makeup shade, here are a few things to keep in mind.
  • Test foundation when you don’t have existing makeup on
  • Test foundation in natural light, not in artificial indoor light
  • Test foundation on your face, rather than your arm or hand
  • Remember that shade names may be inconsistent. A shade name like “cool honey” can be very different from brand to brand
  • Remember that many foundations change color slightly after a few minutes of wear as they react to light and air, so the color in the bottle or immediately upon application may not be the final shade
  • Remember that your skin color can change seasonally, and we are naturally paler in winter. While our undertones stay the same, the surface skin color isn’t the same all the time.

How to Identify Your Foundation Color

Here is how to find your perfect foundation shade.

  1. Have a clean face with no makeup on.
  2. Wear a top with a loose, open neckline so you can see your neck and upper chest as you test makeup.
  3. Test foundation in natural light in the middle of the day, between 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Sunlight is naturally warmer in the morning and evening due to the longer light wavelengths. Therefore, it is more neutral in color during the middle of the day.
  4. Using a small brush, apply a line of foundation from your lower face at the jawline down your neck to your upper chest.
  5. Wait 10-15 minutes.
  6. The perfect shade will disappear or look invisible along the entire length of the line.
  7. For further confirmation, dip a cotton swab in micellar water and swipe across the line in a few places to test if you can see a shade difference between the foundation and your skin

When in doubt, match makeup to your lighter, winter skin and use bronzer or blush to match your summer tones.

If you have hard-to-match skin, you may want to choose a brand like Urban Decay or Fenty Beauty, which have more extensive ranges of shades to choose from. Try three different shades and select the closest match. You may be able to use concealer, bronzer, or mixing to create your custom shade.

If you aren’t sure where to start with choosing a matching makeup shade, there is also a wide range of apps that will use your phone’s camera to help determine the right foundation for you. Make sure you are in mid-day natural light and aren’t wearing makeup, and when using these apps; use an app with great reviews.


The proper foundation looks like your skin, only better. Keep in mind that, due to natural seasonal variations, you may need two foundations to match your summer and winter skin. Following these steps will help you choose the perfect shade that matches your skin and gives you a healthy, natural look.

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