Client Q&A Silver Hair and Foundation

1. My silver hair is too cool for my skin.

Nope. Doesn’t exist. Nature never colours any human being, or anything else, disharmoniously. So far as I know, the genetics that code for the melanin in your hair or skin do not mutate when hair silvers. And I’m pretty sure that’s correct because Season does not change with age.

Photo: echiax
Photo: echiax


Now you might not be used to silver hair yet. Your skin might look a little different with maturity plus this new hair colour. The way silver looks with your wardrobe might be different or you might still be figuring out how to coordinate outfits with silver on your head. Maybe your foundation might have been too warm all those years and now it’s more obvious. Lots of possibilities that we can work with, but your hair is as perfect as your eyes, your teeth, your freckles, your lips, and your veins.

On the Know Your Best Hair Colour board on Pinterest, I posted an image today of a woman with cool silver hair. She is of dark complexion. I don’t know the warmth level of her skin without testing but she appears more cool than dark, as does her hair. I think she looks magnificent (perhaps the black shirt is a bit bland but far from the worst thing she could wear). Women of ethnicity look fabulous in their silver hair.

On any woman, a warm skin/cool hair contrast can really elevate one another. Light complexion women tend to have a big gray circle effect, which may be part of the discomfort. Too many colour their hair, when all that’s needed is a little more makeup and brighter makeup to define their features. Though the transition to silver might be harder for warm than cool women, the gray circle effect is less noticeable in women of warm colouring who have a built-in contrast between face and hair (since gray is perceived as cool).

It is never too late to add makeup. One of the best reasons for a PCA that I’ve heard lately is, “I’ve spent 60 years looking after everyone else. As a young woman, I didn’t wear makeup. I have time now and I want to know.”

2. All the makeup artists tell me I have warm undertones. How can they tell?

It’s really time for a new paradigm in human colour analysis. There’s just too much objective proof in place to spend any more time with brown-eyes-have-to-be-Winters and what not. That’s over. Red hair isn’t Autumn. Most of the time, it’s anything but, usually Winter and Spring. In part because the Winter groups derive their pigmentation from the primary colours, the variability of presentation is endless. Nonetheless, those were the best ideas of their time and I have a deep respect for them as that.

I hold a doctorate in veterinary medicine. After 20-some years of private practice, the similarities between that profession and this one have been an eye-opener I didn’t expect. There are no limits on the variety. The last 10 cases of congestive heart failure I treated barely resemble this one. The last 10 Soft Summers have a passing similarity to this one.

It’s high time for colour analysis be viewed as the profession that it is. Even insinutating that it’s DIY misleads the public unfairly. I appreciate that they popularize the subject but wrong expectations >> confusion and dissatisfaction.

Doctors do rounds because it is not humanly possible to always be right, know it all and have seen everything. Colour analysts review cases too. After several hundred, I still discuss them, some keep me up at night, some I’d love a chance to redo because I just wasn’t 100% sure.

Neighbour Seasons, hardly a big deal. Retail compromise, comfort level, and swatching variation will get you settled in right. Notice how many Pins on the Shopping for Your Season and Style board at Pinterest span two Seasons. Getting your lines right helps colour work even better. Get your style right and the same.

What is it about this industry? Where else is movement forward so resisted in favour of 20 year old beliefs that don’t hold up to real world usage? It’s beauty, right? PCA got clumped in with a field based on trend and hope. Where we gladly hand over money for products we don’t expect to deliver on their promises. Beauty and Fashion know for a fact that we will do exactly that. Skinny jeans don’t flatter most bodies. Black liquid eyeliner is not the best choice most of us can make. Coppery highlights on most heads are the only thing the rest of us can see, unless the woman knew that subconsciously and added a marigold top, in which case that is now the only thing we can see.  I really have a certain respect for this achievement of consumer manipulation.

Compliments are useless. They’re filtered through the other person’s perceptions. We all see more pregnant women when we’re pregnant. The compliment is about them, their tastes, and their internal struggles, not you and yours.

