Am I pink or yellow? How to choose the right foundation tone. And what is the deal with Mac foundations?

The whole "Pink or Yellow" conundrum is one that has baffled women since the invention of foundation.  Basically everyone has undertones in their skin and to make your foundation look natural you have to make sure you're wearing the right tone for you.   Pink is also referred to as Cool and Yellow as Warm.

Except in Mac.  More on that later.

Beware sweeping generalisations: everyones skin is different
Bobbi Brown reckons every woman has yellow undertones to their skin and therefore her yellow toned foundation will suit us all (Bobbi Brown only make yellow toned foundation).  Well this isn't true, but we understand why they are making that generalisation - a hefty percentage of the world's skintone has yellow undertones.  It's just that a large percentage of Irish skin is pink toned so this foundation won't suit all of us (Read the post that started this debate: Bobbi Brown fresh face fake it tips)

What's the difference?
A yellow undertone is often found on people with sallow skin - e.g. Asian.

A pink undertone is often represented by pale skin that burns easily - e.g. Irish.  Andreea says: "You have a *pink (cool)* undertone when you find that you blush easily or have pigmentation disorders like freckles and/or you’re more prone to acne rosacea. There are of course exceptions out there, when a sallow complexion can also present freckles."

The above examples fall into the sweeping generalisation category I was telling you about because of course some Irish people are yellow and some are pink.  So how can you tell which you are without very expensive trial and error?

I asked three makeup artists for their advice and here are the  easy ways to figure out which you are.

Look at the colour of the veins in your wrist.  As a general rule of thumb if they are blue then you are pink toned.  If they are green then you are yellow toned.

If you burn easily your skin tone is probably Pink.  If you tan easily chances are you are Yellow.

Still not sure?  Go into the shop with a makeup free face and apply a stripe of Pink toned to one side of your jawline and a Yellow toned on the other side.


"The colour that blends into your skin is the tone that most suits you, while the one that stands out should be removed faster than you can say ‘I’m yellow toned’ and never applied again. (Julie, Broken Blush)

Mineral makeup will often be divided into Cool and Warm tones too

What if my brand has no pink/yellow distinction?
Don't worry about it.  A lot of brands don't tell you if they base their shades on cool (pink) or warm (yellow) undertones.  Just do the jaw stripe test and pick the foundation that blends in best with your skin.  Higher end foundation will more often distinguish between the two tones : Julie recommends MAC Studio Fix Fluid, MAC Face and Body and Jemma Kidd Light as Air while Andreea plumps for Lancome Teint Idole Ultra and for a cheaper spend Avon's new Ideal Flawless Foundation.

Check out the Foundation category for reviews on all the latest foundations

What if I HATE my pink/yellow toned skin?
You can use the opposite tone to yours to cancel out shades in your skin that you don't like - but be careful with this one.   "If your undertone is something you want to conceal i.e. you blush easily or you have acne rosacea, in this case counteract this with a yellow/neutral based foundation, or just blend a small amount with your regular foundation, to ‘correct’ the problematic areas such as your cheeks & around the nose." (Andreea)

Mac is different
Don't be confuzzled by the system in Mac, it's still the same principle, but they switch things around.  They have two foundation groups - NW and NC.  NW is for Pink tones.  NC is yellow toned.  As Rachel says:  "A point to note, Mac’s foundation colouring is different to normal foundations, with the C in NC meaning cool/yellow and the W in NW meaning warm/pink, a little confusing maybe..."  Er, yes, it is.  But it's all got to do with neutralising colour (look at the tip above) - and to be honest don't worry about it.  Just find out which one you are and pick your foundation accordingly.

Thank you so much to the Make Up Artists who gave input to this post - Andreea Kopan (; Julie Kirwin (;  Rachel Lawlor.

Now for questions/comments - I'm sure you'll have loads!

Want more? Check out out our step by step tutorial on how to apply foundation and concealer




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