Perfecting your makeup application techniques is one thing, but if shades of product you are applying aren’t complementing your skin tone, then what’s the point? Getting the correct shades would be my number one priority when it comes to makeup artistry. Using the right techniques to apply these shades will then create the perfect balance to bring a makeup look to life.  I recently hosted an Instagram Live on a department store’s account, showing a natural makeup look that focused on foundation to gain a beautiful, complexion-based makeup. With more 38,000 views, I was surprised how many of the questions or comments were ‘shade’ related, such as;

‘How do I pick the best shade?’

‘What’s a good shade for fair skin?’

‘Is there a shade for a dark skin tone?’

Pretty standard questions I guess, but then I also received a few of, ‘I always get recommended the wrong shade for me,’ or ‘I have that foundation, but the wrong shade,’ and even ‘the beauty advisor told me to buy this shade, but when I got home, it’s too dark’ – this all could be avoided and shouldn’t happen.


Choosing a shade for a customer should be pretty straight forward and you need to ask questions, plus visually determine and check shades on the skin. This doesn’t just apply to foundation, but blush and lipstick choices also. This is such an ‘in-store’ benefit and relationship building process that online retailers do not have, so use it wisely.  It can help build trust and a successful long-term business, as your goal is ongoing and repeat purchasing from clients. I have been a makeup artist for 20 years, so I can easily match a foundation and determine a skin undertone.  But in today’s world, a lot of customers like to be involved in the decision making to have that ownership, so in a retail environment, I would still sit them down and discuss, show and prescribe the best shade choices. That way, the customer still feels involved in all of decisions made. Trust me, it works, and they feel more empowered than just being told what to wear or buy – this isn’t the 90’s.


The best way for a ‘shades’ consultation is to determine someone’s skin undertone. This is imperative for so many makeup shade decisions, and makes everything so much easier when discussed with your client.  It’s not based on trends, or what their friends wear – it’s true shades suited to them personally.

We typically have a cool or warm undertone.  A cool undertone can be described as fair, light or pink-based skin tone, whereas a warm undertone can be described as olive, deep or yellow-based skin tone. There are so many ways to determine these tones visually, but the truest place to check is at the back of the wrist. The vein colour you see can determine your undertone very easily. If you see more blue within the vein colour, that indicates a cool undertone – if you see more green, then it’s a warm undertone. This little undertone hack works every time and is so easy to understand for all involved.  We often relate the colour blue to being cool, or going blue when cold, so anything with a blue undertone is actually a really great balance or colour lift to a warm/yellow skin tone.

And when you use fake tan, often the undertone is green, to give that warm, holiday glow, so these tones can be great to take out any pink in a cool skin tone and just in general, warm up and balance a cool undertone skin.


Australians tend to have pink tones present on their skin, mainly due to either being fair skin, or sensitivity, plus from environmental damage. This could very slight pink hues – usually present on front of cheeks, or in some cases a lot, depending on how sensitive your skin is – even olive skin can still appear a little pink from time to time. Therefore, the most popular shades of foundation sold/used are neutral to yellow base foundations, which then balance this concern out. Just because you are a pink base or a yellow base, doesn’t mean you must wear that undertone in your foundation. You still must see what is more present on this skin in terms of tones and go with that – it’s all about balance.

It’s very rare someone goes for a pink base foundation. You are likely to be extremely fair, or lacking so much in colour (can happen with the elderly) that you need the pink undertones for a lift in colour to the face. A neutral undertone in foundation is quite popular for many. It means rather than just pink or yellow pigment within the foundation, a neutral base also contains black and white pigment. It appears slightly cooler than a yellow base foundation, but not adding colour like a pink base. This is perfect for a lot of fair to medium skin tones with redness that’s visible to balance it out and be very natural to the skin.

It’s also amazing for a lot of Asian heritage skin tones, as even though some may technically be a yellow undertone, a lot are quite fair in colour, so it becomes more natural. A yellow base foundation undertone is suited for an olive and much deeper skin tone. This is often applied incorrectly, leaving blending marks or just a sallow skin appearance, especially if you are wanting to look ‘warmer’ or ‘bronzed’. It’s best to always match foundation to exact skin tones. Apply a small swatch at front of cheek to neck for best match.  If necessary, add bronzers after foundation application for a cleaner look.


This for me is quite easy, as you should always just choose a shade of blush that you don’t see present on someone’s skin. Blush can be light and bright, placed at the top of the apple of the cheek for a ‘lift and plump’ effect. If you already see a lot of pink tones or redness on the skin, avoid a pink blush and use something warmer or bronzed.  If the client chooses full coverage foundation, only then could pink be an option, but I’d still avoid where possible, so no pink hues are visible – peach would be perfect. Then on a warm, yellow skin tone, the concern is often with looking dull, sallow or just too yellow. Of course, they may want a bronzer applied under their cheekbone for some bone structure/contour, but usually adding a peach for a lighter olive skin tone, and then pink for a deep skin tone just slightly above the contour area, will give colour and lift to not only their skin, but their entire face. Whenever in doubt, a peach tone blush suits all skin tones – it’s slightly warmer for fair skin and brighter for olive skin.


All of the above can also help choosing lip shades also, especially nude and red lipsticks. Cool skin tones look better with something warmer and warm skin tones look better with something cooler – it’s that simple. For example, a lighter/fair tone skin, who maybe has a little bit of pink across their cheeks will look more balanced in a warm/orange base red, whereas an olive/yellow skin tone will wear a blue-based, true red much better. Nude lipsticks are also very undertone dependable. If you are very cool, fair, light in skin tone a beige/peach tone nude would balance and lift your look, whereas if you are quite warm, olive or yellow based these tones would complement that skin tone, but won’t freshen or lift the skin as much as going opposites into cooler nudes would do. If you are unsure how cool or warm they are, once you swatch a cool or warm lipstick next to each other, it’s very easy to see which is which and back of wrist is perfect for colour testing for lipsticks. Of course, lipstick is a very personal choice and no, you don’t have to match your lip shade to your outfit perfectly, so with this advice, really involve your client for the best outcome possible.



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