Deciding your skin tone

posted on: May 30, 2011

One of the most interesting things I’ve learnt at Imageakademiet has been to see what colours will suit a person. Once you learn to see the difference between warm, cool or neutral colours, it’s practically a whole new world out there. Choosing a new top or lipstick is a lot easier if you know that it will complement your skin tone. But before you have a look in the mirror, it’s a good idea to understand the difference between warm and cool colours. I made a little guide:

This basically means that there aren’t any cool yellows (with the exception of a lemony, almost lime-coloured yellow), and that a blue colour needs to be slightly green-ish to be warm. There are also some colours that are neutrals, meaning they will suit people with both warm and cool skin tones.

Don’t worry if it looks confusing at first, it takes practice to see these things with a glance, but understanding the theory means you can begin to practice. Here, for instance:

Now, to the skin tone. One way to decide, is to look at celebrities with the same colouring as you. In my instance, that could be Anne Hathaway or Alexis Bledel, both who are definitely cool (just different kinds of cool, but we won’t get into that now). Examples of warm girls are Tyra Banks, Julia Roberts and Amanda Seyfried.

What makes this method tricky, is that you really need to look at someone in person, in natural daylight and without makeup to decide their true skin tone. And how often do we see celebrities in that situation? Second, hair and makeup can change a person’s colouring quite a lot, and actresses often have to do this because of their job. Third, pictures can be very deceiving because of lighting or photo editing.

My favourite method is the rouge test, which looks something like this:

Colour analysis: warm or cool skin tone? | from lostinaspotlessmind.com

Here’s what to do. You remove all your makeup, find a mirror big enough to see your entire head, and place it somewhere with good natural light. Then find two rouges or eyeshadows (even lipsticks might work), one in a very warm shade of red (meaning it will be rather orange) and one in a very cool shade (an almost purplish pink). You then smear two large spots on your cheeks, like pictured above. Don’t worry about blending them nicely or it looking good – you’re supposed to look a bit like a clown. Then take a step back, and cast a casual glance at yourself.

Does one colour blend better with your skin tone than the other?

Although I did the example picture using PhotoShop, I still think it illustrates my point because (at least to me) it looks like the pink colour blends away into my skin, whereas the orange looks like something that’s smudged on top of my skin. It almost looks like the orange colour is further to the front than the pink. Weird way to explain it, but that’s how I think of it. If you squint slightly, this becomes even more apparent. As the cool colour works better for me than the warm one, this indicates that I’m cool (pardon the pun). I took a picture with my younger (and warmer) sister, both of us without makeup, to make the difference even clearer:

Colour analysis: a comparison of a warm and cool skin tone | from lostinaspotlessmind.com

Now, my skin tone is definitely cool. My teacher said that with enough makeup, she could probably make everyone in my class change their natural category, except for me. With others, the case is not so clear. If you think both colours can work for you, then you might have a skin tone that can handle both warm and cool shades. Yes, this is possible. In that case, your hair colour can “make” you warmer or cooler, and I suggest you choose a hair colour that shifts you towards the colours you prefer the most. No point in going very cool with your hair if you prefer warm, peachy colours, for instance.

One could write several books about all this (and many people have done so), but I hope this post can get you started, at least. If you have any questions, fire away.

  • Néa

    I really really really enjoyed this! I have been wanting (needing) a guide I could understand about deciding my skin tone for ages.. Well, I have always thought I leaned towards the cool end of the scale -but when you don’t know for sure you basically don’t know. This will make cleaning out my closet MUCH easier. :D

    • Airam

      I’m so glad you liked it! I also think you’re cool, and if you do the rouge test you should be able to see it quite clearly for yourself :) And good luck with the closet cleanout, that can be such a pain!

