How to Match Colors to Your Skin Tone

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When we leave the house, we usually want to look good. That's why we spend so much time getting ready. We have to pick out the right outfit, wear the right makeup, do our hair, pluck our eyebrows and so on. The list is endless, and for some of us, the process steals hours from our lives. The good news, however, is that you might be able to speed the whole thing up. It's as simple as knowing your skin tone.

There are two basic skin tones -- cool and warm. You can decide what you are by investigating the color of your veins as seen on the underside of your arm. If the veins show through blue, you've got blue or white undertones, meaning you're a cool skin tone. Those with green veins have yellow undertones and are therefore warm. But there are much more specific descriptions as well.


There are six main types of skin tones ranging from light to black. Identifying your skin type will help you pick out make up, clothing and a hair color that best suits your natural appearance. A lot of people spend hours out in the sun or in a tanning booth to try to change the color of their skin. In doing so, they increase their chance of skin cancer. It's in your best interest to work with the skin you've got, instead of trying to change it.

Think of your skin tone like a natural foundation. It's your starting point. Everything else is determined by that foundation. You can use that starting point to help you pick out everything from the right makeup to the right nail polish, and if you do it correctly, you'll be amazed by the results.

If you're still not convinced, think of it this way: The average American woman spends more than $10,000 per year to look good [source: Romolini]. If you're going to spend that much money, you might as well make sure you're spending it on the right stuff. After all, would you spend money on a product that doesn't work? You don't want to spend $20 on lipstick that doesn't help you look your best.

Read on to find out how to match a lip color with your skin tone.


Matching Lip Color to Skin Tone

Choosing the right lip color isn't as simple as it might seem. We've all seen someone wearing the wrong shade of lipstick and, chances are, at some point or another we were that person. The two most important factors to take into consideration when picking out a lipstick are skin tone and the size of your lips. We're going to focus on skin tone, but the lip size is worth mentioning, too.

As a rule of thumb, people with thin lips should avoid dark colors, and people with full lips should avoid bright colors. Dark colors on thin lips can make them look even thinner, while bright colors on full lips can make them seem even fuller [source: Agostina]. Now, onto skin tone.


If you have fair skin, you want to stay away from anything that can make you look washed out -- like browns and yellows. Pinks, nudes and cherry reds, on the other hand, will help accentuate your porcelain features [source: Agostina]. Women with a medium skin tone can rely on pinks as well, especially those with brown undertones. In fact, a number of different shades of brown can be incredibly flattering on women of a medium to olive complexion. Just stay away from anything too pale [source: Woman Junction].

If your skin tone is somewhat yellow, you'll want to steer clear of the bright oranges and reds. Instead try something a little more rich like a deep brown or a deep berry. Yellow undertones can also serve you well [source: Woman Junction]. If you have dark skin try brown or purple lipsticks [source: Agostina].

Once you find the right shade of lipstick -- and you might have to try a few -- you can move over to the hair color aisle and decide how you're getting the most out of your luscious locks.

Read on to find out how to match your hair color with your skin tone.


Matching Hair Color to Skin Tone

It's easier to change the color of your hair than it is to change your overall skin tone. And skin tone should be the number one deciding factor when choosing a new hair color. A good color will accentuate your natural complexion.

For the purposes of matching your hair and skin tone, you don't need to know all six different skin types. All you need to determine is whether your skin tone is considered cool or warm. There are a lot of tricks for figuring this out. One of the easiest is to use the vein trick. If you just can't tell, try this instead. Get two pieces of jewelry, one gold and one silver, and hold them up against your skin. Depending on which one stands out, you can determine your skin tone. Gold means warm, and silver means cool [source: Hair Finder].


When it comes to the terms warm and cool, this is what you need to know: Warm goes with warm and cool goes with cool. So if you have a warm skin tone, you'll want a warm hair color to go with it and vice versa [source: Short-Hair-Style]. Examples of warm hair colors are dark golden brown and auburn, and these look good with red highlights. Cool hair colors, on the other hand, are brown and blonde, and they tend to be complemented well by honey or wheat highlights [source: Leider]. If your complexion borders on red, then as a general rule, you should avoid red hair colors.

If you're still not sure which hair color is best for you, ask your local hairstylist. He or she should be able to help you with your decision, and it's always better to let someone with training do the hard work, anyway.

