Does Foundation Warm When I’m Tanned?

Excellent Q from a reader:

I’m a Bright Winter and have always felt that I had cool undertones to my skin but also have some freckles which makes it less obvious. When Prescriptives Cosmetics was in business, I tested as having Blue Red undertones and I used their foundation with cool undertones for years. I recently decided to try Bare Minerals foundation. Two different people who sell this brand have tested me as a Neutral undertone. This could make sense since I’m a neutral season but I’ve always known myself to have cool undertones. I have a little bit of a tan right now. I’m not trying to tan, but I play tennis outside and despite my sunscreen I get a bit of color. Would it be possible for me to seem like I have neutral undertones in the summer when I have some tan and then seem to have cool undertones again the rest of the year when I don’t have a tan? I’m just wondering if I should wear a neutral foundation in the summer and a cool foundation the rest of the year.


Photo: arinas74
Photo: arinas74


Your undertone is fixed and determined by your genetics, and is shared by all your colouring including your tan. Your Season doesn’t change with a tan, though you might have different colour preferences, for the higher contrast with the lighter choices, for instance. Many Bright Winters can find black too severe or their coolest colours too shadowing, and a tan might change those tolerances enough to feel more comfortable.

When you’re tanned and look warmer, the undertone might seem warmer. Whatever undertone means, it doesn’t mean overall feeling and effect. This is one of those “It looks warmer and feels like it should be warmer, so therefore it is warmer.” conclusions that are not necessarily sound.

Even pure cool Seasons can tan very golden looking. They look more yellow, but when their colours are tested, it’s still the same cool yellow their genetics always produced. They may have more melanin, which contributes red, brown, blue, and/or black, depending on the type of melanin, but it’s the same colour of melanin that it always was.

PCA determines where your inborn colours sit on 3 scales. Every colour, every body part. (In illness too? IDK, I’ve never draped a Before/After and don’t know anyone who has).

The heat scale. Warm/cool/neutral? Neutral on the cooler side, the warmer side, or 49/51 between fully warm and fully cool?

The saturation scale. How concentrated were the pigments that you were painted with? Very, or were they a little more dilute?

On the darkness scale, you don’t have a setting so much as a range. Do your inborn colours go all the way from white to black? Only 1 of the 12 does, the True Winter. I’m a Winter but don’t reach fully to pure white. Mine is a tiny bit dirty white. A woman might hug chalk to pewter. If she wears black mascara, it’s railroad tracks because it’s outside what her natural colouring can balance. If she over-lightens her hair highlights, it will never look natural or real because only processing could achieve that much lightness in her body.


Photo: vassiliki
Photo: vassiliki


The hair of a yellow haired Light Summer can seem very yellow. She’ll go online and get told she’s a Spring of some sort. A clerk will give her warm foundation. Wrong. Unless they measure it, how could they know that the yellow in her body comes from Light Summer’s less saturated and subtly cooler palette, not Spring’s?

A salesperson has no way of measuring people’s settings on the 3 Colour Scales. Even the most experienced colour analysts cannot eyeball the settings.

Depending on how the line of products they’re selling is coloured,

(do they have access to foundations warmed by Spring yellow and Autumn gold separately? as we know, warm can include yellow, beige, peach, orange, gold, brown, etc.)

(are those bottles labeled cool/warm/neutral really so, and in the same way that a colour analyst means it?)

(is there consistency in the cosmetics industry regarding pigments and terminology? if not, one company will call you warm, the other will say neutral)

(is the salesperson highly discriminating, nitpicky, rigorous, fussy, and particular? these are the people you want; I’ve been foundation-analyzed by the head of training for North America for a huge company within the last 6 months, the result was not good)

…a cosmetics salesperson could separate cool/neutral/undertone by matching foundation. The same foundation colour is the best match on the same Seasons in 3 in 5 women of the same race. It’s just not rock solid.

Foundation is a mixture of your heat level, darkness level, inherent saturation, plus surface pigments. As Dark Winters (my assumption), Mrs. Obama and I have the same heat level, darkness range, and saturation of inborn pigments. She has more melanin but it’s the same colour as mine if we test it. She has more melanin in the outer layer and wears different foundation.


