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TONE, UNDERTONE AND OVERTONE: WHAT ARE THEY?

3 January 2021
Kiki Kowalski x Enrica Scielzo

TONE, UNDERTONE AND OVERTONE: WHAT ARE THEY?


One of the things that my clients and friends ask me most often is how to understand your skin tone. The undertone is a fundamental component of image consulting to understand one’s temperature and one’s season of belonging, but it seems that people are focusing only on this, ignoring that our skin also has an overtone and – in general – a tone.

So today I’m going to explain you the differences between these characteristics, how to recognize them and why they are so important.

tone undertone and overtone

The undertone of the skin is the temperature that our skin has. It can be warm, cool, warm-neutral or cool-neutral. As an image consultant , I mut say that the neutral undertone does not exist, but will always have a more pronounced yellow (warm) or blue (cold) component, at least for Caucasians. People of color have different undertones: Ethiopians, for example, often have a green undertone, while other ethnic groups may have a red or gold undertones. On theInternet I found many articles and videos explaining different methods to understand your undertone: there are those who argue that if our veins tend towards green our undertone is warm, while if they are more blue/purple then the undertone is presumably cool. Other details that indicate the undertone can be the color of the ears or the sclera of the eye (if it is pure white we are dealing with a cold season, if it is ivory the person is part of a warm season – I personally think that a yellow sclera signifies illness), or the way in which one reacts to exposure to the sun (those with a warm undertone tans easily, those who are cool toned tend to sunburn more or become reddish).

In my opinion none of these methodologies can be considered 100% reliable, and for this reason the only, true reliable method to determine one’s undertone and one’s own personal color season is to rely on a professional image consulting and get the drape test done.

As I said above, a person’s undertone can be neutral-warm or neutral-cool, but not completely neutral. We all have a temperature – which is what determines our season! There is a neutral skin tone, though, but an undertone will always tend to one side or the other of the spectrum. An example of a celebrity with a neutral tone is former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham, who has warm undertones and a neutral complexion.

Victoria Beckham has a neutral skin tone with warm undertones.

The overtone – instead – the most superficial layer of our skin, the one we perceive at first glance. In the most fortunate cases, it coincides with the undertone, but the cases in which undertone and overtone have opposite temperatures are not rare. An example is the actress Salma Hayek: although her overtone is very warm – very common for Mexican people – her undertone is acutually cool, in fact she is a Winter woman in color season analysis. Other actresses who share the same trait are Lucy Liu and Emilia Clarke, to name a few.

The overtone can be not only yellow or pink, but also brown, peach, amber, golden, olive, beige, ivory, alabaster and so on. I would like to clarify that with “olive skin tone” – ​​contrary to popular belief – we generally refer to a cool color. This is because it takes its name from the olive, which is a gray / green with a blueish component. As we were taught as children, blue (cool undertone) + yellow (warm overtone) = green, the color of olives.

The opposite occurs when a person with warm undertone (yellow) has a pink overtone: in this case we have what is called a peachy complexion (yellow + pink = soft orange). The beautiful Rose Mc Gwan is an example, in fact she is a Spring.

tone undertone and overtone


Finally, the skin tone is dictated by a mix of factors: first of all, the melanin, which is what gives our skin its natural color. Hemoglobin and carotene are also factors that contribute to determining the tone of the complexion which can change over the course of life, such as when we tan. The undertone on the contrary is always the same, and never changes: either we are warm or we are cool. That’s it. We do not change temperature during life, and consequently we do not change undertone.

This does not mean that blue and purple fit better than red, as erroneously assumed by many: almost all colors – blue, purple, red, green, gray, pink and so on – can bewarm or cool, depending on the amount of yellow or blue inside. Forest green and tea leaf green have two different temperatures, as do salmon (which is warm) and icy pink (which is cool). Same for Byzantine purple and blueberry purple, Ferrari red and rasperry red, and so on. Two exceptions are orange, which is never cool, and fuchsia, which is never warm. Yellow is the maximum expression of warmth, but in some of its versions it is also supported by the cool seasons; vice versa, blue – which we conceive as the maximum expression of coolness – has warm or neutral variations, such as navy blue or turquoise.

tone undertone and overtone

In terms of makeup, certainly the undertone is very useful to understand which are our friend colors, those who make us look prettier and younger. This applies to eye shadows, lipsticks, blushes…

What is often wrong, in my opinion, is to rely solely on the undertone to choose foundation! On the market, in fact, we now find products for the base with different undertones – warm, rose, neutral – but when we choose the foundation or the concealer what we should really take into account is the general tone of the skin, and not exclusively the undertone!

This thing I find hardly anyone says, and the Internet is full of makeup artists, consultants, experts or presumed people who explain to us that the foundation is chosen based on our undertone, but this is not true in my opinion. Now I will explain why.

Foundation is chosen based on the tone: if you think about why we buy a darker foundation in Summer and a lighter one in Winter, it is precisely because our tone changes in value with the tan. The undertone, on the other hand, it is good to remember that it always remains the same: we do not become warmer in Summer and colder in Winter, but simply lighter or darker. What changes, therefore, is the value, not the temperature.

The undertone indicated on the cosmetic bottles indicates the undertone of the foundation, not of the person who will wear it: in fact they refer to the pigment of the cosmetic, which has more percentages of yellow or pink inside, but this must be adapted to your tone! To take the previous example, if a person like Salma Hayek has a cold undertone and a warm overtone, the choice of her foundation will probably fall on neutrals, as a cold foundation will be too pink on her yellowish complexion, and a warm one will be disharmonic. with its actual temperature. In general, I find that as cold as a person can be, pink foundations look good on very few people, mostly Nordic colors. We cannot rely solely on the undertone of our skin, because it would be partial information to be taken into account when choosing the foundation! We must evaluate everything as a whole, keeping in mind our undertone as a base and analyzing how this affects our general tone, especially if it is in contrast with the overtone. If I’m cool based but I have yellow skin, I certainly won’t choose a pink foundation just because it says “cool undertone”: it would squeak with my complexion, which is what the human eye perceives. But I wouldn’t even choose a yellow or warm one that would have the malaria effect on me!

When your foundation is definitely off…

There are old theories of cosmetics that think that the base must “neutralize” the predominant component of undertone to obtain a neutral complexion: this practice takes up the concept of subtractive mixing (that I might discuss in another post) in which two colors added together “cancel” each other.

This is why companies like MAC produce foundations with the words NC or NW – acronyms that do not mean “neutral cool” or “neutral warm” as you might think – but mean “neutralize cool” or “neutralize warm”. That is the color with the “opposite” temperature to ours: for example, I have a warm undertone, in MAC I use NC, and not NW as one would immediately think. Beware of those who tell you the opposite is true, please! NC in MAC’s system does not mean that the foundation is neutral cool and is fine for you if you have a neutral-cool undertone, but just the opposite, because MAC’s NC foundations have a yellow / golden undertone.

I know that these are very difficult arguments to assimilate all together, but it is only to make you understand that there are the most disparate theories and examples around, and therefore it becomes difficult to navigate among so many voices that often say conflicting things! However, I hope to be able to make you understand the difference between tone, undertone and overtone that are important to understand the various parameters of the color scheme, and if you want next time I will write you a post entirely on how to choose the right foundation! In the meantime, if you have any doubts or questions, you can write me in a comment below or on my Instagram account @enricascielzo and I will be happy to answer you!

To book an image consultation and find out your undertone and your personal color season, please write to me at my email address escielzo@hotmail.it.

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