You are here

Your True Colors

Quiz: What's Your Skin Tone?

The key to choosing the most flattering makeup colors, no matter your ethnicity: knowing your undertone. Find out whether you're "warm" or "cool":

I have a fair to medium complexion. In natural light, the skin on my wrist appears primarily:

a. Yellow and/or green

b. Pink   --or  --

I have a dark complexion. In natural light, the skin on my wrist appears:

a. Golden chocolate

b. Blue-red

In natural light, the color of the veins in my wrist is:

a. Green

b. Blue

I look best wearing:

a. Gold jewelry

b. Silver jewelry

The T-shirt most flattering to me is:

a. Off-white

b. Snow-white

(Fair/medium complexions) If I'm in the sun, I usually:

a. Tan easily

b. Burn easily

If most answers are a's, you're warm; if most are b's, you're cool.

Choosing Your Perfect Palette

Makeup that's cued to your undertone is nearly goofproof  -- it enhances your features and looks the most natural. If your skin's dark, pick the deep shades in your category. Fair complexions look best with sheer versions of these colors.

Warm Undertone


Colors: Champagne, honey, neutral plums, blues, violets

Try: Goldie Locks from Jane, Cover Girl Autumn Sunset (deep gold); Shiseido Midnight Sky; Bobbi Brown Navy


Colors: True red, reddish plums, golden honey, amber

Try: Bourjois Zeste de Pasteque, above; BeneFit Don't Fence Me In (golden amber); L'Oréal Honey Halo Lipshine


Colors: Corals, salmons, roses, peaches

Try: Neutrogena Fresh Peaches, Stila Rose; Estee Lauder Berry Light


Colors: Amber, gold, beige, shimmery pinks, brick-red

Try: OPI Out of This World, Revlon Amber Ablaze; Almay Well Buffed (light beige)

Cool Undertone


Colors: Icy blues, grays, very light browns, sand

Try: Prescriptives Wind, Revlon Slate Gray; Clinique Double Date (light brown)


Colors: Rose-pinks, mauves, pale cranberry, spices, brownish plums

Try: Cover Girl Shimmer in Quartz, Estée Lauder Bois de Rose; Stila Ava (pale cranberry)


Colors: Neutrals (to counteract skin's ruddiness), apricots

Try: Lancôme Miel Glace Blush Subtil, Nars Silvana (apricot); Revlon Sleek Cheeks in Skin Light


Colors: Bright pinks, dark true red

Try: Deborah Lippmann Makin' Whoopie, Sally Hansen Blackberry Wine Frost; Urban Decay Trip (deep pink)

How to Ace Your Base

Getting a true match between your foundation and your skin color is the most important rule when it comes to makeup  -- but it's the number one mistake women make, says Jose Parron, director of the Image Studio at Barneys in New York City. "Women think they can change their skin color with foundation, but that just doesn't look natural." To do it right:

1. Match the foundation to your undertone. If you're warm, select a shade with a yellow or an orange base. Cools should choose a blue-based hue. Ask the salesperson for help or, if you're at a drugstore, use the tester or buy a couple of shades to try out at home  -- at most national chains you can return what doesn't work, even if it's opened.

2. Don't test foundations on your wrist. Instead, find a few shades that look promising, then apply in vertical strips on your face from your cheek to just below your jawline. Wipe each line lightly with a clean makeup sponge. The one that disappears into your skin is your best color.

3. Take lighting into account. Fluorescent bulbs don't give an accurate rendering. When you think you've found the right foundation, apply it on your entire face and look at yourself in a mirror in natural light.

4. Don't try to alter your skin's natural color with foundation. But if you're feeling pale, use rose-tinted powder to add a pink glow. Or tone down ruddiness, and add a subtle bronzing, with a yellow-based powder.

5. Change your foundation if pregnancy changes your skin tone. You may need extra coverage for hormonal breakouts or to camouflage melasma's dark blotches. Melasma gets worse in the sun, so apply a separate sunblock first, not just a base with SPF.

Made-to-Order Makeup

Having your foundation, eye shadow, blush, or lipstick created specifically for your coloring minimizes the guesswork, so you're more likely to wind up with just the right shade. Some of our favorite customizers:

Prescriptives counters in department stores have specialists who'll analyze your skin's hue to create customized foundation ($55), powder ($40), and concealer ($17). You also get a "colorprint," which places you in a color family, so it's easy to pick their most appropriate products for eyes, cheeks, and lips. (or 800-243-2288) customizes cosmetics for skin, lips, and eyes. For each item, you answer several questions about your eye color, skin color, and so on, then you're offered up to ten shades that would suit you. Prices range from $17 for eye shadow to $28.50 for foundation. If the product isn't right, you can have it reformulated free or get your money back. (or 800-442-3936) offers mineral-based cosmetics and skincare products tailor-made for your skin type, tone, and color preferences, along with makeover ideas and application how-to's. The site lets you buy sample-size products (for $2 or $3); if you order regular-size products afterward, you can deduct the cost of the samples. Prices range from $9 for eye shadow to $28 for powder foundation.