Look, the cosmetic and hair folks are advisors who counsel women every day. So they maintain that they can look at us and pronounce the heat level of our undertone? For the sake of all the women out there whose money they’re taking, these industries need an upgrade. Let’s talk about a new reality, which might be replaced in its own right one fine day if evidence comes along, because there is no cemented reality. There’s only the best we know today. Today, the A to the Q is this, whether we’re talking makeup or hair colour.

“They can’t tell unless they compare you to something calibrated.”

That is the plain and simple fact.

Photo: darktaco
Photo: darktaco


If they just looked, forget it. Forget it. Walk away. Some people are quite accurate by eye, but some aren’t. How is the consumer supposed to tell them apart? All they can see is what’s on the surface. Not good enough because not accurate. And if you have a deeper complexion, good luck not being told you’re warmer than you are. Good luck too if you’re among the many easily yellowed Soft Summers and Dark Winters. Women badly need better advice than this, especially from the hair colour industry. They don’t know because they can’t know so don’t expect them to know. Find out for yourself. Compare your colouring to something calibrated. You’re one appointment away from having so many answers.

Heat of colour can’t be judged well by eye because it’s totally relative. Saturation is hopeless to judge in a human. That leaves darkness level, so it’s over-emphasized. As humans, we are set up to see healthy skin as colourless. All we really see that contains colour are hair and eyes, so they get over-emphasized despite the fact that they only contain a small portion of your pigments. There’s no hemoglobin in hair, a wildly important pigment since it determines so much of the undertone.

If they applied 5 foundations and chose one, there’s a much higher chance of getting things right. Since they haven’t a clue about your heat by looking at you, I hope they used a selection of colours all the way from pure cool to pure warm, not available from most foundation companies.

Why make pure cool and pure warm foundation? Would women buy them? I bet not. Pure cool Summer foundation is pinkish gray, Winter is greenish gray, COMPARED to the warmer colours.

I’m pretty sure people don’t say, “Did you notice, she looks kind of green, ay?” when I walk out of rooms. IDK, maybe they do. My foundation is green-gray-beige because I am greenish. In the regular world, I look like everyone else, of course. Same as most Bright Season people don’t have clear eyes that you could see across the room. That’s not how it works at all. They look like everyone else, colours in equilibrium so nothing stands out.

The world is swimming in yellow foundation and dusty apricot, mocha rose, cinnamon rose, and so on makeup colours. No commitment makeup feels safe. No commitment anything feels safe. It is not the best place to put your money today.

3. Jennifer asked a great Q was asked at the end of the How To Match Foundation article about warm and cool foundation. It was, “Can one be a true warm season, and have neutral foundation look better on them than yellowed foundation? In other words, should foundation match both your overtone and undertone?”

Generally speaking, yes, foundation should match the true colours of the surface skin (no imposed overtones) and the heat level of the undertone. Heat level of undertone cannot be know without comparison testing because by definition, it is located under the surface skin. It’s not available for us to see on the surface. Draping looks through that to match the undertone layer. That’s why the Season result is the same even with suntans, rosacea, etc, all of which are happening up in the surface layers.

Some thoughts. First, every woman is an individual within a Season. Even True Seasons can run closer to one of their neighbour Neutrals. Even when very centered in her Season, every woman is an individual. About half the time, same Seasons can wear the same foundation. The rest, you’re starting from scratch. We see very fair and golden beige Autumns, alabaster and olive Winters, fair and very pastel-pink-soft Summers, and golden ivory-beige and translucently fair Springs. I still check 3 to 7 colours when I match skin, still may have to mix colours to get it perfect. So yes, warm women can look better in neutral foundations.

Second, foundation is not coloured or labeled in a very organized way, certainly not between companies. One’s warm is another’s neutral.

Third, the difference in type of heat between the 2 warm Seasons is very important. Spring and Autumn are often very intolerant of each other’s kind of heat, where these are often the other group’s worst drapes. This is why I don’t believe there are Sp/A blend Seasons, because I never see real human beings respond to colour in this way. Would the lollipops  make sense in a Santa Fe landscape? Would anyone wear those colours together to create an elegant and functional wardrobe?

