Skin tone is so important in choosing the right makeup, but you may be wondering just how to go about identifying your own skin tone. What should you look for? What if your skin tone seems neutral but has areas of mild discoloration or redness? The good news is that identifying your skin tone need not be difficult. A simple method of determination is to consider whether your skin burns or tans when exposed to sun:

1. If you tan easily and do not burn, your skinís natural melanin (the pigment that gives skin its color) level is higher, and you most likely have a yellow-to-olive undertone.

2. Those who burn and either tan minimally or not at all have significantly less melanin, which results in a pink, bluish-red, or ruddy skin tone. In addition, look for telltale signs: a ruddy skin tone has obvious signs of redness or is one that tends to flush easily. Some neutral skin tones fall into this category, particularly if rosacea is a factor.
3. If a yellow (usually referred to as ďsallowĒ) tone is predominant, youíll notice that a foundation, concealer, or powders with too much yellow will make skin look worse, not better.

4. Olive skin tones tend to look somewhat ashen or gray, from the combination of the natural yellow undertone everyone has and the greenish hue thatís unique to olive skin of any depth.

5. Neutral skin tones are those with no obvious overtones of olive, sallow, or pink.

These categories hold true for all women, including women of color; your underlying skin color will always relate to one of these skin tones. You may have been told that you are a particular ďseasonĒ and your wardrobe and makeup colors should be a specific undertone, either cool (blue or pink tones) or warm (yellow or sallow/olive tones). Unfortunately, the rampant misinformation surrounding skin tone can be misleading when it comes to choosing your most flattering makeup shades.

The question of determining skin tone comes into play most often when shopping for your ideal shade of foundation. When youíre testing foundation shades, it is critical to identify your overall, exact skin color and find a foundation that matches it, regardless of how ashen/olive, sallow, or pink it appears on the surface. The goal is to use foundation to neutralize whatever overtones are present with a neutral- to slightly yellow-toned foundation, thus matching the skinís natural undertone. Why a slightly yellow undertone? Because skin color, more often than not, always has a yellow undertone: thatís just what the natural color of melanin tends to be. For the most part, regardless of your race, nationality, or age, your foundation should be some shade of neutral ivory, neutral beige, tan, dark brown, bronze brown, or ebony, with a slight undertone of yellow but without any obvious orange, pink, rose, green, ash, or blue. Adding those shades to a foundation is never flattering and can look obvious and contrived.

There are a few exceptions to this guideline: Native North American or South American women, a tiny percentage of African-American women, and some Polynesian women do indeed have a red cast to their skin. In those instances the information about neutral foundations should be ignored. Because their skin has a slightly reddish cast, they need to look for foundations that have a slightly reddish cast to themóbut thatís only a hint of brownish red, and not copper, orange, or peach.

But regardless of these skin tone categories, when it comes to foundation, trying it on and making it sure it matches your skin exactly (especially in daylight) is the best way to get a color that looks like you, not like youíre wearing foundation or, even worse, a mask.

Choosing Makeup Colors to Work with Your Skin Tone
A look through any fashion magazine is great for figuring out what colors work best with your skin tone. Redheads with fair to medium skin tones like Susan Sarandon, Nicole Kidman, and Julianne Moore tend to wear corals, salmon, browns, ambers, bronze, and other earth tones. Blondes with fair skin to medium skin tones like Gwyneth Paltrow, Paris Hilton, and Kirsten Dunst favor a range of pink shades. Brunettes with fair to medium skin tones like Julia Roberts and Jennifer Garner are often seen in light rose and soft red shades. Women with dark brown hair and fair to medium skin tones like Demi Moore, Sandra Bullock, and Penelope Cruz wear more vivid shades of rose and cherry. Black hair and deeper skin tones such as Halle Berry and Angela Bassett wear soft natural tones such as nude pinks, soft browns, and pale corals. It is also easy to see that there are exceptions to the rule and as a change of pace all kinds of color combinations (not to mention changes in hair color) are typical. In other words, choosing color can be as diverse and versatile as changing your clothes. To be safe, stay with the basics listed above, but in truth, anything goes as long as it is worn in balance and the colors work together.

Paula Begoun