  • Tone

    For en søt illustrasjon! Og det er forresten ikke bare for deg det er helt åpenbart at du er kald, du har gjort en super illustrasjonsjobb :-)

  • Cindy

    Snille Maria som lærer oss sånn her uvurderlig informasjon gratis:)

  • Maja Piraja

    This is a great guide, dear! And I agree with Néa, knowing these things makes the whole closet ordeal SO much easier. Now I need to find someone to donate my (on me) sickeningly orange Chanel lip stick to.. Stupid sales woman..

    • Airam

      Oh, I know. All the magazines are talking about orange nowadays, and it drives me crazy. Yes, an orange belt or clutch can look good on everyone, but orange lipstick? Only a VERY small percentage of Norwegian women can make that work.

  • dreamy

    ahh this is interesting! i will have to do the blusher test… i’m guessing i’m warm (or hoping, because my make-up is already “warm”!)

    • Airam

      I think you would have noticed it if all your makeup was in the wrong category, so you’re probably safe ;) But yes, the rouge/blusher test is great, because it’s often very easy to see which kind looks best.

  • Cupcakes og champagne

    Ser godt at du kler kalde farger best :) Fin test!
    Jeg har selv de siste månedene innsett at jeg kler kalde farger best selv.. livet ble så mye lettere nå!

    • Airam

      Ikke sant? Sjansen for feilkjøp i både klær, sminke, hårfarge og tilbehør blir myyye mindre når man vet om man er varm eller kald :)

  • Trajena

    A how-to post! I’ve already staarted thinking I’m on the cool side, but thanks to this guide I know I’m in the “Definately Cool” category. Now my struggles in finding a peachy-coloured dress make so much more sense: I had actually found a cute one, but realized that they also had it in lilac (very pale purple) and that looked WAY better on me. Guess which one I bought. ;)
    Another lovely post as usual!

    p.s.: I might have to start my own website so that I can actualy leave a comment without that frustratingly bland blank man’s picture beside it. I don’t know about you but it drives me crackers!

    • Airam

      I know very well what you’re talking about – this spring, every single store has been packed with peachy things. It’s quite annoying when a colour that makes you look dead is so trendy you can hardly find anything else.

      Oh, and you don’t have to start your own website to get rid of the blank man – just go to gravatar.com, and you can upload an image for your e-mail :)

  • Annabella Freeman

    This is a great post, I see so many women with lipstick on that makes them look dead because it’s cool but then they have self-tanner on as well which turns them orange! Do you have this problem in Norway too or is just the UK??? lol

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  • Fantastic Frida

    Oi! Kom hit via en annen blogg – og hurrahei for det. Gjett hvem som skal smøre varm og kald sminke på seg selv i morgen, haha. Men ja, takk for bra innlegg. Har lenge fundert over hvilke toner jeg bør rette meg mot :))

    • Airam

      Det kan virke vanskelig å finne ut av sånt, men rouge-testen er superenkel! Håper den var til hjelp :)

  • felicia

    Oj, wow! Vilka kanontips! Jag brukar alltid ha lite problem med att välja foundation och sådär, det verkar aldrig finnas någon som passar perfekt. Jag ska definitivt undersöka närmare vilken min naturliga hudton är.

    • Maria

      Så fint at du likte posten! Foundation kan være supervanskelig, men det hjelper ofte veldig å vite om man er kald eller varm. Lykke til :)

  • hanne

    jeg har forlest meg på color season analysis i en måned, snart, klarer ikke bestemme meg for noe, men har i det minste konkludert med at jeg er mer “soft” enn “clear/bright”. det er da noe! har egentlig aldri syntes at gult var min farge, og i de senere år har jeg heller ikke følt meg peachy i oransje. når jeg blir brun er det ikke like tydelig, men når jeg er vinterbleik er de to fargene, og gull, helt grusomt på meg. samtidig har jeg grønne blodårer (lett å se nå som huden er sommerbrun), og en hud som har en tendens til å se litt gul ut på bilder, ofte. blah. je ne sais pas. det er jo ikke en eksakt vitenskap akkurat. kanskje jeg er litt midt-i-mellom. syns oransje lipgloss funka fint, mens rosa blush ser ut til å gli mest inn i huden, sia kinnene mine allerede er litt rosa av seg. det er tricky! men du er jo helt klart både kjølig og dyp i fargene. du takler vel et ganske høyt nivå av kontraster også? lucky you!