Photo: garwee
Photo: garwee


Big Disclaimer: I made up all of the above. That’s only how it makes sense to me. I do not know what undertone is or where it is. Is it a layer by itself that you could isolate and dissect out of the skin? I doubt it. Is it simply the difference in people’s hemoglobin? IDK. Is it just a mixture of all the body’s pigments, if you poured equal amounts together in a bowl and stirred, bluer in Summers, redder in Winters Does it even have a colour or is just a gray that’s cool, warm, or neutral? I don’t know and am not aware of the scientific testing that offers proof. This is one of my remaining Big Questions in PCA.

I am pretty certain that what a makeup company means by cool-neutral-warm is different from a colour analyst meaning. One story is probably part of the other one but they don’t fully overlap. We’re all using the same words to mean different things and consumers can’t sort out the facts. Therefore, the Q above would also be a good one to ask a cosmetic pigment expert.

I do not change the heat level of my foundation in summer. I do use a product that sits darker in my own darkness range. Both products are cool neutral on a heat scale.

The answer to the reader’s Q is one of those It Depends. Theoretically, she has a cool-neutral skin undertone and will always wear that choice in foundation. However, depending on where she finds the best foundation match, it might be labeled otherwise.

Remember. I invent answers to these questions till I can live with calmly.



18 thoughts on “Does Foundation Warm When I’m Tanned?”

  1. Hi! Christine still love your posts. For your questioner, I have a comment. Prescriptives are still in business, they are just an online company. I ordered some foundation last week and it is a perfect match.

  2. Hi there, this is interesting. I insist on a sample pot now in order to avoid building a foundation graveyard. And still I haven’t found the one. is an excellent resource, IMO for make up tips including foundation matching. She is a fab, pro make up artist, with a lot of experience to share. Her tips about seeing the face as multicoloured and advice to match to side of neck I found useful. Good luck with finding your match! Joanna

  3. Hi Christine thank you for your brilliant posts,

    I was wondering on the difference of a peaches and cream complexion vs the high red color sometimes seen in Bright Winter complexion. Is it possible that a tan could make a complexion with a high red colour seem more peaches and cream and spring like?

  4. I’ve gone from thinking that I must be warm (reddish hair) and light (fair skin), therefore, some sort of spring to settling comfortably into dark winter after realizing that my hair’s red tones are actually a neutral-cool sort of red, not strawberry or auburn, and while my skin is fair, it’s thicker or more opaque than any spring. I don’t look “cool” in the way that magazines call cool — ashy hair, blue eyes, pinkish skin — but cool colors, or neutral-cool particularly winter’s dark purples, blues, and reds, look best. My best black is actually a little reddish, and my best white is slightly dulled. My best foundation match came courtesy of Px, the lightest one with the red (not blue red — too icy) undertones. I know that makeup SA’s don’t always get it right, but I probably should have stopped there instead of wasting time trying to make peach blush work. (I haven’t met a peach I haven’t turned orange.)

  5. my daughter and i are both very light and someone might be hard pressed to say which of us is warmer. after a recent beach week together we found her fresh tan was much warmer than mine. i wonder if being tan helps intensify the cool or warmth of people who are light.

  6. I have a lipstick question. Lipstick shades such as burgundy quickly turn pink/fuchsia on me. Does anyone know if this is because many “drugstore” level lipsticks – loreal etc – contain a lot of pink pigment, or is it because the browner layer wears off or soaks in and the fuchsia sits on top? Or is this a common effect of lipsticks? Any answers appreciated.

  7. This is way off topic but I was wondering how you see the 2014 Pantone colours fitting in to the 12 seasons? I’m assuming there will be lots of clothes in the stores in these colours so it would be great to get your take on this.


  8. Jane,

    I love makeup so I will try to answer your question . With MY experience, some lipsticks have a stain they leave behind that is very bright. Others go on exactly the color they look like. Try MAC or Makeup forever line. I have found they are pretty true to what you see.

  9. Thanks Julie, both helpful and disappointing to hear bright pink residue is common. I don’t know about you but it looks a tad repertory theatre on me. Back to the drawing board! Will give Mac a go.

  10. I wanted to know whether a slightly cooler complexion with rosy cheeks could be mistaken for a peaches and creme complexion when tanned. Is that such a bad question to ask?

