This is in reference to the main colors found in your skin or rather the main color that is peaking through. Our skin tone is made up of the three primary colors - red, blue (or violet), and yellow. That is what we are talking about when we say skin tone and your skin's undertone.
How is our skin tone determined or created?
- Hemoglobin (our blood) = Red
- Melanin (the natural pigment found in the cells) = Blue or Violet
- Carotenoids = Yellow
The amount of red, blue, and yellow within one's skin care vary quite a lot. Skin tone is also determined and affected by how thick or thin it is. Pale skin tends to be thinner while darker skin tones tend to be thicker hence the more concentrated melanin and overall pigment.
Cool Skin Tone or Undertone = lacks visible redness or yellow. Contains more blue or violet. May appear colorless.
Warm Skin Tone or Undertone = Contains high amounts of yellow and very little red or blue.
Warm vs. Cool
It can be tricky to see the differences in skin tones and undertones. In most color systems, frankly they have it wrong. I myself had it wrong for years. Color follows the "Law of Attraction" where like attracts like (i.e. red brings out red, yellow brings out yellow). Colors are also balanced by and harmonize with the colors that are their opposite. For example, the complement of orange is blue. Red is complemented and balanced by green and so forth. Warm skin tones contain high amounts of yellow and are complemented by cool or blue tones in the hair and eyes. Cool skin tones contain high amounts of blue or violet which are naturally paired with warm hair and eyes. See the pictures below for examples of warm skin and cool skin that is balanced with hair and eyes that are in the complementary warm or cool color range. Mother nature knows exactly what she is doing and how to balance colors.
Bright Balanced and Soft Balanced Soft
While some people fit neatly into a warm base with cool hair and eyes or a cool base with warm hair and eyes, other people are more of a combination. They also vary in chroma. Which is how clear or saturated (undiluted) a color is or how muted or soft a color is. As stated above our skin tone is made up of red, blue, and yellow. The amount of these colors varies as does the amount of pure pigment or gray that is contained within our natural coloring. Therefore, people who's coloring is more neutral (balanced between warm and cool) and is high in chroma (clear, intense, or saturated) look best in colors that are equally neutral and bright. This is known as "Bright or Intense Balanced". Whereas others are also leaning neutral but contain more gray and therefore look best in neutral colors that are more muted overall. This is known as being "Soft Balanced". Some people contain all four traits of - bright, soft, warm, or cool. Every little bit counts! Even if it is the teeny tiniest amount. These additional traits allow you to expand out of your main seasonal color "homebase", thus allowing you to add in additional colors that are complementary and balancing.
People with warm coloring such as, redheads can be tricky to tell apart sometimes. However, if you look at the models below the one on the left has obviously brighter and more "colorful" coloring than the model on the right. This allows her to wear some brighter more neutral tones to match with her bright and slightly neutral coloring. The model on the right has softer more muted coloring which allows her to wear some softer neutral colors in addition to the warm colors from her home-base palette.
Here are a couple more examples of brightness and softness. As you can see, the model on the right contains both traits.
I hope the above has helped to explain and demystify the subject of skin tones for you and that you now see yourself in a new light. The purpose of color analysis is to help us be our true most authentic selves by wearing the colors that harmonize with and balance our natural coloring. It's not always as cut and dry as one would think, but it also doesn't have to be confusing or only understood by a few. Color is all around us and is for everyone. To learn more about the different home-base color types and how they can influence each other, please see the page on Seasonal Color Types for more information.