    • Maria

      Ut fra det du skriver, så kan det høres ut som om du er sommer (med en liten touch av vår? Det er mulig å kunne skli litt mellom sesonger, faktisk, ut fra hva man gjør med hårfargen sin og sånt). Hvis du sender meg et bilde (helst tatt i dagslys) på mail, så kanskje jeg kan hjelpe deg på rett vei? :)

      Jeg er definitivt kjølig og dyp, vi kalte det en kontrastrik vinter på skolen. Tåler ganske mye av dette siden jeg allerede har så mange kontraster i meg fra naturens side (lys hud og mørkt hår og øyne). Bra observert ;)

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  • Lu

    Jeg elsker bloggen din! Har brukt store deler av dagen på å lese inspirerende poster. Og dette var veldig interessant og nyttig! Men langt fra lett å vurdere hos seg selv. Jeg har prøvd blushtesten, men har lite sminke for tida. Brukte dermed de to leppestifter jeg har, en veldig tydelig rød og en plommefarget. Den røde var definitvt best. Den plommefargede er det sjokkerende at salgsdamen anbefalte meg.

    Jeg tror jeg er varm, men er noe usikker her. Heldigvis for meg har jeg klesmessig satset på nøytrale farger (marine, sort, grått) og ellers mye blått og farger mot ansiktet som “kjøler” ned min lett rødmende hud, noe som kanskje kan vitne om varm hudtone? Du fikk meg i alle fall interessert i temaet, og jeg har nå lest mer om det. Etter noe videre lesning er jeg fremdeles usikker. Jeg har relativt blek hud, lysblå øyne og en slags gyldenblond hårtone, eller, en veldig “gul” blondfarge som dermed gir et mer varmt preg til … helheten. Eller noe. Jeg leste litt om disse årstidsgreiene(http://www.thechicfashionista.com/your-best-perfect-colors.html) og tror jeg er vår.

    Uansett; Inspirert til å lese mer om dette. Har du noe lesestoff å anbefale? Takk for alt det flotte du deler på bloggen!

    • Maria

      Oi, nå ble jeg glad, tusen takk :D

      Når det gjelder dette med hudtoner og slikt, så er det slett ikke bare enkelt. Noen mennesker er ganske tydelige, mens andre kan faktisk være såpass nøytrale at de ikke egentlig passer inn i en spesiell varm/kald kategori eller årstid. Jeg har planlagt en post som går nøyere inn på dette, må bare vente til Cookie er tilbake i Oslo slik at jeg kan ta bilder som demonstrerer :) Noen ting er lettere å SE enn å FORSTÅ, synes jeg, og dette med farger og hudtoner er definitivt slik for meg.

      Det er litt umulig å si noe konkret om deg siden jeg ikke har sett deg, men sånn som du beskriver det, så høres det veldig mulig ut at du kan være en vår. Det som ofte hjelper, er å se om du generelt er finest i klare, rene farger (vår/vinter) eller dusere, mykere farger (høst/sommer).

      Det du kan gjøre for å finne ut mer om du er varm eller kald, er å gå på en butikk á la H&M, og finne et par foundations som definitivt er varme/gule (se etter navn som har ordet golden/peach i seg, eller spør de som jobber der) og et par som definitivt er kalde (de er vanskeligere å finne, men har ofte navn med rose/beige i seg). Trykk ut et pump av hver på hånda di, og så går du ut i dagslys og prøver de på (rent) ansikt. Da burde du kunne se om de varme eller de kalde sklir best inn i din egen hudfarge, selv om det kanskje ikke er en perfekt match :)

