How to choose the right lipstick for your skin tone

What I learned after going for a personal colour analysis session at Etude House’s Color Factory 

How to choose the right lipstick for your skin tone
How to choose the right lipstick for your skin tone
10 Apr 2018

How to choose the right lipstick for your skin tone

You never know how hard it is to choose a lipstick colour until you find yourself stuck between “Orange Blossom” and “Citrus Raspberry”. They’re only a shade apart, but how is it that one makes you look like the human form of a sunbeam, while the other makes you look like a mouldy grapefruit?

The simple answer? The undertones of your skin. While overtones can vary with sun exposure, health, or the amount of sleep you had the night before, undertones are hereditary and trickier to discern. Being fair doesn’t automatically make you cool-toned, while being tanned doesn’t automatically make you warm-toned. What determines this is the amount of pink or yellow pigment you have in your skin.

Sure, there are some tricks out there, like checking the colour of your veins (blue means cool, green means warm), but that can seem a little reductive when you take into account things like hair colour, dark eye circles, or overall facial features. So when I heard that Etude House’s Color Factory, a personal colour service that helps you choose the most flattering shade of lipstick for your skin tone, is now available in Singapore, I signed up to find out once and for all whether I am warm-toned or cool-toned.

Here’s how the service, the only one offered outside of Etude House stores in South Korea, works: for $58, a consultant will use software, cloth draping, hair samples, and lipstick palettes to analyse the temperature of your skin undertone, as well as its season. At the end, you’ll choose a lipstick colour from the 240 available, along with a custom engraved case.

All this takes about an hour, even an hour and a half if you ask a lot of questions or waffle between different colours, like I did. It’s not exactly a cheap or quick process, but after seeing how good my lipstick turned out, I can’t say it wasn’t worth it either.

Read on for a more detailed retelling of process, and decide for yourself if it’s worth trying.

For starters...
For starters...
10 Apr 2018

For starters...

This is my usual everyday lip colour: a deep rose, which matches just about everything I wear, and which I believe(d) makes my features look a little more dramatic. 

According to the colour consultant, this shade is very safe. Spoiler alert: I ended up with something totally different at the end of the session. 

Step 1: Learning the difference between warm tones, cool tones, and everything in between
Step 1: Learning the difference between warm tones, cool tones, and everything in between
10 Apr 2018

Step 1: Learning the difference between warm tones, cool tones, and everything in between

The consultant encourages me to remove my makeup, to which I happily oblige – as haggard as I looked going foundation-free that afternoon, there was no way I would let my brightening CC cream screw with the results. Afterward, she presses a gadget shaped like an iPhone to jawline. This is the ‘My Color Finder’ device, which scans a small square of skin along your jawline to determine where it falls along an XY axis of pink to yellow, and dark to light. While the device processes the data, the consultant explains that this area of the face receives less sun exposure, which helps the software provide an accurate reading.

As it turns out, I am neither warm-toned nor cool-toned. I am neutral. This explains why I could never figure out what whether I have warm or cool undertones, since I have an equal amount of both, but it doesn’t explain why I look like a zombie while wearing nude or kawaii pink lipsticks even though I can technically look good in anything (more on that later).

Colour analysis tip: Not equipped with a fancy device or the ability to distinguish pink undertones from yellow ones? Here’s another simple question to ask yourself: do you burn or tan? If you burn, your skin has more pink tones, meaning you lean toward cool. If you tan, your skin has more golden tones, meaning you’re warm. If you’re like me and experience an equal combination of both, then you’re a neutral.

Step 2:  The foundation test
Step 2: The foundation test
10 Apr 2018

Step 2: The foundation test

The consultant fans open a booklet of swatches. She explains that while software can give us a general idea of where we fall on the temperature continuum, we still need human eyes to make an accurate judgement. And as a neutral, I could still benefit from seeing whether I lean more toward cool or warm.

She places a sand-coloured square next to the underside of my arm – like my jawline, this area receives less sun exposure, which makes it easier to discern the undertones. “Too yellow,” she says, flipping through the stack. At last, she settles on a square the colour of a peach smoothie.

“This one,” she says. “You are a neutral with pinkish tones.”

Upon sensing my skepticism (since the device reading put me closer to the warmer side), she swaps it out for a square with lemony hues. She gives my eyes a second to adjust, and switches it back to the peach smoothie swatch, which looks far more suitable now that I’ve seen how it blends in relative to the other swatches.

