The Long Story of How I Determined My Skin Tone

I’ve tried lots of foundations. I just don’t write about them because I feel like I’m not knowledgeable enough to give a review. How could I be when I don’t even know what my coloring is? It is difficult for me to judge a foundation if it isn’t a very close match. I will probably give it a rating that’s worse than it should get if I had gotten the right shade.

Foundation Swatches

Now I know what color I am, like REALLY, I’m an expert on my own skin tone — and I say that without any modesty at all. Haha!

So, I thought I’d share the story of how I found out.

I used to fancy myself a lot as a yellow person and it’s kind of true. I’m as yellow as yellow can get. L’Oreal Lucent Magique in G4 – Gold Shell (now discontinued) is 96% my shade. If you owned that foundation, then you know how yellow I am. Look at the photo of my arm above (note: my arm is around the same color as my chest and neck. I can swatch a foundation on my arm, buy it, and go home knowing that I got a shade that will work for me).

Now, look at Liz’s swatch in this screencap (clicking the link to read Liz’s review on Lucent Magique):


Note that both of us match with MAC NC35. Yet you can see how different our skin tones are. But we’ll get to that later. For now, let me introduce you to the first thing I learned about skin color.

The Spectrum of Lightness and Darkness

This is the easiest one for me to understand.

As early as we develop awareness of other people and our differences with them, we already instinctively know whose skin is lighter or darker.

Skin tone is commonly categorized as Light, Medium, and Dark. But it’s not as easy as that. As I said, it’s a spectrum and of course, it’s relative. See the vertical bar at the right? That’s what I’m talking about (aka Luminance):

Generally, I would consider myself a medium. But I have a problem with “medium” because it’s not a specific middle point. The range of medium is WIDE. Between pale and deep, that’s a whole lot of mediums and a whole lot of medium people with different skin tones.

Next stop…

The Undertone

If you’ve been in beauty cyberspace long enough, you already know the terms cool, warm, neutral, undertone, yellow undertone, red undertone, etc. Let’s go back to the color photo:

Look at the path that the arrow took. Consider these colors as the different colors of medium. In other words there’s a medium for each color. From the photo above it’s easier to know which one is a medium yellow and which one is a medium pink. But on human skin, it’s mind boggling (at least to me it is).

There’s a lot of different ways to find out what your undertone is. Just google ‘how to find my skin tone’. Here are two of the most common advice on the internet:
1 – If you look good in gold, you’re warm-toned (presumed to be yellow). If you look better in silver, you’re cool-toned (presumed to be pinkish). If you look good in both, you’re in that sweet neutral spot and you’re supposed to look good in all colors.
2 – There’s also looking at the veins on your wrist. If it’s blue, you’re cool. If it’s green you’re warm. If it’s both (or if you can’t tell), you’re neutral.

I didn’t use those strategies. It seems straightforward but it’s more difficult than it seems. I found out my undertone by comparing myself to other people. Because looking at my skin by itself, I just see beige or brown. I could’ve wrongly assessed myself as neutral.

A more effective strategy, I think, is to ask someone within the same darkness/ lightness as you to put his/her arm alongside yours. When I put my arm beside my husband’s, it’s easier to spot that he’s pinkish and I’m yellowish. The more people you do this with, the more you would know. Maybe you could also ask them to look in the mirror with you. Try to look beyond the relative lightness or darkness and see the tint.

Skin Tone Rocket Science Stuff (Not Really)

It was easy for me to find out that I’m yellow, because my yellow tones are really really strong. Even among yellow people, I am yellow-er. So yeah, I realized that yellow comes in different yellows too. There are yellows that are closer to or farther from the neutral point. I am waaay far.

Ok, we’re settled. I’m yellow, which they say is warm. But why do makeup color recommendations for warm people look horrible on me?!?!

They say, if you’re warm, you should look good in coral and warm orangey colors. Plummy or blue-toned lipsticks would look horrible on you. Well, guess what, it was the other way around for me. Most corals look drab against my skin, and I look good in blue-toned reds and plums.

What’s going on here?!?!

I had to google further and found out that yellow comes in different temperatures too. CRAZY, I know. Just look at this photo screencap from Of Faces and Fingers.

Yup. There’s such a thing as warm yellow and cool yellow. It seems like the warm yellow leans toward orange, and the cool yellow leans toward green (which makes it look kind of bluish). Here’s a color wheel. Notice that the two colors beside yellow is orange and green (photo links to the source).

If this is not already driving you crazy, hands down to you, you should know that you’re a genius. It took me a looong while to figure this out and it drove me nuts.

One last thing…

The Olives

When they describe olive, it seemed to me like they always refer to bronzed beauties like Jessica Alba. I thought they were referencing black olives, the fruit (or is it a vegetable?).

I assumed that olive-toned people are those that have deeper skin relative to all earthlings. I was sooo wrong.

I didn’t know that there are lighter skin tones that are olive and that they were referring to the green olive. Not the black one.

Green Olives

Green Olives

I don’t know how best to explain this. Just try to visualize everything I told you about skin tones before I went to The Olives section. All of those still apply up to this point.

Olive-toned people (like me) could be any skin tone as described above except that our skin has a greenish tinge to it. Imagine us like having an olive-tinted plastic cellophane cast over our skin.

In other words, you can be a neutral, cool-toned or warm-toned person with a greenish cast to your skin. Yes, surprise surprise, not all olive people are warm.

I found out that I was olive because all of the yellow foundations I tried on are yellow-orange. I thought they were just not yellow enough. I didn’t realize that they look orange, because I’m green. Look at Liz’s photo again. See how yellow it looks on her? On me, it’s almost an exact match. but my greenness makes the orange come out.


Also, look at the NC35 concealer swatch. That’s supposed to be yellow. But the red in it pops out because my skin green (red and green are complementary colors in the color wheel).


After finding out all of these, I determined that my skin tone is medium yellow-olive. This should make me happy. But then again, olives are underrepresented.

Now, if you ask me what the purpose of all that effort is: it was for me to know what colors would flatter me. I should’ve just taken the easier route and went out and tried colors.

There’s a spectrum to every facet that makes the human skin color. There’s a million possible combinations that would determine what skin you will have. The best way to find out which clothing or makeup color works for you is just to try it out. Take bits and pieces of advice, use it as a starting point, and experiment.


PS. The internet was right. Plums, deep blue-reds, and apricots look good on olive skin.


Categories: Makeup, Makeup - Face

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