Makeup Tips

Forget the ‘Vein Test’ for Foundation Matching—Here’s the Better Way

Rachel Lapidos

Photo: Getty Images/Nick Dolding

We’ve long been told that figuring out your skin’s undertones is as simple as looking at your veins. If yours appear green, it means your skin skews warm. And if they’re blue, your undertones are cool. But while this method might seem like an easy at-home hack, makeup artists say that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be for finding skin undertones for foundation matching.

“Some people’s veins appear one way, but they don’t accurately portray what their face’s skin tone is,” says celebrity makeup artist Katey Denno. “And a lot of people don’t see their veins, which can be because they have darker skin tones.” In reality, your skin actually has a multitude of undertones, not all of which fall into the categories of warm and cool. Makeup artist DeShawn Hatcher says that there are five major skin undertones: blue, red, green, yellow, and pink; and there isn’t any official way to find them all.

Add to that the fact that your undertones may not be the same from head to toe. “Skin on the face is different from the skin on your neck and your body, and some people have different undertones in different areas of the face,” says Denno. She adds that many people straddle two different undertones, which is why they might have better luck mixing two foundation shades on different areas of the face in order to get the best match. “If you use one foundation across the entire face, it can make you look like one flat sheet,” she says. She suggests thinking of your face as having distinct foundation zones, where you apply makeup based on that area’s specific needs and hues. “For example, one shade may help neutralize the gray around one’s mouth, while another shade is a perfect match for the rest of the face and can be patted on top of the neutralizing shade to create a seamless cover,” says Denno.

Makeup artists simply say to be smart with your swatching. Hatcher recommends applying a foundation to half of your face,  then checking it by a window or outside with a mirror. “See how well it matches, and try not to buy it until you try it on,” she says. Of course, in this COVID-19 era, many people are shopping online rather than IRL. Denno’s tip? Look for e-retailers that help you to match your shade (she points to Credo, which has makeup artists on standby, ready to match shoppers’ selfies with the ideal shade). Or, sometimes you can find makeup brands that mail sample cards of different shades so that you can swatch them from home.

And remember, your foundation soulmate may actually be a combination of a few shades. Says Denno, “If you’re both cool and very olive [in undertone], you may find that mixing colors from two different bottles in your hand gets you that perfect match.”

Watch the video below for more makeup artist-approved tricks for applying your products like a pro from home.


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