Colour analysis tip: It’s easy to pick a foundation based simply on shade, but nowadays, most foundations can be equally dark or light, but contain different amounts of pink and yellow pigment. The next time you’re at the foundation counter, ask the sales assistant to help you swatch a pinkish shade, a golden shade, and a neutral shade on the underside of your arm. You’ll be able to tell which tone you are based on which one blends the best.

Step 3: Are you a winter, spring, summer, or fall?
Step 3: Are you a winter, spring, summer, or fall?
10 Apr 2018

Step 3: Are you a winter, spring, summer, or fall?

The consultant examines my hair, recently bleached, and getting blonder by the day. She holds up a thumb-sized dossier of hair samples, asking me to choose which one best corresponds to my natural hair colour. I choose dark brown, and after comparing the samples to the centimetre of exposed roots atop my head, she declares me a Cool Summer Light. Huh?

Long story short, everyone’s hair and skin tones corresponds to one of the four seasons. If you hair is dark, you’re likely an autumn or a winter. If you have cool undertones, you are a Summer or a Winter. If you have warm undertones, you are a Spring or an Autumn. If your hair is on the darker side, you’re an Autumn or a Winter; if it’s on the lighter side, you’re a Spring or a Summer.

But wait! I protested. Doesn’t that mean all Asians would be an Autumn or a Winter since our natural hair is dark?

Well, no – because like skin, hair has overtones and undertones. If your hair is black and ashy underneath the light, it’s cool. If it looks coppery, then it’s warm.

Since my skin has neutral undertones, with more pinkish pigment, and my natural hair falls on the lighter side even without being bleached, the consultant dubs me a Cool Summer Light. Alternatively, I can pass as a Warm Spring Light since my skin also has some golden undertones.  

Colour analysis tip: All these terms can be a little confusing, especially when you consider the five different types of contrasts: clear, light, muted, dark, and deep. It helps to think of them in terms of emotions or natural elements. “Clear” tones have a high level of contrast – think of ice or fire, think of an intense contrast between skin, eye, and hair colour. “Light” tones have a bit of whitish pigment – think of clouds, the air, of soft pastels. “Muted” tones have a bit of earthiness, of greyness – think of the dusty rose lip colour that’s so trendy now. “Deep” and “Dark” also convey intensity. A Deep Autumn has a coziness about it – think of terracotta tiles or hot cocoa. Whereas a Dark Winter would look like a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon beneath a twilit sky. Once you know your undertone and season, think about which image suits your overall palette, and that’ll be your contrast tone.

Step 4: Colour draping
Step 4: Colour draping
10 Apr 2018

Step 4: Colour draping

The consultant leads me to a mirror, where she holds up two stacks of cloth – one corresponding to summer (cool) and another to spring (warm). We try the summer pack first. The muted shades, which have a bit of duskiness to them, are no good – they make me look far too mature, says the consultant, since they bring out the greyish tones in my face.

Next up: pastel pink, baby blue, and lilac, three colours you’d be hard-pressed to find in my wardrobe full of white, grey, and navy tones.

She holds the light pink against my face, pointing out how it brightens my complexion. But neither of us are wow-ed. She tries the light blue and vetoes it a second later since it brings out the dark eye circles.

She fishes out the lilac, and at last, we have a winner. It not only brightens my demeanor, but it cancels out some of the sallowness above my cheekbones. (I should have known, given my daily reliance on purple colour corrector.)

Both of us cast a cursory glance at the spring pack. Neither of us are confident at how it will look, but we try it anyway. The marigold makes me look like a butternut squash; the Prussian blue gives me a crestfallen air; the red is acceptable, but is far too reminiscent of Chinese New Year.

But far from advising me to avoid these colours altogether, the consultant encourages me to look at what each of these colours brings out in my face, and to adjust the degree to which I wear them accordingly. The cool-toned light pink and lavender brighten the upper half of my face, so I should wear pinkish eye shadows (a-ha, that’s why I find Urban Decay’s Naked 3 palette so wearable).

Then she points out my natural lip colour: muted rose. My lips have a greyish undertone, which explains why milky pinks and nudes don’t work for me – they exaggerate the greys. A warm toned lipstick would help neutralise them, but it would have to be light enough to help me “glow” without overpowering my face.

Colour analysis tip: Love colours that don’t suit you? Keep them away from your face. A colour outside your seasonal palette doesn’t have an effect on your complexion if you reserve it for your shoes, bottoms, or bags. Dark burgundy lipstick might wash you out if you are fair with warm undertones, but you can always wear it in your jewellery or on your nails instead. At the end of the day, personal expression trumps colour palette, but it’s not impossible to marry the two even when they seem opposed.

