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How To Determine (and Care For) Your Skin Tone

The best skincare advice can vary for different skin tones. That’s why it’s important to identify your skin tone (and skin undertone) to care for it properly.

Curating the perfect skincare routine comes down to factoring in three important things: your skin concerns, skin type, and skin tone. You might assume the latter is more relevant to your makeup routine (and it is relevant there), but your skin tone can also help inform how you care for your skin. Of course, for that to occur, you need to be able to identify your skin tone and skin undertone, plus really understand how the best skincare tips vary for different skin tones. Here, find the Kiehl’s guide to determining your skin tone color and caring for your skin accordingly.

What Are The Different Skin Tones?

To identify your skin tone, the first thing you need to know is how we define that term. Simply put, your skin tone color refers to the actual color of your skin.

Next, you have to learn what the different skin tones are to help determine which one describes your skin. It’s worth noting, however, that there isn’t a single, agreed-upon list of skin tones. Makeup brands and skincare articles sometimes vary on what they consider the “official” ones. For example, one list may name “pale” as the lightest skin tone, while another would call that same skin tone “fair.” With that said, we split the different skin tones into five categories based on what they’re commonly considered to be. From lightest to darkest, these are them: fair skin tone (also called a light skin tone), medium skin tone, olive skin tone, tan skin tone, and deep skin tone (also called a dark skin tone).

What’s My Skin Tone?

Determining your skin tone largely relies on your sense of sight. If your skin appears super pale, you likely have a fair skin tone. If it’s very dark, you have a deep skin tone. For the most accurate assessment, make sure your skin is completely clean—no lingering makeup residue—and look at your jawline and neck.

For more help identifying your skin tone color, you can look to a skin tone chart. These are straightforward, visual charts that show examples of each skin tone. Some charts also use celebrity or model pictures to help display what different skin tones look like. Review a chart and see which of the examples is closest to your skin.

What’s My Skin Undertone?

Often, when discussing how to determine your skin tone, what’s actually being talked about are skin undertones. And yes, skin tones and undertones are different. In addition to your skin tone, everyone has an undertone. This is a less obvious color that comes through your skin and affects its overall look. Your undertone impacts what colors will flatter your skin (this applies to clothing, hair colors, and more), as well as what makeup will look the best and most natural on you.

Skin undertones fall into three types: warm, cool, and neutral. While identifying your skin tone color often comes down to a quick look in the mirror, finding which of these undertones you have can take a bit more work. With that said, there are a number of tests and tricks you can use to help find out what your undertone is. Here are five to try:

1. Look at your veins

This tried-and-true method for identifying your skin undertone is one of the most popular. Start by flipping your wrist over and take a good look at your veins. If they appear blue or purple, you can assume you have a cool skin tone. Veins that look green, on the other hand, indicate a warm skin tone. If the color of your veins falls somewhere in between or isn’t quite clear, then you probably have a neutral skin tone.

2. Take the paper test

Placing something white, like a piece of paper, against your skin, can help make your undertones really pop. If your skin looks more vibrant when you hold the piece of paper up, you can guess that your skin is cool-toned. But if the paper makes your skin look dull, that’s a sign it has warm undertones. Checking how you look in bright white clothing can work in the same way.

3. Do a jewelry check

People who gravitate toward gold-toned metals may find that they have warm undertones. This is because yellow gold flatters warm skin tones. As for silver, it tends to look best on cool skin. If you wear a bit of both, try each on in front of your mirror and see if you notice a difference in how radiant or lackluster your skin looks.

4. Assess your hair and eye color

While you can’t always judge your undertones based on your natural hair and eye color, they can be good indicators. People with lighter hair and eyes often have cool skin tones, and those with darker hair and eyes frequently have warm undertones.

5. Consider the sun

How your skin responds to the sun might give you a hint as to your undertone. Warm skin tones are known to tan from sun exposure, whereas cool skin tones are more likely to burn. If you burn first, then it develops into a tan—you might be able to guess this—that could mean you have a neutral skin tone.

4 Skincare Tips That Take Skin Tone Into Consideration

Just as certain skincare products and tips suit all skin types, some work well regardless of skin tone. This includes Ultra Facial Cleanser and Ultra Facial Cream, gentle formulas that people with any skin type or tone can use. However, there are also skincare steps and tips where it’s advisable to factor in your skin tone. Below, we’re naming five such tips.

1. Diminish the appearance of dark spots.

While dark spots aren’t a skincare concern specific to one skin tone, those with dark skin tones do have a higher risk of developing them. For this reason, if you have darker skin, it’s extra important to be gentle with it to help prevent discoloration. When dark spots do appear, you can use Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Corrector to visibly reduce them. This brightening serum with buffered salicylic acid helps reduce the appearance of dark spots, post-acne marks, and sun spots.

Kiehl's Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution

2. Look for the right ingredients.

Like we said, caring for darker skin requires a gentle hand. This includes being cognizant of the ingredients and formulas you use on your skin. If you’re interested in incorporating acids into your skincare routine, look for non-irritating formulas. Milk-Peel Gentle Exfoliating Toner, which is formulated with lipo-hydroxy acid (a salicylic acid derivative), is non-sensitizing and gentle enough for daily use, even if you have sensitive skin. It exfoliates, brightens, and restores moisture levels for a hydrated feel.

3. Protect your skin against the sun.

Sun protection is non-negotiable for everyone, regardless of skin tone. Still, there are ways your skin tone can affect how you protect it. Everyone should wear broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF value of at least 15. But fair skin tones tend to absorb more solar energy and may want to use a higher SPF, upping it to 30 or 50. Try Super Fluid Daily UV Defense SPF 50+, which protects against UVA and UVB rays, plus pollution. We recommend pairing your sunscreen with an antioxidant-rich serum, like Powerful-Strength Vitamin C Serum. The formula with 10.5% l-ascorbic acid (pure vitamin C) and 2% ascorbyl glucoside (a vitamin C derivative) boosts radiance, helps visibly reduce lines, and smoothes the appearance of your skin’s texture.

It’s important to note that while the sun’s damaging effects on fair skin may get more attention, sunscreen is also an important part of skincare for dark skin tones. Those with dark skin can get sunburns, too, as well as skin cancer. Make sure sunscreen is part of your daily routine, and take other sun protection measures, like wearing UV-blocking sunglasses and seeking out the shade when outdoors.

4. Up your moisture.

If you have a deep skin tone and are unhappy with your current skincare routine, it could be that you need to increase the moisture. This is because dark skin has a tendency to become dry. In addition to using face cream and body lotion every day, add a face oil to your routine. Midnight Recovery Concentrate Face Oil is a nighttime oil that boosts essential moisture overnight. Apply a few drops to help restore your skin.

5. Cater to sensitive skin.

People with fair skin tones may be more prone to having sensitive skin. If you deal with skin redness, sensitivity may be the culprit. In that case, we recommend soothing formulas for your routine. Calendula Serum-Infused Water Cream with calendula flower extract and micronized calendula petals helps visibly reduce redness with continued use. When you need a little pampering, use Calendula Petal-Infused Calming Mask. It contains calendula and aloe vera and bursts into a refreshing surge of cooling hydration upon application.

Next: For universal skincare tips, read Healthy Skin Habits To Start Now.

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