Pantone Color IQ: A System for Color Matching Foundation Makeup

Have you ever stood at the foundation makeup display and tried to figure out which shade was the right match for your skin?

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Have you wondered whether you should test on your cheek, your jawline, your neck, your hand, the inside of your forearm? Women in my focus groups always tell me that one of their biggest issues with foundation is trying to choose the right shade. If this is you too, read on.

During a recent visit to Sephora, I checked out their new venture with Pantone Universe called Pantone Color IQ, a color matching system for foundation makeup.

Pantone display

Sephora has had a fairly long relationship with Pantone. Every year, Sephora introduces limited edition eye color palettes, blush and nail polish for Pantone’s Color of the Year, and on an ongoing basis, Sephora sells color collections based on Pantone shades, e.g. Pantone’s Precious Metals eyeshadow collection.

Now, Pantone has developed a device for Sephora that actually color types your skin to help take some of the mystery and aggravation out of figuring out what shade foundation to buy. I decided to try it out, and I found a Sephora saleswoman to help. She used a handheld meter/camera to take a reading at three areas on my face: jaw, cheek and forehead.

Pantone device

She said sometimes they take a reading at the neck or inside of the forearm, but she thought the facial readings would be more accurate for me since my skin was different colors at different areas. It took about 30 seconds at each spot. The data was sent to a computer somewhere, and the results came up on a screen at the Pantone Color IQ display. Awesome!

The system calculated a number to represent my skin tone: 3Y06. I guess that’s similar to MAC where the foundations and powders are assigned a number, and the MAC salespeople type you when you buy their products. What was cool about the Sephora/Pantone system was that it created a list of foundation brands/products and the specific shades for each that I might consider trying. The saleswoman emailed me my code type and product/shade list. I wish I had snapped a photo of the screen with the results to show you. The screen results displayed my personal foundation code and little photos of each of the recommended foundations and the corresponding shade recommendations and price. The email, at least on my computer, didn’t show the photos but instead had links to product photo. That’s sort of a pain because I couldn’t easily see what form the foundation came in, e.g. liquid, powder, cream etc.

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While I can’t vouch for the accuracy across all the recommended brands, the shade it selected for me from Bare Minerals Ready Foundation was just the shade I bought last month. Whew, I made the right choice! I think the Pantone system is a great idea. If anything, it gives you a place to start when you stand in front of the shelf trying to figure out which shades are right for you. Try it out next time you’re in Sephora!

While I’m on the subject of Pantone, here’s a link to an interesting article in the New York Times on the history of Pantone: The article recounts how the world was in disarray before Pantone created standardized colors originally developed for printers. Since Pantone’s color formulation system was introduced, it has been used by designers and creators of all kinds who work with color. Do you use Pantone’s color system?

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2 thoughts on “Pantone Color IQ: A System for Color Matching Foundation Makeup

    • Laura, what a coincidence that you mentioned the Pantone Color IQ today! I just came from Sephora (taking advantage of the VIB semi-annual coupon discount and picking up my bday gift), and I noticed that my small suburban Sephora now has the Pantone Color IQ in the store. Previously, I would have to go to Boston to use it. If I hadn’t been in such a rush, I would’ve gotten retyped. It’s fun and quite accurate! xoxo

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