Step 5: Choosing a lipstick colour
Step 5: Choosing a lipstick colour
10 Apr 2018

Step 5: Choosing a lipstick colour

The consultant brings out three trays of lip colours labelled Cool Summer Light, Cool Summer Muted, and Warm Spring Clear. Each contains 15 different shades of lipstick. She asks me to pick four. Naturally, I am overwhelmed.

“Do you have any suggestions?” I ask, to which she replies with a swift “of course”, as if she were just waiting for me to hand over the reins.

First, she asks me what colours I usually wear. I point out the entire Cool Summer Muted palette, which contains colours akin to Kat Von D’s Lolita and Lolita II, my default lip colours.

“These are MLBB (my lips but better) shades, they look good on everyone,” she says, encouraging me to try something outside of my comfort zone. But she chooses one from that tray anyway, alongside two orangey-pink colours and a shade like Hawaiian punch.

After scraping the colours on a piece of white paper, she swatches them on my lips. Predictably, the MLBB shade looks like the easiest to wear, but again, she’s not wow-ed, insisting instead that I choose the more orangey of the corals.

I look in the mirror. I’m definitely not wow-ed. I’m not even impressed. I look like I’ve been drinking Thai iced tea without a straw. Out of the 240 colours available from this service, this was the best one, really?

And yet, I didn’t want to have gone through the entire process only to choose something that totally opposed the results of each test. If I was going to accept the services of a personal colour expert, then I might as well commit to the exercise all the way.

I told her I’d go with her choice, and chose a glossy finish. As much as I love mattes, the last thing I wanted from this already dubious colour was for it to dry out my lips as well.

Step 6: Receiving the lipstick
Step 6: Receiving the lipstick
10 Apr 2018

Step 6: Receiving the lipstick

Once you pick out your lip colour, you’ll get to choose a casing and specify a custom engraving. I choose a turquoise casing covered in ketchup bottles, with my name, and proceed to wait close to an hour for the staff to prepare my lipstick, a process that involves mixing the pigment, putting into the mould, and waiting for it to harden.

Once my lipstick is ready, the consultant puts it in a cute round box and hands me a card with my personal colour (Cool Summer Light) as well as the name of my lipstick: Warm Spring Light 14. All my information is already in the system, so if I ever want to repurchase my colour, I can bypass the consultation and just pick it up for $23.80.

Concluding thoughts
Concluding thoughts
10 Apr 2018

Concluding thoughts

I left the consultation filled with doubt. Even though I could understand the reasoning behind why some colours work for me and some don’t, I can’t imagine stocking my closet with light pinks and purples, nor could I feel excited at the prospect of wearing a coral pink lipstick when most coral pinks make me look way too kawaii for comfort. I couldn’t help but wish that the service could have provided a truly customised lipstick – that is, created an entirely new colour for me, rather than choosing something that was already premade.

I showed the colour to my friends and colleagues, who were just as intimidated by the orange. I applied it with zero faith that it would look any good.

So lo and behold, imagine my surprise when it ended up looking completely different and 100 percent better than it had in the store, and certainly better than it did in the tube. Maybe it was the lighting at the flagship store, or that the finish was a lot glossier than what I’d tried previously, but it actually looked kind of…nice?

My colleagues were just as shook. “That’s what you were complaining about?” they said, rolling their eyes at how much of a drama queen I’d been earlier when I’d compared myself to the Teletubbies sun baby.

It’s been a few days now, and the more I wear this colour, the more I find myself reaching for it over my usual MLBBs. Maybe it’s confirmation bias, or maybe the consultants really know what they’re doing, but this lipstick does make me look younger, brighter, and healthier than my usual roster of vampy lip colours. In the same way that salmon colour corrector conceals my dark eye circles, an orangey-pink lipstick eases the grey in my lipsticks to help me achieve a sunnier appearance.

If you ask me if the process is worth it, I’d say yes, if you’re a complete makeup and style newbie with no idea of where to begin with colours. It’s also worth it if you’ve been looking kind of haggard and suspect that poor lipstick colour choices are to blame. If you value personal expression over what’s flattering, you might not agree with the advice that they give you, but what’s the harm in learning a little more about yourself?

Etude House Color Factory is available exclusively at the Etude House flagship in Wisma Atria

Color Factory sessions are by appointment only. Customers can book their slots on Vaniday, Lazada, or call the store at 6737-2450

Color analysis session options:
- Colour consulting and a personalised lipstick, $58
- Colour consulting and two personalised lipsticks, $68
- Colour consulting, a personalised lipstick, and a Double Lasting Foundation, $78
- Colour consulting, two personalised lipsticks, and a Double Lasting Foundation, $88

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