      Av lesestoff er det desverre ikke så mye der ute, da det virker som om det gikk litt ut av moten med fargeanalyse etter 80-tallet. Jeg fant en bok i mamma sin bokhylle som heter “Dine beste farger” av Christel Buscher (det er denne, bare på norsk: http://www.amazon.de/Farbberatung-Christel-Buscher/dp/3809404330). Bildene er gruuusoome, med skikkelig 80-tallsstyling og -sminke, men selve teorien er ikke så verst. Det dumme er at boka ikke er i produksjon mer, etter det jeg kan se. Kanskje du er heldig og snubler over den på et bibliotek? Den er gitt ut av Hjemmets Bokforlag i 1992, ISBN er 82-590-0938-2.

      Ellers kommer det flere poster her om emnet, jeg skal gjøre mitt beste for å gjøre det så enkelt og tydelig som mulig :)

  • Megan

    Thank you so much. I have been struggling to figure this out for years! I’ve tried everything and couldn’t descide I I just gave up and figured “neutral”. This is the only thing that works for me! I still think I’m neutral but now I know I lean cool. Thank you!!!

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  • Cyndie

    Thank you so much for this! All the suggestions I’ve seen so far for figuring out skin tone (gold vs silver jewelry, white vs. off-white, etc.) just made me more unsure. I never thought of actually putting the colors on my skin! I tried it with photoshop and now I’m much more confident that my skin is warm.

  • Jessi

    Jag hamnade på din blogg då jag googlade på warm or cool skin tone och nu är jag nästan lite chockad, haha ;) Du och jag har samma färger (mörkt hår, bruna ögon, ljus hy) och jag har alltid trott att jag varit varm (men ändå aldrig hittat färger som passar…) och så hittar jag dig som säger att du är kall. Det förklarar så mycket! Jag var helt inne på att bruna ögon och brunt hår betydde att man var varm. Så tack för ett informativt inlägg!

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  • Calire

    I have both warm and cool skin tones, because I look good in orange, red, navy, white, black, purple, grey, blue of all shades, pink, mauve, olive, light green etc. Even my friends and family cannot tell whether a coral pink sweater look better on me or a light blue one.

    • Maria

      Some people are just pretty much neutral, so lucky you – sounds like most colours are flattering on you :)

  • Jyl

    You had me at brownie points. Am a warm-coloured person but also love certain shades of purple and blue.

  • Nora

    I’ve tried doing this and i understand the concept, but i just can’t seem to figure out my skin tone! :( its so frustrating i’m warm i really really believe, but then it goes into fair olive medium light blah blah and its just insane

    • Maria

      I know how you feel, Nora, because even though my own colours are fairly easy to figure out, I often help other people out with _their_ colours, and it can be really tricky sometimes! Fair/light/medium and such are terms used to describe how light or deep a person’s colouring is, rather than whether it’s a warm or cool tone – I, for instance, is cool and fair/light. As for olive tones, well, nobody seems to really agree on how it works. Generally, it’s considered skin with a greenish tinge, and the skin tone can be either warm or cool “below” the green.

      If putting things into the standard categories makes things more difficult for you, rather than easier, perhaps you can find a different way to think about colours? See if you can figure out if there are a couple of colour families, such as reds, greens, blues or purples, that make you look really glowing and lovely, and wear them a lot. In my case, most blues and pinks work well, but greens can be very tricky.

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  • Vincent

    I wonder you can help me identify a few MALE (30s-40s) celebrities with warm spring colour tone? I wish to follow their fashion sense.

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  • Medizinische Pigmentierung

    Hey there,

    one of the most popular womans do, is choosing their make-up cause of the color of their hairs or eyes. I think nothing is more important than the own teint for choosing the right make-up.

