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How to Determine the Right Concealer or Foundation Shade for Skin

Updated on January 29, 2013
To get the right concealer or foundation shade, carefully observe your skintone in daylight; you will find your undertone by looking just above your jaw.
To get the right concealer or foundation shade, carefully observe your skintone in daylight; you will find your undertone by looking just above your jaw. | Source

With so many products out on the market, finding the perfect shade of concealer or foundation for your skintone seems like a miracle suited only to professionals. The last thing you want is to be pressured by the saleslady at your nearest department store to buy things you don't need.

If you follow these tips and techniques, you can easily find the correct foundation or concealer online and be your own makeup-artist every day.

As a fourteen year veteran makeup-artist for Sephora, MAC, Chanel and Bobbi Brown, I will teach you the best products to use for the least amount of money. Why? Because I believe every woman has a right to feel beautiful and that includes you.

Important Points To Remember When Choosing A Foundation

  • When foundations oxidize (dry on the skin), the color shifts to about 1-2 shades darker than when you first put it on. For this reason, it is important to choose a foundation that looks 1-2 shades lighter than your actual skintone, so that you get the closest match once its dry. Note: This rule does not usually apply to creme or thick/heavy concealer.
  • If you are using Retin-A or another anti-acne product like Proactiv, find a very gentle exfoliant or extra-gentle scrub to remove the dead skin particles. Then be sure to apply an oil-free moisturizer of your choice and let it dry for a few minutes, then re-apply if needed. If you don't have adequate moisture in the skin, the foundation will look cakey and "makeupy" no matter which one you try.
  • Yes, the best foundations and concealers on the market may be pricey but are well worth the investment. The majority of your cosmetic money should be spent on skincare, foundation/concealer and eyeshadow primer-- not face primer, eyeshadows, eyeliner, mascara or other things which can be easily substituted by drugstore brands.

In My Opinion, The BEST Drugstore Brand Foundations You Can Buy!

L'Oréal Paris True Match Super-Blendable Foundation Makeup, Natural Beige, 1 fl. oz.
L'Oréal Paris True Match Super-Blendable Foundation Makeup, Natural Beige, 1 fl. oz.

This is a sheer, oil-free buildable coverage foundation in a HUGE variety of shades at a very low price.


If you are dark tan to darker-skinned, you might have two or more undertones on your face, since skin pigment will be darkest around the edges of the face close to the hairline and on the forehead. In the middle by your nose and "t-zone", you will likely have yellow or golden undertones that get darker around the hairline and forehead (like Rihanna, the singer). Those tones around the edges will likely have a red undertone. Hint: You will know you have two different undertones on your face if you continue to spread the yellow undertoned foundation (which perfectly matched the middle of your face) in those areas, it will appear "ashy."

It will be tough or near impossible to find the correct foundation that will blend both the edges and the middle undertone of your face, so many dark-skinned women opt for for concealer palettes so that they don't have to buy two foundations.

My Favorite Foundations In The Entire Cosmetics Industry

CHANEL Chanel Vitalumiere Fluide Makeup - 20 Clair, 1 fl oz
CHANEL Chanel Vitalumiere Fluide Makeup - 20 Clair, 1 fl oz

This was my favorite foundation for many years before I became more sensitive to dimethicone; it seriously makes your skin FLAWLESS like you are wearing no makeup. Especially good for cold, winter months, since there is some moisture even though its oil-free.


First Step: Determine Your Undertone

How To Read Foundation Codes With No Color Names

If you are caucasian or very fair-skinned, you will likely have a yellow undertone. Some of you may have a slightly pink indertone. The foundation lines with the best color selection for foundations will have an array of 2-3 undertones to choose from. For example, if you choose any foundation or concealer from MAC, you will see N, C, NC or NW before each number. "C" is for primarily yellow undertoned skin, while "W" is for pink or red undertones. "NC" is for yellow-beige or golden undertones, while "NW" is for beige or reddish-beige undertones with only a hint of yellow. Most women, light and dark, fall into the last two categories.

These codes differ for every product line, but if you pick up one product with an obviously yellow undertone, read the label or shade "number" and you will find all the yellow undertones in that line have that same first letter or two, which specifies the undertone. Simply genius!

How To Understand What Beige Really Means

Some lines will label a Y for "yellow" or a P for "pink" undertones, or even N for "neutral" which means the color is a combination of both. If you try a yellow foundation and it looks too yellow, this means you likely went too dark. Don't automatically go to the pink undertone; see if there is a beige first and if that is still too dark, try looking at names that include "Porcelain" or "Alabaster."

If you are Asian or Hispanic, you likely have a yellow or "golden" undertone. Some dark Indian women have a rare olive undertone. Most African-American or dark-skinned individuals have golden or red undertone. A very small percentage of African-Americans actually have a blue undertone.

How To Determine Your Undertone

You can determine your skin's undertone only by daylight (the light shining in through a window is ideal) or with a bright light or "daylight" setting on a magnified makeup mirror. I used to love doing my makeup in the car for this very reason (never while driving, of course!).

If you are fair or light-skinned, look above your jawline; this is where you should always test potential foundations.

Wanna Look Like A Celebrity Every Day?

Jerdon Tri-Fold Two-Sided Lighted Makeup Mirror with 5x Magnification, White Finish
Jerdon Tri-Fold Two-Sided Lighted Makeup Mirror with 5x Magnification, White Finish

This was my favorite mirror while learning makeup application eighteen years ago and I'm sure will be yours, too.

