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Complexion & Skin Tone

by Renee Johansen |

To help you choose the best foundation, BB or CC cream for your skin, it helps if you know your complexion and skin tone (or undertone).

Skin tone is different to complexion, complexion refers to the surface shade of our skin (eg: fair, light, medium, medium/deep or deep) and is not necessarily the same all year around (generally our complexion is lighter in winter).

When it comes to complexion, generally speaking;

  • Fair is when your skin can be described as very white, pale or translucent (you might have a cool or warm undertone)
  • Light Is when you have pale skin that burns in the sun but deepens into a tan (you might have a cool or warm undertone)
  • Medium is when you tan easily and rarely burn (you likely have a warm undertone)
  • Medium/Deep is when your skin is olive all year around and you almost never get sunburnt (you likely have a warm undertone)
  • Deep is when your skin darkens quickly in the sun and your hair is usually dark (you likely have a warm or neutral undertone)

Once you've figured out your complexion you also need to confirm your skin tone. You skin tone will either be;

  • Cool
  • Warm, or
  • Neutral

Your skin tone isn't always what you see on the surface so it can be easy to get confused, but here are some simple tests you can do. Before you start, make sure your skin is clean and free of any make up or product.

If you have just washed your face, wait about 15 minutes to ensure any pink has faded. Do these tests in natural light so that different "cool" or "warm" lightbulbs don't affect the result.

The Sun Test

  • If your skin burns and doesn't tan, skin tone = COOL
  • If you tan easily and rarely burn, skin tone = WARM or NEUTRAL

Eye & Hair Test for Skin Tone

  • If you have lighter eyes (blue, grey, green), skin tone = COOL
  • If your hair is blonde or brown with silver or ash tones, skin tone = COOL
  • If you have darker eyes (amber, hazel, brown), skin tone = WARM
  • If your hair is strawberry blonde or red, or brown or black with gold or red tones, skin tone = WARM 

The Vein Test for Skin Tone

Stand near a window or outside and look at the inside of your wrist (without fake tan);

  • Do your veins appear blue or purple? Skin tone = COOL
  • Do your veins appear green? Skin tone = WARM
  • Do your veins look like they could be blue or green? Skin tone = NEUTRAL

The Silver or Gold Test for Skin Tone

If it's Easter and you've got some gold and silver foil laying around you can use that for this test, otherwise you can use jewellery, but chances are, you already have a preference when it comes to the colour of metal you wear.

  • Stand near a window or outside and hold a piece of gold Easter egg wrapper near your face (or lay a piece of gold jewellery across your wrist)
  • Does the gold make you glow or make you grey? If you glow, skin tone = WARM
  • Hold a piece of silver Easter egg wrapper near your face (or lay a piece of gold jewellery across your wrist)
  • Does the silver make you glow or make you grey? If you glow, skin tone = COOL
  • If both the gold and the silver make you glow, skin tone = NEUTRAL

The White Paper Test for Skin Tone

Get a piece of white paper out of the printer (in your home office or actual office), stand near a window or outside and get your partner or work colleague to hold a mirror up (this is a two person exercise if you ask me), and then hold the white paper beside your face.

  • If your skin appears yellowish, skin tone = WARM
  • If your skin appears pink, rosy, or blueish-red, skin tone = COOL
  • If your skin appears grey, skin tone = NEUTRAL

The Clothes Test for Skin Tone

  • If you tend to prefer clothes that are yellows, oranges, browns, ivory or warm reds, skin tone = WARM
  • If you tend to prefer clothes that are greens, blues, pinks, purples or magentas, skin tone = COOL
  • If you can wear clothes in pretty much any colour, skin tone = NEUTRAL


If you have acne, rosacea, or another condition that might hide your true skin tone, you may need to phone a friend and get them to look at the skin behind your ear.

  • If your skin is yellowish, skin tone = WARM
  • If your skin is pink or rosy, skin tone = COOL
  • If your skin is grey or greenish, skin tone = NEUTRAL

Foundations and Skin Tone

  • If your skin tone is warm look for a foundation with a yellow or orange tint
  • If your skin tone is cool look for a foundation with pink or peach tint
  • If your skin tone is neutral you can experiment with either yellow or orange or pink or peach tinted foundation

Lipsticks and Skin Tone

  • If your skin tone is warm go for a light coral, peachy nude, peachy pink, coral, nude brown, warm brown or peachy brown lipstick shade. If you are looking for a red lipstick go for an orange-red
  • If your skin tone is cool go for a beige, pale pink, pink, rosy pink, pale brown, deep plum or deep raisin. If you would like a red lipstick look for a blue based red
  • If your skin tone is neutral you can wear almost any shade of lipstick

Blush and Skin Tone

  • If your skin tone is warm choose an orange or red based blush
  • If your skin tone is cool choose a blue or pink based blush
  • If your skin tone is neutral you can wear almost any shade of blush

Even if you are feeling quite confident that you know your complexion shade and your skin undertone, I highly recommend when switching to a different foundation, BB cream or CC cream that you test before you commit.

There is a full range of test pots available here. There is a small charge for these to cover the upgrade from plastic to aluminium pots. These pots can be washed and reused or popped in your kerbside recycling.