Skin undertones and overtones

There seems to be a lot of (very understandable) confusion around skin undertones and overtones. If you’ve had your colours analysed you’ll know that your undertone determines what season you are and yet your undertone is invisible. If you are an Autumn or Spring it can be said you have warm undertones; conversely if you are a Summer or Winter it can be said you have cool undertones. Colour analysis is not about overtones. If it were, women who wear the same foundation would be the same Season.

People often think undertone is skin colour – it’s not. Your undertone is invisible. Your overtone however, is not invisible. It’s the visible colour of your skin. When purchasing foundation both overtone and undertone are important. Some companies have finally cottoned on to undertones. Cosmetics companies who understand undertones and overtones are much more likely to have a foundation shade that matches your skin. Shopping for foundation becomes a lot easier. Your overtone might look yellow, or pink, brown or peachy. It might be described as sand, beige, ivory, biscuit or ebony. All common foundation names. Your undertone might be described by cosmetics companies as ‘pink’ or ‘rose’ if it is cool and ‘yellow’ or ‘golden’ if it is warm.

There is also such a thing as a false overtone. This is the colour your skin can appear to turn when you are wearing the wrong colour. When I wear khaki I look jaundiced. A Winter wearing the wrong colour might look ruddy in the face.

What influences your undertone? There is no definitive answer to this, but it is generally considered that the following are factors:

  • Oxygenated (red) or non-oxygenated (blue) blood vessels that run under the surface of the skin.
  • Melanin (which also influences hair and eye colour). The more melanin in the skin, the darker the skin tone.
  • Skin thickness. This varies by Season and influences how much colour shows through.
  • Carotene, which gives skin a yellow hue.

The only way to find out whether you have cool or warm undertones is by having your colours analysed in person. Some people offer online colour analysis where you send them a series of photos. I love the idea of it, but unfortunately it’s often inaccurate. It’s impossible to simply look at someone and tell what season they are (although I’m often asked to do this! 😉 ). During an in-person colour analysis session it’s important that you see the way the colours change your skin, in real time, in front of the mirror. Watching your skin react and your face change is all part of the (deeply exciting) process.

4 thoughts on “Skin undertones and overtones

  1. I read your entire blog in one sitting. This info is soo good. As a hair and makeup artist I didn’t know how complex color was, and I love the way you explain it. I usually eyeball what looks good on my clients and it usually works .. sometimes not 🙂 I’m looking to study color analysis and am wondering where you studied? Thank you!

    • Hi Lina, thank you for your lovely comments, they made my day! I spent a lot of time watching others have their colours done at House of Colour (not official training but incredibly useful, watching taught me so much). When I got my own set of drapes I was able to experiment, I actually draped many people who’d been draped elsewhere to see if the analysis matched up. I did a lot of reading around the subject, in particular Christine Scaman’s blog, 12 Blueprints. I found her book useful too (the most useful, out of all I read). I know that Jane Fardon offers style and colour training, so that might be something you could look at if you wanted to pay for training. I very nearly trained with House of Colour at one point, but it’s a franchise and wasn’t a financially viable option for me. I hope that helps!

  2. Very interesting read. I always love learning about color. My question is “if undertone is invisible and overtone is what is seen, then how are you able to determine undertone? (When you see overtone?) just curious! Thanks, Susan

    • Excellent question, Susan! You’re only able to determine undertone by using precision-dyed drapes. I once had two people turn up for a colour analysis. Their outward colouring was identical – skin, hair, eyes. I felt confident they were the same season. I was wrong! One was an Autumn, one a Winter. And I think that’s the best way I can describe undertone – even where skin overtone, hair colour and eye colour are identical, there’s still a difference in how the skin reacts to colour. And that’s what undertone is 🙂

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