Makeup for Skin Tones and Undertones

Choose The Right Makeup For Your Skin Tone & Undertone


To get makeup that suits and compliments your shade well, you need to know your skin tone and undertone. This is especially important for African and black people, as we have one of the largest diversity in range of shades/hues… from shades as light as butterscotch to those as dark as espresso.

Skin Undertone

It’s all about the undertones. If you’ve ever noticed that a foundation shade that apparently seems similar to your skin tone, comes out looking ashy, dull, or muddy; it’s most likely that the foundation doesn’t match your undertone. Your skin’s Undertone is the tint that shows through the surface tone (colour) of your skin. This determines what type of foundation shade would suit you best, down to what type of eye shadow, lipstick shades, hair colour (shade of colour), and even what colour of clothes would look best on your skin. Identifying your undertone has nothing to do with how light or dark you are. Getting this right will help you limit the “mistake” makeup purchases that we all fall prey to now and again; and help you better pick makeup that balances out your skin, makes it more luminous, and is most flattering on you.

You can fall into one of 3 categories:


Most people, especially African and black people tend to fall under this undertone, regardless of how light or dark skinned they are. Your undertone appears yellow, golden or olive.  As the name indicates, people with this skin tone tend to have a warm/golden hue to their skin tone. Colours that look most flattering on this skin undertone type are warm colours, like red, orange, yellow, gold, bronze, cream, warm brown, and green. Off-whites would be more flattering than crisp white, and black being a neutral colour, would suit any undertone. When looking for foundations, the most flattering would be ones with yellow, golden, peach or neutral based shades.


A few African and black people do fall under this shade. Your undertone will appear to be bluish, pink/rosy, red, violet or beige. Those with this undertone range from very pale skinned Caucasians, with bluish and rosy undertones; to the darker ebony (coffee) complexioned Africans and black people, with undertones of red and violet. Colours that look most flattering on this skin undertone type are cool/winter colours, like blue, silver, pink, purple, green, grey, pure white and black. The most flattering foundations for those with this undertone are ones with neutral, pink or reddish based shades.


Those with this undertone are the luckiest, as they can try everything! They are a mix of both cool and warm undertones, and tend to look good in any colour or shade, any type of jewellery, and any type of foundation base shades. Neutral-based foundations are the safest choice for any undertone type, and black is the safest (most neutral) colour.




How to Determine your Undertone

It is very difficult to tell a person’s undertone just by looking at them, or just by looking at yourself. This is even harder for African and black people, because we tend to have multi-tonal complexions. There are many ways to determine your skin’s undertone, some more conclusive than others. It would probably be best to do more than one test, and conclude what undertone you must be, based on the most predominant result. Those with neutral skin tones will find that their results are inconclusive, or they answer both, to the different tests below:

Vein Test

Although it is the easiest way to tell your undertone, this test does not work on everyone. Check the colour of your veins for your type of undertone:

Green veins = Warm Undertones

Blue veins = Cool Undertones

Can’t tell = Neutral Undertones

Jewellery Test

Put on a piece of gold (yellow) jewellery, and then a piece of silver or platinum jewellery. Check which jewellery balances out your skin, makes it more luminous, and generally looks better on you:

Gold jewellery = Warm undertones

Silver/Platinum jewellery = Cool undertones

Both jewellery = Neutral undertones

White Fabric Test

Stand in front of a well-lit mirror (natural or incandescent lighting, and NOT fluorescent lighting, as this can give your skin a false greenish tint). Wear a pure white towel or cloth, with your hair pulled away from your face (or wrapped in a white towel/fabric), against a white background (the more white around you, the better). With a freshly cleaned face, check your reflection. The white around you should help reflect the true colour of your skin:

If your face looks more yellowish = Warm undertones

If your face looks more bluish = Cool undertones

If your face looks more greenish = Neutral undertones

Coloured Clothing Test

This is probably a better test than the white fabric test, especially for darker skinned people. Observe how you look (how your skin looks) in different/opposing coloured clothing. If your skin looks more harmonised in:

Warm colours (yellows, oranges, reds) = Warm undertones

Cool colours (blues, purples, greys) = Cool undertones

Any colour = Neutral undertones


If and when in doubt, make a note of what colours people compliment you on the most, and gear that to what undertone you must be.

NOTE that these are guidelines purposes only… What’s the fun in fashion and makeup if you can’t bend/break the rules sometimes? So if you are warm toned, but love the colour blue, and want to get that ice blue eye shadow effect, GO FOR IT! Just note that the gold would be more flattering on you. Plums and brown eye shadow however, tend to always look great on people of olive to dark/ebony complexion.