Now that you've got the right hair color, read on to find out how to match your clothes with your skin tone.


Matching Clothing Color to Skin Tone

We all have certain colors that we like to wear more than others. Interestingly, there's a reason for that. Depending on the color of our skin, certain colors can make us look pale or tan. They can help hide our flaws or make them more noticeable. As we are all aware, clothes aren't cheap. It's the same old story: If you're going to spend the money, you might as well make sure you're spending it on clothes that are going to help you look your best.

Matching your clothes with your skin tone is a lot like matching your hair with your skin tone. Instead of dealing with the six skin types in Fitzpatrick's scale, all skin types can be boiled down to four categories. These categories happen to correspond with the four seasons: winter, summer, autumn and spring. By matching your skin tone with the right season, you'll be able to dress your best.


Winter skin tones can be pale, yellow, or dark with blue or pink undertones. Sharp colors like black and blue are great for winter skin tones, but light browns won't help you out, so give them a wide berth. If your skin is pink, then you fall into the summer category. That means you're best suited for pastels and you should only bring out the orange and black on Halloween. Red heads and brunettes generally belong to the autumn camp. They look best in oranges, browns and other earthy tones. Black and white on the other hand won't do them any justice. If you have freckles and light skin, you are spring, so you should wear yellows, greens and blues. As for things to avoid, you could start a club with your autumn friends and start boycotting black and white [source: Aspland].

To put it in slightly different terms, light skin tones look better in dark colors, medium skin tones look best with the primary colors and darker skin tones pull off whites and pale colors really well [source: Lady Language].

These simple tips should help you dress your best. Read on to find out how you can top it all off with the right nail color for your skin tone.


Matching Nail Color to Skin Tone

We've come a long way. We've talked about skin tone, the right lipstick to wear, the right clothes to buy and even the right hair color to get. Now it's time for the last detail -- nail polish. Just like everything else, there are rules for choosing the right nail polish to accentuate your skin tone.

Women love manicures and pedicures. They spend a lot of money on them, too. If they didn't, there wouldn't be a nail salon on the corner of every other city block. If you know your skin tone, you'll be better equipped to pick out the right shade of nail polish next time you go to one. People with fair skin should use a polish with a blue base, and people with darker skin should use a polish with a yellow base [source: Blakey].


But it's not always that simple. If you happen to be a medium skin tone, you're in luck. You have the most versatile skin tone of all. This allows you to straddle the line between blue and yellow bases. However, your best bet is a nice burgundy color. If your skin is very dark you can play with deep colors like purple and dark red, and for the light-skinned, blue-based crowd, most polishes with the name "berry" in the title will help you look your best [source: Isabella].

It really is amazing how much our skin tones determines what does and doesn't look good on us. Knowing yours will help you look and feel great. It will also help you save money and it might even save you some time in front of the mirror.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Agostina. "How To Choose Lip Colors." Makeup 2 Beauty. May 8, 2007. (July 20, 2009)
  • American Academy of Dermatology. "Skin Cancer Fact Sheet." 2009. (July 20, 2009)
  • Aspland, Mercedes. "What Colour Clothes work with your Skin?" Article Snatch. (July 20, 2009)
  • Blakey, Adam. "How To Choose The Right Nail Color." Ezine Articles. (July 20, 2009)
  • Hair Finder. "Hair Color & Skin Tone." (July 20, 2009)
  • Hair Style Magazines. "Fun Hair Facts." (July 20, 2009)
  • Isabella, Kalee. "Nail Polish." Love to Know. (July 20, 2009)
  • Jerome, Louie. "The World's Longest Fingernails." Purple Slinky. Oct. 6, 2007. (July 20, 2009)
  • Lady Language. "Ask The Lady…Clothing Color and Skin Tone." May 2, 2008. (July 20, 2009)
  • Leider, Polly. "The Right Hair Color Can Do Wonders." CBS News. March 27, 2006. (July 20, 2009)
  • Romolini, Jennifer. "How much do you spend each year to look good?" Shine. Aug. 14, 2008. (July 20, 2009)
  • Short Hair Style. "Hair Color Advice." (July 20, 2009)
  • Woollard, Deidre. "The World's Most Expensive Lipstick and Mascara." Luxist. Sept. 20, 2006. (July 20, 2009)
  • Woman Junction. "How To Choose Lip Color." (July 20, 2009)