    Regards from Germany and thumbs up for your Blog ;)
    Marina

  • Christine

    I love this! Most people don’t even know what skin tone they are… they just assume they are warm in they’re tan and cool if they’re pale, but that’s not true. I actually wrote a blog article that has some great tricks and tips. Check it out and let me know what you think! http://www.weartostandout.com/blog/dress-for-your-skin-tone
    xoxo, WearToStandOut

    • Maria

      Thank you, Christine! I think it’s so sad that the concept of colour analysis is now considered old fashioned and passé – it is such a helpful way to think about colours! I’m glad you’re spreading the word :)

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  • Claritza

    Love your blog! It’s amazing to me that I only just found it a week ago when searching online about pixie cuts ( which I will be getting one this week) and came across your wonderfully informative post on the pros and cons of pixie cuts. Now, I don’t know if you do requests or not, but I would absolutely love it if you could maybe do a post about uneven skin tone and how to even it out. Such as products, tips and tricks, that sort of thing. You see, the thing is, I have a skin condition called vitiligo , it’s an autoimmune disorder in which my melanocytes are being destroyed. Because of this, I have lost pigment in most of my face, (albeit it’s not extremely noticeable as I’m not very very dark, but I am a Hispanic living in sunny Florida so I am tanned) and I hate having to wear loads of foundation to even out my skin tone. It just feels very unnatural to me and a pain to apply and take off every single day. I would love to able to not wear a drop of makeup, save a dab of mascara, but I feel that as it is such a rare condition, I will attract unwanted negative attention.

    Sorry for the long post, and I will completely understand if this sort of thing may not be you kind of thing but please give it a thought and get back to me, I’d really appreciate it :)
    Hugs! -claritza

    • Maria

      Hi Claritza!

      First: I do hope your pixie cut went well :D I sometimes do requests, but not very often as it has to be something I feel I understand and can say something useful about, if you know what I mean? When it comes to skin, especially problematic skin, I’m not sure I’m able to be very helpful, as I’ve been super-lucky with my genes, and have skin that usually behaves better than I deserve.

      What little advice I _can_ comfortably give you, is first to point you in the direction of skin care expert Paula Begon, her website http://www.paulaschoice.com , and her book “The Original Beauty Bible” (http://www.paulaschoice.com/shop/Shop-Paulas-Choice-Books/_/The-Beauty-Bible-3rd-Edition/). I’m not affiliated with her in any way, but she revolutionized my knowledge of skin care and beauty products, and I can’t recommend the book/website enough. I’m sure you can find some info on vitiligo there, or you can request advice/information about it (you can read other people’s Dear Paula-questions here: http://www.paulaschoice.com/expert-advice/dear-paula/).

      You mention that you’d love to not wear covering makeup and such, but fear it will attract negative attention. I’m not going to pretend that I understand life with vitiligo or how it affects your life, but I do know this: we decide how much we’ll let other people’s opinions matter, and we can build up our tolerance for what makes us uncomfortable. Again, I’m not making comparisons here, but I sometimes get comments/weird looks because of how I look; sometimes it might be something as “innocent” as wearing bright lipstick, other times I can clearly tell that it’s because I’m not a size zero, or because I am a girl with short hair. Sometimes these looks/comments hurt very much, but mostly, I can combat feeling bad by asking myself whose opinion really matters the most to me. If I think about it carefully, the answer is always that my own opinion is the most important one. Perhaps you can make that thought process help you somehow?

      Also, I think it’s completely wonderful when people do things that scare them, and whenever I see someone who are proud of their uniqueness, I always think “yes! go you, stranger!”.

      I’m sorry I couldn’t give you more advice directly linked to skin, but hopefully this can help you a bit anyway :)

  • kim

    I’m actually going to disagree with you here. If you look at your picture again you are warm, notice how the pink side makes your skin look worse and dark circles under your eyes pop out more… meaning the orange suits you better, complimenting your skin and bringing out the best, cool will wash you out. Only 3% of the population are cool yet so many ppl think they are.

    • Maria

      You’re very allowed to disagree with me, Kim, and things like this can be hard to tell from a photo online anyway. But I’m very certain I look better in cool than in warm colours – the dark shadow underneath my eyes is because of the light being sligthly uneven :) And here in Norway it’s actually very common to have a cool colouring, so it does depend on where you’re from, too.