    Why was my comment not approved? I am a huge fan of your website and was planning on getting my colours draped by one of the team.

  11. Hi, everyone,

    Been away buying fabric for Round 3 of the Test Drapes, my apologies for slow responses and comment approvals. There is no ‘bad question’, except maybe the one that didn’t get asked. When I travel, I don’t take both computers. I’m asking for a little time.

    I’ve thought about, and talked about with other analysts, whether we change Season when we tan. I think the answer is, “Usually not but there’s no such thing as always with human colouring.” As analysts, we don’t often have the chance to drape people when they’re tanned and when they’re not. We see them among our own families and friends, and I don’t find they wear colours differently. Maybe a stronger lipstick, more dense and maybe more lively, but still from the same palette most of the time. A tanned True Spring could maybe wear a Bright Spring lip or blush, but she’d have to be careful about the red and blue in Bright Spring. I don’t see it working on any True Spring I know. I do see them just moving further along the swatches in their correct Season Colour Book.

    The odd person does come along who really seems to change remarkably. I know a man who goes from looking very medium-eyed dark-haired Caucasian to dark East Indian with eyes that look black, but I’ve never had the chance to analyze him either way and can’t predict what would happen.

    Good Q, Renee, about whether the warmth or coolness intensifies. Melanin, which is the pigment that increases with a tan, can be brown, blue, black, and other colours. There are several kinds, though I’ve never sorted out the differences between them. If a person produces a warm melanin, and then more of it with a tan, could that throw off the balance between the skin’s 3 contributing pigments (hemoglobin, carotene, melanin) enough to shift the heat level and/or the Season? Seems plausible and maybe it does happen in some folks.

    When lipstick turns cool or fuchsia, it usually means it contains more blue or cool-red-pink pigments than you do. These cannot find a home in your natural colouring so they remain apart on the surface and it looks like the lipstick changed colour. I’m a warm Dark Winter. I wear warm or neutral DW colours and they look accurate. In cooler DW lipsticks, it can look like I’m wearing a cooler True Winter colour. The colour looks bluer and clearer. On my cooler Dark Winter friend, the cooler colours are gorgeous and she can even wear some brighter Winter colours well.

    I could see a tan calming the redness of Winter skin. Winter men especially, where the redness in the skin seems much more evident than in the women, and a tan will seem to settle it. Maybe the yellow-brown of the melanin neutralizes some of the red. They don’t change Season though. My husband is this guy and he absolutely remains a True Winter. The skin could give a peaches n cream look, depending on your definition of that. I know True Summers who tan fairly golden but their best colours absolutely remain in True Summer. They’re blunt, dull, and muddy in warm colour of any sort.

    2 things though –

    1. Cosmetics are altered by mixing with our natural skin pigments because of being applied right on top. Clothes are not, though our face’s colours still have an effect on the colours we wear (more about that in the next article). Even within a Season, no two women will wear a cosmetic identically. It might look a little flatter on one, clear the skin of one beautifully, distract and look candyish on a third, and so on. It takes a little playing inside your Season to find your best cosmetic warmth level.
    2. The stain issue (are there more tenacious pigments that are different from the others in these products?), the pH, the changes in skin and cosmetic reaction with medication – all good questions that I don’t have an answer for. Like with tans, we don’t test people pre and post disease or medication very often so all we can do is speculate.

    Laura, the Pantone colours are a nice selection. The emerald, turquoise, and purple look Spring, maybe Bright :) The teal, citron, and orange are lovely for some sort of A, maybe TA/DA.

  12. Thank you for your lipstick info, Christine. I seem to be in a colour and lipstick wasteland at the moment, so much of everything I try on turns bright pink. Browns are too heavy, corals are too orange, yellow based pinks are too ridiculous, reds are too fuschia, etc, etc. Plum is the most plausible colour, but it also turns pink in about 30 minutes. The nude lip look doesn’t work, it seems to turn my whole face featureless. One make-up artist’s advice for checking to see whether you suit a nude lip is to pull your hair off your face and then cover your lips in foundation. If your eyes are emphasised, you can “successfully” wear a nude lip, and if not, don’t bother. This is from a pretty reputable book, so perhaps it works. I never wore make-up beyond eyeliner all through my twenties, perhaps for good reason! One thing I’ve enjoyed about trying to figure out my own colouring is the increased awareness of just the fact of the depth of variation in human form and colouring. I actually can’t look at people anymore without a part of me wondering, and trying to establish, obviously, what their colouring is. Such is life.

