Foundation Matching: How to Determine Your Skin Tone and Undertone

Updated 11/22/22

Confused about which foundation shade is right for you? What exactly is medium skin tone? How about beige skin tone? And what in the world is warm ivory skin tone?

We get lots of questions about skin tones and foundation shades, so we’ve put together a comprehensive shade guide to break down what it all means.

Read on to learn more about skin tones and how to find your foundation shade.

Why is it important to know your skin tone?

Knowing your skin tone is crucial if you want your foundation/concealer to look undetectable on your skin.

It’s also the first step to finding your foundation matches/equivalents.

Not knowing your skin tone could result in foundations looking too pink or orange on your face, or clashing badly with your neck.

Knowing your skin tone would also make shopping for makeup online easier, especially when you cannot test the product in person (thanks Covid!).

Skin tone depth

When we describe someone as “light-skinned” or “dark-skinned”, we are really describing their skin tone depth.

Therefore, someone with “medium skin tone” would fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.

Undertone

Once you’ve figured out your skin tone depth, it’s time to determine your undertone.

This part is crucial because the worst foundation mismatches tend to be shades that make one appear unusually orange or pink or grey.

Broadly speaking, skin undertones fall into 4 categories:

Warm skin tones look more yellow.

Cool skin tones look more pink.

Neutral skin tones are somewhere between yellow and pink.

Olive skin tones have green and grey hues.

MAC Foundation Shade System Explained

Here at Redmond Mom, we use the MAC foundation shade system to classify brands and shade matches/equivalents because it’s more precise.

NC: has yellow, neutral and olive undertones

NW: has pink and neutral undertones

C: has yellow and olive undertones

NC40
MAC NC40 is a medium shade with warm undertones.

For example, someone who is NC40 has medium skin with yellow, neutral or olive undertones.

NW20
MAC NW20 is a light to medium shade with cool undertones.

While someone who is NW20 will have light skin with pink and/or neutral undertones.

Now that we’ve gone over skin tone depth and undertones, it’s time to view these skin tones visually.

We’ll begin with some of the most common skin tone questions.

Question: What does “warm ivory skin tone” look like?

Answer: Someone with “warm ivory skin tone” has light skin with warm (yellow or olive) undertones, ranging between MAC NC15 to NC20.

NC15
MAC NC15
NC20
MAC NC20

Question: What does “warm beige skin tone” look like?

Answer: Someone with “warm beige skin tone” has light to medium skin, and warm undertones, ranging from NC25 to NC35.

NC25
MAC NC25
NC35
MAC NC35

Question: What does “warm medium skin tone” look like?

Answer: Someone with “warm medium skin tone” has medium skin with warm undertones, ranging from MAC NC37 to NC42.

MAC NC37
NC42
MAC NC42

Skin Tone Type 1: Light Skin Tones

Light skin tones range from very light to light skin color. It’s usually described as “porcelain”, “fair” and “ivory” and “cream”.

Examples of light skin shades are MAC NC5, NW13, NC20 and NW20.

MAC NC5
NW13
MAC NW13
NC20
MAC NC20
NW20
MAC NW20
Light Warm
shades
Light Cool
shades
NC5 Foundation Matches/EquivalentsNW10 Foundation Matches/Equivalents
NC10 Foundation Matches/EquivalentsNW13 Foundation Matches/Equivalents
NC15 Foundation Matches/EquivalentsNW15 Foundation Matches/Equivalents
NC20 Foundation Matches/EquivalentsNW20 Foundation Matches/Equivalents

Skin Tone Type 2: Light to Medium Skin Tones

Light to medium skin tones fall somewhere between light and medium shades. Light-skinned people may also find themselves in this shade range as they get more sun in summer. It’s usually described as “beige skin color”, “light beige”, “rose beige”, “buff” and “nude”.

Examples of light to medium skin shades are MAC NC25, NW25, NC30, NC35.

NC25
MAC NC25
NW25
MAC NW25
NC30
MAC NC30
NC35
MAC NC35
Light to Medium Warm
shades
Light to Medium Cool
shades
NC25 Foundation Matches/EquivalentsNW25 Foundation Matches/Equivalents
NC30 Foundation Matches/EquivalentsNW25 to NW30 Foundation Matches/Equivalents
NC35 Foundation Matches/Equivalents 

Skin Tone Type 3: Medium Skin Tones

Medium skin tones are some of the most common skin tones and are usually described as “tanned” or “caramel”.

Some examples of medium shades are MAC NW30, NC37, NC40 and NC42.

NW30
MAC NW30
MAC NC37
NC40
MAC NC40
NC42
MAC NC42
Medium Warm
shades
Medium Cool
shades
NC37 Foundation Matches/EquivalentsNW25 to NW30 Foundation Matches/Equivalents
NC40 Foundation Matches/Equivalents 
NC42 Foundation Matches/Equivalents 

Skin Tone Type 4: Medium Dark Skin Tones

Medium dark skin tones fall somewhere between medium and dark shades. It’s usually described as “toffee” and “bronze”.

Some examples of medium dark shades are MAC NC44, NC45 and NW45.

NC44
MAC NC44
NC45
MAC NC45
NW45
MAC NW45
Medium Dark
Warm shades
Medium Dark
Cool shades
NC44 Foundation Matches/EquivalentsNW45 Foundation Matches/Equivalents
NC45 Foundation Matches/Equivalents 

Skin Tone Type 5: Dark Skin Tones

Dark skin tones are the deepest shades and are usually described as “coffee”, “cocoa” and “deep bronze”.

Some examples of dark shades are MAC NW47, NC50, NW50 and NW60.

NW47
MAC NW47
NC50
MAC NC50
NW50
MAC NW50
MAC NW60
Dark Warm
shades
Dark Cool
shades
NC50 Foundation Matches/EquivalentsNW47 Foundation Matches/Equivalents
 NW50 Foundation Matches/Equivalents

Foundation Matcher

Once you’ve figured out your skin tone depth and undertone, check out our extensive Foundation Matcher to find foundation and concealer shades that match your skin tone.

Foundation and Concealer Shade Finders

If you are looking for your shade in a specific foundation or concealer, use our Shade Finders to find your perfect match.

Top Rated Foundation and Concealer Reviews

Shade Finders For Different Skin Tones

Blush Shade Guides

Image credits: https://www.maccosmetics.com, www.amazon.com

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