How to Choose a Makeup Foundation Colour


I received an email from Maria of Colour Me Happy who was asking on behalf of one of her readers about choosing Makeup Foundation Colours.  It’s a tricky task, and I see so many people with the wrong colour, so here is my guide to help you choose.

 how to choose a foundation colour

Undertone and Overtone of Skin

The undertone of your skin (whether you’re warm or cool) is not the important factor about what colour foundation you choose.  We actually match the foundation to the overtone of your skin, as foundation sits on top of your skin, and if you want it to look natural rather than mask like, choose a colour that appears to disappear into your natural skin colour.

You may have a cool undertone, but the overtone of your skin is more yellow, or alternatively, a warm undertone and a pinky skin.  This is why you should ignore what the cosmetics companies tell you about shades and try them on your skin for yourself.

Unless the colour of your skin on your chest is very different from the colour of your face, I don’t recommend wearing a foundation to match your chest, instead look for one that blends with the skin on your cheek/jaw area.

What you can see from this short film is the differences in colours that foundations can be.  Interestingly I’ve found that each of these colours has suited someones skin tone.


Remember to:

  •  test your foundation on your face not your hand or wrist (as your skin colour may be different)
  • check the foundation colours in daylight (not under artificial lighting such as in a department or cosmetics store), you need to go outside, with a mirror and see how the foundation looks in daylight.
  • test lots of colours, then you’ll get a much more accurate picture than if you just test 2 or 3
  • test the colour on your jawline
  • Only if your decolletage is a very different colour (say tanned) compared to your face do you match your foundation to your chest skin colour.


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  • Ive always found it strange why I look so pale in icy colored garments but not when it comes to makeup. Like icy pinks clothes wash me out unless teaming them up with gold jewelry, but with makeup its the opposite. But many orange and yellow based cosmetics always make me look teared up, but then again even the very warm deeper/smokier colored clothing like mustard and tan do the same! By experiementing with different colors on both clothing and makeup, Im not cool-pink nor yellow-beige, Im warm pink, so neutral to neutral-cool toned foundations works on me (everything yellow make me look orange). Fortunately I only wear foundation occasionally, not on a daily basics. SO it’is interesting those time you can those “aha” moments when you find something works the way you wanted when it comes to both makeup and clothes. 😛

    The only thing I am now trying to figure it out why my eye color turn a washed out grey when wearing cool colored makeup and ruddy when wearing warm toned eye makeup. (It seems like Ive a mix of both warm and cool colors O.o Softly warm undertone with medium value contrast, pink overtone, brassy hair and then deep greyed dark blue eyes. When wearing one color that looks good on my skintone, similare colors makes my eye look teared up instead).

    Btw, the post you did on how colors react when worn together when they have different color properties, does this relate to makeup color when it comes to your eye color or is it even normal to have different under/overtone when it comes to skin and eye color?

    But I must I add, I do rather have washed out grey eyes and looking pale than looking like a tomato though and I just find it fun to to grasp the science behind colors. 😉

  • Imogen, thanks for that – it has to be THE best explanation of how to find the right foundation colour! Personally, I have a lot of mauve/mulberry undertones in my (they seem to shine through from below the skin) and I look very pale and cool. However, the top of my skin is definately slightly yellow – pink toned foundations sit as a layer of pink on my skin. Likewise, sometimes a beauty consultant will notice this, declare me warm skin toned and pick out a very yellow/orange base – which equally sits on the skin and gives me a strange orange glow – not my own! At last I found a Clinque consultant who did exactly as you did with lots of colours on the jawline, until one actually disappeared totally as it blended into my own ivoryish colour. What a relief – this is a colour marked N for neutral in their ranges, which I have found a tremendous help as well – as it helps me find other neutral shades in other ranges too – that is colours that have some warmth, but some coolness as well, sitting ibetween the extremes.

  • I just found your blog and I’m loving it, thank you for the wonderful advice! In my case, I had always thought I was warm, or olive. I’m from Spain and I used to be really tanned when I was a teenager. Now I’m 26 and although my body is still tanned all year long, my face is pale, and I’ve even been told I have a very light complexion. I have dark brown hair and eyes, and I think my face looks a bit yellow/green, definitely not pink. I never get burnt, just tanned, although I avoid the sun, and the veins in my wrist probably look green, and purple the small ones.
    However, I went to a visagism specialist not long ago and she told me I clearly have cool undertones (winter type). I don’t know if it’s because it was during the winter and I where I live I don’t get to see the sun much, but it was a surprise. Then she applied on my face a makeup foundation which looked great keeping my paleness in the studio but when I went out, in the natural light my face looked awfully dark and orange. It happens to be the only tone of that foundation brand with cool undertones, so more on the pink side. Then, on my own, I tried another foundation of the brand which has warm undertones, and I believe it looks better on my skin. I was really confused. The stylist told me that it may be simple because the one she tried was too dark for me, whereas the other is lighter. But still, I don’t think a pink-based, no matter how light, will adapt to my face tone. Then I read this post here and it’s the only time I’ve read about overtones, so this may be my case. It’s a confusing topic though, and it’s hard to trust someone. I wish I could have another visit with an stylist who could really work on the make up colors that make me look good, because now I have no idea about eye shadows or lipsticks again, when I thought I had figured it out, and paid for the professional advice…
    anyways, thanks again for your blog!

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