Photo: Sisterdew


Spring foundations are quite yellow, Autumn foundations are a heavier beige-brown. Even darker colours, say for an East Indian woman, are yellower for Spring-influenced skin if she is a Bright Winter. Very hard to find Autumn foundations actually, especially True and Dark.

The retail world contains a lot more foundation warmed for Spring skin than Autumn. I don’t know if the industry understands the difference, though I believe that making foundation as a whole too yellow is a relic of the 80s where prominent makeup artists suggested that all the pinker colours of the 60s and 70s did not match skin. The pendulum swung too far to yellow, and people loved it because it looked like a healthy tan and covered red. Though still here today, the tan and red coverage still comes at a price: flat wide moon faces, flat wide noses, dull eyes, and no lips. Everything has a price.

Fourth, heat in colour is relative, I think. What exactly is maximally cool or warm? Does human skin ever reach those maximal values, even though they can be applied to cosmetics and textiles, where different pigments are found than in human skin? Today, IDK the answers to those Q.



11 thoughts on “Client Q&A Silver Hair and Foundation”

  1. Re Q2. Foundation is such a mystery. Some thoughts. Point 1, many SAs earn commission. They will swear blind that the color in stock is a better match than the one that is out of stock. They want to make the sale. Point 2, most cosmetic SAs are not professional make-up artists and they know as much about make-up as you do, or less. They might not be anywhere near as smart as you are either. Why would you trust their opinion? Point 3, I have recently come across a number of SAs describing darker colors as warmer, regardless of whether they’re warmer or cooler. At some point in recent years, warmer has become synonymous with ‘more saturated’ at a surprising number of make-up counters. I don’t know why it is. I wish these people had proper training.

  2. What if the woman who exhibits that “gray circle” effect does not want to wear cosmetics? Shouldn’t wearing the correct clothing colors be enough? Is this a case of nature making a mistake by painting someone too dull/washed out looking/wrong? Please elaborate.

  3. I agree entirely, Tina. What we add to our appearance, be it lipstick, hair colour, Botox, or a surgical face lift, is 100% our choice. There is no judgment here about that.
    Appearance is so much personal taste – what my eye decides looks good will not be quite the same as anyone else’s decision. Also very fair. There are several pins on the Know Your Best Hair Colour board on Pinterest illustrating silver hair with and without cosmetics. Just because I see the woman with makeup looking healthier, younger, fresher, more competent, more potent, doesn’t mean you have to agree. I like makeup. I find that my 20 year old daughters look a little more ‘in the game’ with some cosmetics. I see it as an advantage the men don’t get.
    The concept of ‘should’ brings with it a feeling of judgment, “This is how things should be.”, “Should be this way, not that way.”, meaning this way is right and all the other ways are wrong. But that’s personal too, so it doesn’t help us here, or maybe anywhere.
    It just is how it is. Our job is to find the place that expresses us best and make peace with it.
    Nature makes no mistakes. Nobody is washed out, mousy hair does not exist. However, we live in a comparative world. Many kids these days get braces not because of health but because they will be considered with 20 other kids for jobs. If those 20 have perfect teeth, is the person running the interviews so utterly unbiased as to be able to pick the child with non-straight teeth to represent their company because that’s how it should be? Does any woman really never, ever compare herself to media images?
    Wearing correct clothing absolutely helps. Studies have shown that we gauge age by feature definition, not smooth skin. Correct colour is an enormous factor, indeed the biggest one there is. To the viewer, cosmetics absolutely help define features even better. The thing about natural aging is that it does look a little washed out compared to the younger set. Gray is the colour we refer to when we say ‘washed out’ so the association is impossible to overlook.
    Whether the woman is blending into her hair colour, and so becoming less defined, more bland in her impression, older looking, less present, less ‘in the game’, depends largely on her inherent colouring. Pure white hair can be striking. So can very big blue eyes. So can silver hair on natively warm skin. So can iron gray hair with the contrast of Indian or African-influenced skin. Lots of options where it looks great.
    Nobody is painted wrong ever. But like landscapes and paintings, some are more monochromatic. Does that look less exciting than a painting made with vibrant colours? Each woman decides that for herself.
    Good Q, glad you asked it.