You can also compare shades side-by-side to determine the undertones. "If you line up a few shades you'll clearly see which shades have a blue-olive, yellow-orange, or red-pink base," says Pierce. "The issue is the florescent lights at the counters create a green cast on the skin."

Skin Tone

Choosing makeup for your skin tone applies mainly to foundation and concealer. As you might have guessed, your skin tone is the surface colour that is obvious to sight, also known as Shade. African and black people have such a diverse range of shades, which at some point was under-recognised by the makeup industry, expect for a couple of niche brands. However, since 2012, major makeup companies have seen the need to provide makeup shades for the various shades (tones) of African and black skin, so that now, there are more makeup choices (from cheaper store brands to high-end brands) available to us.

When it comes to choosing the best foundation and concealer for you, it is always best to test the makeup on your skin before making your choice. Departmental stores, especially when they have counter consultants, are usually the best place to test and buy makeup; as opposed to the makeup aisle in local pharmacies, grocery and some beauty stores and online stores (instead, these places are best for re-ordering makeup that you have chosen as being the best for you). This is because departmental stores tend to have testers and trial samples, allowing you to test makeup directly on your skin while in the store; unlike most other conventional stores don’t tend to allow this. However, if you live in many African countries where departmental stores do not yet exist, you might have to tweak (see how below) your testing and selection process a bit, go to existing makeup brand stores or wait till you can get to an actual departmental store outside your country.

How to choose foundation (and concealer) for your skin tone:

  1. Check what makeup works best for your skin type. Determine your skin type here and determine the best makeup for your skin type here.
  2. Determine what coverage you are going for.
  3. If you have relatively good, smooth skin, with few to no blemishes; and or want to go for a more natural/ less made up look, go for light – medium coverage foundations, or better still, tinted moisturisers, bb or cc creams. Use can then use concealers sparingly, where needed.
  4. If you have problem/uneven skin, with acne and blemishes, you might want to go with medium (to buildable) coverage. Best to avoid laying thick, heavy and cakey foundation, as this always looks less natural and actually highlights cracks and lines. Instead, go over problem areas and spots with a more opaque concealer, for a more natural and even look.
  5. Show up to the store with a clean, fresh face (yes! Leave your house without wearing any form of foundation or concealer for the best test results… get face naked!). If you are that bothered about leaving your house completely face naked, it’s ok to wear some eye makeup, lipstick or gloss and moisturiser on your face (don’t forget… Sunscreen/SPF).
  6. Select a few colours that seem to match your natural skin tone; then narrow down that selection to the ones that also seem to match your natural skin undertone. Find out more about undertones and determining yours here. Choose foundations with hints of yellow, golden etc for warm undertones; pinks, reds, browns for cools… neutrals safe for both types, and those with neutral undertones can choose either. What about peach?
  7. When you find a foundation shade you think is most similar to yours, apply a stroke of it on your cheek/jawline, as well as a foundation one shade darker, and one that is one shade lighter. Use the jawline because it’s between your face and neck, the parts your foundation should best match (Don’t use your wrist or hand, as they are hardly ever the same shade as your face).  If your face and neck are of different shades, find a shade that blends in between them. If you are buying from a regular store that doesn’t allow testing or have samples, match the foundation bottle to your skin, and take the one closest to your shade, one a shade darker, and then one a shade lighter. Make a note of all close shades you are testing for easy referencing.
  8. When choosing concealers, do the same tests to find the shade that suits you best.
  9. Take a good look near a window, doorway or step outside. You need natural light to see what foundation or concealer looks best (indoor lighting can be deceitful). Use a hand mirror to check if you have to, ask people around you as well/ people you trust for their opinion. The best shade is the one that disappears into your skin (because it blends so well). If no testers/samples are available, take the closest 3 bottles to a doorway (or as close to natural light as you can get), hold them to your jawline, and see which one matches best. If in doubt, take the lighter shade, never the darker… it will make your face look fresher/brighter, and won’t get as many streaks.

When it comes to concealers, you will need 2; one that is your shade, to cover up blemishes on your face, and one a shade lighter, to conceal under eye circles/shadows and also as lowlights.

  1. Once you’ve chosen your shade, ask a consultant to apply it on your face, and watch how it dries and appears later in the day. If you are happy with it, you can purchase it the next day, and if not, try another one. If the store has a good return policy, you can buy the makeup, and return it only if you don’t like what it looks like on your face.