The Difference Between Warm, Cool and Neutral Foundations

By Michelle Powell-Smith

Choosing a foundation requires a bit more than simply grabbing a bottle labeled porcelain or mocha from the store shelf. While foundations are available in a spectrum from very pale to deep brown, you need to match not only the shade of your skin, but also the undertone. Here's how to recognize and select the perfect foundation for your complexion and skip those costly makeup blunders that leave you looking too yellow, orange or pink.

The Difference Between Warm, Cool and Neutral Foundations
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The Difference Between Warm, Cool and Neutral Foundations

Understand Undertones

The undertone of your skin doesn't have to do with whether it's light or dark, but with your overall coloring. Your undertone may be warm, cool or neutral. Warm undertones are golden, yellow or peach. Cool undertones are red, blue or pink. Neutral undertones may appear greenish or have elements of both warm and cool tones.

To determine your undertone, look at the inside of your wrist in natural light. If your veins appear blue, you have a cool undertone. If they look green, you have a warm undertone. If your veins are in-between, showing tones of both blue and green, your undertone is neutral.

Warm-Toned Foundation

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Jessica Alba - warm undertone

If your natural undertone is golden, peachy or coppery, a yellow toned foundation will blend into your skin. Warm foundations for pale skin should be very pale peach or slightly yellow ivory, moving into shades of golden beige, deep tan and a range of golden brown tones. Warm foundations pair well with cosmetics in shades of coral, peach, brown, orange, gold and rust.

Cool-Toned Foundation

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Amanda Seyfried - cool undertone

Cool-toned foundations should have a pink undertone, rather than a golden one. Instead of golden beige, you need a pink-toned beige; instead of deep coppery brown, you need a softer rosy chocolate. These shades can be harder to find, and you may realize you're cool-toned if you've bought bottle after bottle of foundation and found it looked orange on your skin. If your foundation shade is cool, pair it with blush and lipstick in shades of pink and rose, and blue and gray eye shadows.

Neutral Foundation

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Emma Watson - neutral undertone

If you have a neutral undertone, warm and cool foundations will appear too yellow, orange or pink on your face. Many foundations are formulated to be neutral. If you haven't been able to find a warm or cool foundation that matches your skin, you may be able to wear a neutral version successfully, even if you do not have a neutral undertone. Neutral foundations are likely to have names like ivory, beige, tan or ebony.