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Here’s Why You Need To Know The Difference Between Surface Tone & Undertone

Here’s Why You Need To Know The Difference Between Surface Tone & Undertone

As if it wasn’t complicated enough to try to figure out what your skin’s undertone is (honey, warm, pecan, beige, neutral, cool, arctic penguin) upon further research I discovered that there’s literally another layer to all of this – & it’s call your surface tone. Have you ever felt like you put on foundation that was the right “shade” but just seemed like you were wearing a mask? Have you ever borrowed lipstick from a friend who’s a similar skin tone and immediately regretted it? That’s because of your differences in surface tone AND undertone.



The good news is that they are appropriately named. Undertone, as you know, is the hue that lies beneath your skin. Surface tone, on the other hand, is the color that you actually see on the surface of your skin.

Undertones have nothing to do with the color of your skin. One more time for the people in the back? (or the skimmers) – okay. You can have dark skin and be a cool undertone or light skin and be a warm undertone. i.e. Lupita Nyong’o.

Related: Uh Hello?! You Are Using Your Beauty Blender Wrong


Your skin’s undertone will never change, but it’s surface tone will. So if you head to be beach and get a sun-kissed glow, your surface tone might be a bit darker than normal – but that won’t affect your skin’s undertone.

Pro tip: Professionals say that you should match your foundation to your neck when choosing a shade. That means skipping over your face completely and choosing the color that looks the most seamless on your neck. You face may carry bits of redness or freckles that affect your surface tone – but that pinkness isn’t the same as the one that would affect your undertone.

Have I confused you yet?

Your face has a surface tone. You want to match your makeup to your skin’s undertone meaning that you should start by testing colors on your neck. Don’t be afraid if it seems like it’s too light or too dark. Play around with shades at a local Sephora store before you take the plunge.

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When choosing things like your foundation, you need to consider both your surface tone and your undertone. You need to go further than just light or dark – now you need to see how much pink or yellow should be in your formula for the perfect match.

There are three main undertones: warm, neutral, and cool. Trust me when I tell you that I’ve done extensive research on this. Like… an embarrassing amount. I talked to professional make artists, cosmetic companies and read every article imaginable to simmer it all down for you. That’s why I created this simple 7 question quiz to help you realize what your undertone truly is. No more guessing while you shell out the cash for expensive makeup and wonder why that particular shade of red looks terrible on you – but great on your sister.