  4. Thank you, Christine. This is info I can pass on in the salon. In my industry, gray hair needs to be covered or banished according to the manufacturers. I could not resist asking this question from the standpoint of ladies like my Mom who are low maintenance. I went to a large trade convention this weekend. Not one company had anything to offer women with gorgeous gray hair. Sad. It is nice to know right color really does make a tremendous impact, cosmetics or no.

  5. Christine, I never understood what do you mean when you keep writing that lots of foundation on market are too yellow… I thought: ??? and drew a false conclusion that my skin (and foundation) must be very yellow cause my problem was the opposite. I never considered the differences between shades available in different parts of the world (even within the same well known brands) and that almost all of the fairest shades I could buy are really cool, pink based (for Snow White type of beauty) – I always compared mine to them, not neutral warm (like mine really is).

    I think what you said in the end about too yellow foundation applies also for too yellow blonde hair (no lips, flat, more chubby face, more redness showing). So going blonde means you have to be too slim to pull it of, use bronzer to contour, plump your lips, cover the redness… Even if you avoid choosing too yellow shade (which would make everything even worse) – you still have too put more founadion and more make up. Now I understand why there are so many young, blonde youtubers teaching how to contour even nose!

  6. Right on target, Daga. Women feel something’s not working or they want to follow a trend. They colour their hair too warm. Now the skin is yellow. Or, the woman has yellow overtones, very common, but is actually quite cool. They are sold a too-warm foundation. Or, the woman likes the ‘warm tan’ look and she has heard that yellow foundation makes her skin less red. Might cancel some red, but every action has a reaction. Over-warming the face also cancels the geometry of the face so it looks wide and flat, childish, without edges, like a Smiley face. It cancels the vital, healthy circulation colour in the skin which is also red, so the skin looks like wax. The eye colour dulls and the lips are erased. Get out the makeup bag and go to work. Or just change your foundation. Very hard for the consumer because so many makeup companies are still stuck in the 80s and 90s when prominent makeup artists recommended yellowing foundation and their sales staff is still telling consumers that this is a good thing.

  7. Warm and tan is really in fashion. Even today I tried to find a foundation and 9/10 shop assistants tried to sell me too dark and too warm foundation claiming that I will look better. Couple of times I had to explain myself why would I even want to be as pale as I naturally am(!) I don’t need to fit into ‘standard’ to look great – variety is the most amazing thing in the world :) Fashion, trends are fun, but only when you consciously choose what’s best for you – that’s why I appreciate pca so much.

  8. Dear Christine,
    How does warm skin react to wrong colours in clothes? I know that cool skin goes more yellow, but how about warm skin? Does it turn pink? Or ashy?

    And about make-up – how to choose foundation when my face is different colour than my neck? My face is a bit more rosy than the neck which is light ivory.

  9. Ashy and grey, Corinne. Most women have faces a different colour than their neck, esp after 40. Have you looked at the videos by Lisa Eldridge? She has great ones on matching foundation. Basically, you want to match along the lower jaw and down onto the neck. Once the rest of the cosmetic/hair/clothes are correct, any remaining slight discrepancies are simply not noticed.

  10. So I thought about the foundation problem. Many thanks Christine for your answer!
    Unfotunately most sales asistants at beauty counters don’t know it… I don’t know how many times they suggested buying a colour that will match my face and then putting it also on the neck to hide the difference. Maybe it’s ok for photo shoots, but not in real life – it would stain everything.
    By the way lately I became addicted to BB creams. I think they work especially well on skin with freckles. I noticed that when foundation is too thick it covers freckles but they still show – they become grey spots, and it isn’t pretty. You do not have that problem with BB cream, still it evens the complextion nicely. Nowadays most companies make them in several shades, cool and warm.

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