To look picture perfect with the right concealer and foundation, smile big to project confidence!
To look picture perfect with the right concealer and foundation, smile big to project confidence! | Source

Good Red-Orange Lip Products For Severe Dark Circles

Burt's Bees Lip Shimmer, Nutmeg, .09-Ounce Tubes (Pack of 4)
Burt's Bees Lip Shimmer, Nutmeg, .09-Ounce Tubes (Pack of 4)

This is pack of 4 lip balms are perfect for neutralizing undereye circles before your concealer. The color is also very pretty and may be mixed with any pink lipcolors you already have for a neutral lipcolor for everyday wear but be sure not to use the same one for your eyes as you do for your lips as this can increase the risk of infection.


How To Cover Undereye Circles

Contrary to popular, ancient belief, you should not go one or two shades lighter than your skintone to correct undereye circles. Why? Because if you do, your undereyes won't exactly cancel out but instead look dull or greyish, or worse, you will have white raccoon-eyes in photos.

Nowadays, undereye concealers contain more golden/orange pigment than ever before. The reason for this is companies have "wised up" to the fact that orange neutralizes blue,therefore, to completely erase even the worst dark circles, the blue must be canceled out. For some lucky women, these concealers are enough.

For many Asian women, concealers that cover dark circles don't exist simply because there is not enough orange in most concealers to cancel out the amount of blue under their eyes.

Well, I'm going to share a seemingly crazy makeup-artist secret that many people have been dying to know but only some makeup-artists utilize.

Rich, orange-red lipstick. Yes, just a touch under each eye before applying the concealer will neutralize the blue so that the concealer by itself does not look grey or dull, but vibrant and awake!

My favorite orange-red lip product that worked like a charm under my concealer (but please be careful not to get any in your eyes!) is Burt's Bees Nutmeg Lip Shimmer in Nutmeg. Its basically an orange-red lip balm which you will find at practically any drugstore.

Follow this with an Amazing Cosmetics Concealer that exactly matches your skintone and you will look like you had the best night's sleep of your life!

Choosing The Right Color Concealer

If you have a yellow undertone, you will likely need a "golden" or a "medium beige" concealer or one shade even darker for undereye circles.

If you have "golden" or deep yellow to red undertones, you will need a "deep golden" or one shade darker with a tinge of red to cover your circles. You can also try the neutralizing trick I described above for the best results.

How To Apply Undereye Concealer

If you want to avoid wrinkles, use a quality concealer brush to apply concealer to the undereye area as well as in the inner corner of your upper lid area; this is where most women get dark circles, which are either hereditary or from allergies. You can also tap it on with clean fingertips and rub in at the edges very softly.

How To Choose A Face Concealer

Do not use a face concealer for undereyes and vice versa! Face concealer will make undereyes look ashy and undereye concealer will make you look like you have dirt on your face!

Choose a face concealer the same way you would choose a foundation. If you are fair or light-skinned, look at the area above your jaw. If you have a darker complexion and more than one undertone, choose the color shade in between the darkest color by your hairline and the lightest color you see in the middle of your face.

One line who ingeniously solved this dilemma of needing a face and an undereye concealer in two different colors is Laura Mercier. Her Secret Camouflage Concealer Duos have a darker one for undereye and a light one for the face, although you will likely still have to use my orange-red lipstick trick for undereyes since her undereye concealers have virtually no orange in the mix. Her shades range from light to very dark.

Apply face concealer using clean fingertips. This is ideal, since face concealers tend to be heavier and 'melt' more easily when blended with fingertips.


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    • Anya_Marcot profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from NY

      Any reddish orange will do the trick. A tiny smudge of a lipstick like Nars Shanghai Express or MAC Chili should do the trick.....

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      I'm Asian and wanted to try the Burts Bees trick for my dark circles. I've been looking everywhere for the lip shimmer, but seems like they've been discontinued. Can you suggest something else that works in a similar way easily found in drugstores?

    • Anya_Marcot profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from NY

      You're so welcome! So excited you found the trick...hopefully it works as well for you as it has for those I've used it on.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Please ignore my last comment. I somehow missed the part about the lipstick trick. I apologize.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Thank you for this article; it was very informative. I have been looking for a good under eye concealer for forever and I'm Asian. You mentioned that for many Asian women concealers for dark circles don't exist. Does this mean that I'm just screwed?

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Thanks. Will check out the products out and give them a try!

    • Anya_Marcot profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from NY

      Choose concealer only; men don't wear foundation unless they work in the public eye (film, tv, etc.) Stick to concealer (such as Amazing brand that I describe above for dark circles); most of the same brands I'd recommend for men are the same that would work for women. The ones I talk about on this hub are my absolute favorites and look the most natural; just follow the tips I add for each product. If you are prone to breakouts, don't use Amazing on the face as it can clog pores....choose an oil free one for face and blemishes instead. The Laura Mercier duo is excellent if you need both and you likely won't need to set it with powder. Guys also shouldn't use colored face powder for everyday to set concealer; instead, lightly dust Smashbox Photoset Finishing Powder (which is invisible and undetectable) onto the concealer to 'set' it nicely and keep it on longer.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      thanks - any suggestions on good brands or types that would work well for guys?

    • Anya_Marcot profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from NY

      Of course! The difference for guys is you don't want to look like you are wearing any. Make sure to moisturize beforehand so that the texture of your skin still looks like skin and does not look cakey or makeup-y. If moistururizing beforehand is not enough, you can use a tiny dab of Vaseline on the dry area and reapply a bit of the concealer (Vaseline does not usually clog pores, mineral oil does). Make sure to test-drive your look with family or close friends to see if it is noticeable before going in public.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      do these suggestions work for guys, too? I've got pale skin and wanting something to cover up blemishes and aso address the undereye circles.

    • Anya_Marcot profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from NY

      You're very welcome, Kellyanne! Glad I could help.

      Thank you for visiting!

    • kellyanne828 profile image


      5 years ago

      I always have a hard time finding the right shade foundation for my skin tone. Thanks for the good information!


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