  13. Thanks for explaining the issue with lipstick appearing to change color, Christine! I’ve experienced that problem before.

  14. Christine,
    I mix my own foundation from pure pigments so I have some experience. I think that foundation shade can slightly change during the year (get a little bit cooler or warmer) – but not because the change of skin color (tan) but because of the light. Foundation is a mix of few non-toxic pigments (the same for all brands just different quality, amount, proportions and base formula). That’s why foundation is very “solid”, simple when you compare it to complexity of human skin. I have a very strong yellow undertones. My summer foundation is a little bit more olive and my winter foundation is more peachy. Why? Lighter shade of my summer foundation (made by adding white) makes me look pale and dead in winter… It’s cause I add a little bit of green to my foundation to get rid of red tones of iron oxides. In “blue” muted winter/fall light the green suddenly stands out much more and make me look gray and muddy. So I need to make a new mix with less of green and more white – the foundation that way is not only lighter but also looks more “peachy” and warm. Again if I add more of the same pigments to get darker shade for summer – in pure, warm spring/summer light the effect is too orange – it needs to be toned down by some green. But as I said the difference is SLIGHT, many would not notice it at all. I do.

  15. This is a good day, Daga, for people pointing out fascinating things I hadn’t though of (thinking of Tora’s comment elsewhere). I hadn’t considered changing qualities of light with Nature’s Seasons. Where most add warmth to summertime foundation, you almost do the opposite, and with brilliant reason for it. I’m going to look for this but I’m pretty sure you’ve opened my eyes to something quite true that I hadn’t noticed before. Thank you :)

  16. I’ve learned so much from your blog and I’m so glad that I could contribute something. Foundation is a fascinating topic for me, it’s also very complicated. The first factor to consider is the change in our skin during the year… Are we getting warmer in summer or not? In my opinion we stay pretty much the same but little darker, we appear warmer because of summer light. In other words winter light brings out more cool tones and summer light more warm, yellow tones. Everybody has both but different amount. BUT foundation is pigment not skin. It can’t mimic human skin perfectly. Foundation doesn’t have so many different, cool and warm tones in it – it’s much simpler than our true skin colour. This mixture of limited colours we use as foundation “behaves” different than our skin, it changes much more in different light. So if you think simply “go warmer” in the summer you will probably overdo it. The safest way is to stick to the same shade, but darker and wear it as sheer as possible. Summer light will make it look warmer anyway in most cases (most people are neutral so foundation has a little of red and yellow as well). But in some cases in summertime you should tone down your make up to slightly cooler or more muted colour (to avoid exaggerated effect of very intense pigments in warm summer sunlight). The stronger your skin tone is (very cool or very warm with dominance of one colour in your foundation), the more opaque make up you wear – the more important is to consider this, to avoid looking bright orange/purple red in summertime or muddy/gray in winter. So women with very yellow or olive skin or very strong icy, pink tones are the ones that have to be more careful choosing their foundation and probably change the tone a little during year. That comes from my experience, hope I helped someone :)

  17. Hi Christine,

    Have you ever analyzed a person whose tan is a different color on different parts of her body? For example, my face and chest look golden in the summer, but the rest of me (my arms especially) look pinkish or reddish bronze. Both areas have brown freckles. Do I match foundation to the warmer shade of my face and chest, or to blend in with the rest of me which looks cooler.

    This problem also makes it hard to buy the correct blush shade. The flush of my fingertip is a pinky rose shade, but when this shade comes through on my golden tan face it looks warmer there.

    Also, my eyes are a medium golden brown with a blue limbal ring. Does this mean I am neutral?


  18. There’s no way of knowing Season from any information except draping, on anybody but esp people who seem to have unexpected colouring. Uneven tans are very normal on many people – but they are coloured by the same biology and are in harmony. Very hard to know our real colours, Val, from fingertips, veins, tans, etc. Like any colour anywhere, to truly know what it is, it needs to be compared to colours that are calibrated according to heat, value, and saturation. I match foundation with the lower jaw at the back of my face. On are great videos on matching foundation.

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