When buying makeup, one of the most important factors to understand is your skin tone. If you don’t know your skin tone, you will likely buy the incorrect shade of makeup, resulting in a mismatch with your skin and a distinct line where your makeup ends. Ideally, your makeup is the same shade as your skin tone and blends in perfectly, so the edges are invisible.

To choose the correct shades of makeup, you need to understand your skin tone and undertones. Keep reading to learn more about skin tones and how to determine your own.

Types of Skin Tones

Your skin tone is determined by the amount of melanin in your epidermis or the outermost layer of the skin. Your skin tone is genetically determined, and all humans have a certain amount of melanin in their skin. Melanin is a complex polymer produced by cells called melanocytes responsible for dark-brown or black pigments found in our skin.

When subjected to ultraviolet light damage, our melanocytes start overproducing melanin as a means of natural defense. Melanin helps to absorb harmful ultraviolet rays and darkens your skin tone. This means your skin tone can vary slightly depending on how much ultraviolet light you’ve subjected it to, but it will generally stay within a small range based on your genetics.

There are a large variety of skin tones, so they can be challenging to categorize, but for the purposes of this article, we’ll discuss the three skin tones below.


People with light or fair skin tones tend to have European heritage where their ancestors faced snow or cloud coverage, reducing their need for melanin production. If you have a light skin tone, you likely burn easily in the sun, so daily UV protection is essential.


Those with medium or olive skin tones tend to descend from Southern Europe or Northern Asia. Medium skin tones appear neutral and well-balanced in all lights. If you have a medium skin tone, you likely tan easily in the sun.


People with dark skin tones usually descended from ancestors who lived in areas with high ultraviolet radiation like Africa, India, or West Asia, resulting in an increased need for melanin protection. If you have a dark skin tone, you are more prone to hyperpigmentation, so daily UV protection is essential.

These categories could be endlessly broken down into multiple subcategories and still would not be able to define the full extent of skin tones that are out there.

Types of Undertones

Many makeup products will also define their shades as “cool,” “warm,” or “neutral.” This usually means they are referring to the undertone of your skin, which is different from your skin tone. The undertone of your skin is the subtle coloring that lies beneath the surface of your skin. It helps determine what colors naturally look best on you and can be essential to find the correct products.

Skin undertones can generally be defined as the following:

  • Warm: yellow, peach, gold
  • Cool: red, pink, blue
  • Neutral: olive, balanced mix

While the surface of your skin may have a light, medium, or dark skin tone, it can also have any of the above undertones. 

Determining Your Skin Tone and Undertone

Before you hit the makeup aisle, try some of these tips for determining your skin tone.

Use Natural Light

Remove all makeup and go outside to find some natural light. Different light will make your skin tone look different, and natural light is ideal. Look at the skin near your jawline to determine your skin tone using a mirror. 

Silver vs. Gold

Use your jewelry to help determine your undertone. If your skin looks better with silver jewelry, you likely have a cool undertone. If you look better in gold, your skin likely has warm undertones.

Check Your Veins

Again in natural light, look at the colors of your veins to help determine your skin’s undertones. If they are purple or blue, you most likely have a cool undertone. If they are green, you most likely have a warm undertone. If you aren’t sure which color they are, you most likely have a neutral undertone.

Reaction to Sun

Noticing how your skin reacts to the sun can help determine your skin tone. If you easily tan and rarely burn, you likely have a medium or dark skin tone. If you burn easily in the sun, you likely have a fair skin tone.

Contact The Rejuvenation Laser & Skin Center

If your skin is suffering sun damage or hyperpigmentation, our dermatologists can help. Reach out for an appointment today.