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  • Deniz

    A very interesting topic, thank you so much for this. I really can’t define my type, I’d say I am cool/ inbetween. I have very dark hair, brown/greenish eyes. The only colors I do look awfull in is a classic orange, red and yellow. In clothing and in make up.

    The colors that suite me well are Black, Pink, dark brown, and most of the pastel colors. What irritates me is that for a couple of months now I am wearing a golden watch and golden jewelerry and I don’t hate myself with it. What really looks awfull is rosegold. Love the color but it kills me :)) maybe you can help me..

    • Maria

      Hi Deniz! It sounds like you have a cool, perhaps also soft kind of colouring (in the old colour analysis system I suspect you’d be a Summer). There is an excellent blog post about colour analysis here:

      http://into-mind.com/2013/09/24/colour-analysis-part-i-finding-your-type/

      As for wearing gold, I actually quite like wearing it myself – and I’m super-cool, so it “should” look awful, but I don’t think it does :) I think that as long as you think something looks good on you, there’s nothing wrong in wearing it.

  • Kimmie

    This is a great post! I did the rouge test on myself and took lots of pictures in natural light-but I’m do darn indecisive (or my time isn’t super easy to spot, who knows) to be able to pick which ones complements the best! Ugh…. I think I’ll send the pictures to my mom and a couple friends. I’ve always worn a lot of neutrals and thought they were warm, but some cool tones look nice on me too… I think I might lean to warm with a couple exceptions, but I’m not sure

    • Maria

      Thank you, Kimmie! Asking others for advice can be helpful, as they see you from the “outside” much more often than you do yourself :) You should know, though, that there _are_ people who are pretty much neutral in their colouring, so it’s perfectly possible you’re one of them. If that’s the case, then you can get away with many colours, and there will be quite few that are very unflattering. If you want to learn more, check out the blog post I linked to in the comment above yours, that blog is one of my absolute favourites!

  • Forrest

    Wow, this post is fastidious, my younger sister is analyzing these things,
    so I am going to inform her.

  • Maria

    Thanks, Forrest, I hope your sister finds it helpful!

  • Maylinn

    Hello! What a wonderful article! Really helpful! And also, I wondered if you had any suggestion on book I could read regarding this topic? I would love it understand the depth of color analysis! Many thanks!

    • Maria

      Hi Maylinn! Thank you :) The book I use the most is called “Colour me confident” by Veronique Henderson – the pictures and styling are very dated, unfortunately, but the theory itself is good. You might also want to check in here in my blog (or subscribe to it using the link at the top), because I’m working on an updated, more comprehensive blog post about it.

  • Ianeira

    Thanks for that. I’m cold with olive skin tone. =)
    THis system is so much better then that season stuff… I should be kinda summer but I look like a terrible cupcake in pastels and feel even worse.
    I love shades of blue, turqouse and purple and sometimes I even wear my neutrals with them. XD
    I found my colour type out by a different guide about 1,5 years ago and it says the same as yours. I feel much better about myself now (ok, maybe also because I learnt that I owe noone prettyness ).
    I had red hair (growing out blonde again, now) and thought I was rather a warm type. I must have looked terrible with that orangish rough and brown eye make up.
    Now I shifted to shades of pink, but mostly go without anyway. Hell, I’m lazy.
    I really love your blog, your style and your confidence. It’s also awesome that you talk about body love, shame and the shit society does to women.

    Greeting from germany. =)

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  • Lisa D Liguori

    I am so impressed! I often suggest my clients (when matching foundations to their skin) put three heavy stripes of foundation, right next to each other on their lover cheek/jaw line: a warm shade, a cool shade and a neutral shade, and see which shade fades into their skin. Much like your pink/cool blush. The one that fades, or disappears, is hands down their skin tone. I will point my clients towards this post as well, for one more option. So happy I found you!