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Advanced Teeth Whitening Aesthetics: Correlations between Skin and Teeth Undertones.

Sep 8, 2013
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The primary objective of teeth whitening is to help us look and feel better - both on the outside and on the inside. We're so anxious to shine, in fact, that some experts predict Americans will spend more than 2.5 billion dollars on over-the-counter and dental teeth whitening products and services in 2013.

From products that were once sold almost exclusively to women in upscale cosmetic departments, teeth whitening products are now marketed to everyone. So, while every teeth whitening consumer is not female today, we still represent the statistically larger gender in the mix; and as thousands of years of tradition would have it–our efforts at looking our best don't stop in the dentist's chair.

The Colors of Teeth and Skin

Which started us thinking - we wondered if there's anything else about tooth color (even after tooth whitening) that might help people push the attractiveness envelope a bit. That's what led us to start investigating if the natural color undertones of our teeth and our skin have anything to do with each other - and how might people make use of those undertones to our advantage. To help us in our search for information, we sought advice and guidance from Master Ceramist, Vincent Devaud, CFC., MDT - the artist and "natural smile" pioneer behind some of the most famous smiles in the film and music industries.

"The most important thing," says Vincent, “is to consider your entire face when you decide to whiten; whitening your teeth too dramatically will actually detract from the effect you're seeking. When I design a smile (editors note: usually veneers), I'll always start with the patient's face and skin undertone; and choose materials and colors that brighten, while still seeming organic and natural. That's beautiful."

Both skin and teeth - even whitened teeth - have slight color undertones (see What Shade Are Your Teeth) that can help a woman fine-tune her cosmetic choices for the most flattering shades. While there is an entire pseudo-science growing around cosmetic "colorists," until now there has been little devoted to incorporating teeth undertones into the cosmetic mix.

What Color Are Your Teeth?

It's very hard for a non-dental professional to determine the color of teeth and their undertone - especially if they're either heavily stained or just whitened. Teeth are comprised of four main elements: tooth enamel, dentin, cementum, and dental pulp. It's the combination of enamel and dentin that creates the color of your teeth. The normal color of enamel varies from light yellow to grayish white, but since enamel is semitranslucent, the color of the dentin underneath plays a role as well. At the edges of teeth where there is no dentin underlying the enamel, the color sometimes has a slightly blue/gray tone. Discolorations result from a number of factors; surface stains from consumption (wine, coffee, tea etc.) result in a yellowish cast; some teeth have strong blue undertones due to underlying genetic conditions or tetracycline stains.

Your dentist is your ally here - he or she uses a Shade Management System that can actually SHOW you the color of your teeth via colored tooth reproductions. So, on your next dental visit, just ask. Your dentist will probably use a tool from the Vita Company - which specializes in creating shade management systems. Their systems measure three values: chroma, light and hue; but we're interested in hue for our purposes. Teeth are graded on a continuum of color with yellow at one end (warm) and red at the other (cool). In-between, teeth show multiple variables in coloration, including undertones of brown, yellow, grey and reddish grey. Are you requesting a teeth whitening procedure? Your dentist can also show you the ultimate resulting color - helping you get a true determination before you head off to the makeup counter. Ask for the information in plain English, the Vita Shade charts have a language all their own.

VITA SYSTEM 3D-MASTER®: This toothguide is divided into five groups according to lightness. Each group includes a central tooth with six teeth around it for the determination of differences in intensity and hue: from warm to cool, red to yellow.

Skin Color-More Complex Than You Know

No two people have the same skin color. There are multiple variables determining our "look" even within the same cultural or ethnic groupings. But unlike tooth enamel and dentin, it's melanin that determines the actual color of skin, eyes and hair. Both the amount and type of melanin produced by your body is controlled by a number of genes - which may or may not reproduce exact family colorations. One copy of each of our various genes is inherited from each of our parent's, but there's a tremendous amount of variation from gene to gene, which results in the great variety of human skin tones - sometimes even in the same families.

It wasn't until 1975 however, that there was a scientific way to categorize skin overtones. Called the Fitzgerald Scale, it was developed by Thomas B. Fitzpatrick, a Harvard dermatologist, as a way to classify the response of different types of skin to UV light. It remains a recognized tool for dermatologic research into the color of skin - and also for the development of cosmetic products. The Fitzgerald Scale measures three basic components: 1) Genetic Disposition, 2) Reaction to Sun Exposure and 3) Tanning Habits

Type I (scores 0-7) White; very fair; freckles; typical albino skin. Always burns, never tans
Type II (scores 8-16) White; fair. Usually burns, tans with difficulty
Type III (scores 17-25) Beige; very common. Sometimes mild burn, gradually tans
Type IV (scores 25-30) Beige with a brown tint; typical Mediterranean Caucasian skin.
Rarely burns, tans with ease
Type V (scores over 30) Dark brown. Very rarely burns, tans very easily
Type VI Black. Never burns, tans very easily

Getting Into Undertones

Undertones give us another set of variables to help create the unique color of each individual's skin shade, so in additional to falling into one of Fitzgerald's six classifications, undertones can further impact your complexion. While I'm guessing that many pharmaceutical, cosmetic and cosmeceutical companies do have research on the subject of skin undertones, it's very difficult to find; and it's not hard to imagine why; even a minor discovery in a cosmetic field can yield millions of dollars.

Cosmetic discussions of skin undertones typically utilize one of two ways to describe diffierences: by color (running from pink to olive to blue to neutral) or by quality (warm or cool).

One highly regarded colorist, Bernice Kentner of Color Me A Season, describes undertone as the result of an equation made up of 4 variables:

1. the thickness of the skin which determines which colors show through
2. the yellow-brown color of all skin, beneath the top layer
3. the meshwork of oxygenated (red) and non-oxygenated (blue) blood vessels beneath the skin
4. the velocity of blood flow in those vessels; attributing more red due to an increased volume of arterial blood.

Cool Complexion

Warm Complexion

Finding Your Precise Skin Color–Overtone and Undertone

For most women, it's relatively easy to determine where she stands on the Fitzgerald Scale - and today, many, if not most, cosmetic companies carefully create and label their foundations, concealers, powders and even moisturizers to fall within Fitzgerald's groups. Undertones can present more of a problem, so here's the colorist's secret:

Stand in natural light, either outside or by a window and look at the inside of your arm. Skin with pink, blue or red undertones is considered cool. Skin with golden, beige, or olive is considered warm. If you still can't tell, look at your wrist. If your veins look blue, you have a cool undertone. If your veins look green, you have a warm undertone. If you still can't determine your undertone, you might be neutral and you're lucky because you can wear most colors.

Using Color to Your Advantage

As you can see, while different elements create the color in our teeth and the skin, they are still graded on primarily the same color scale - from yellow to red, from warm to cool.

To use color to your advantage, etermine where your skin tone is and start looking, you should find the following colors look best on you - depending on just how “warm” or “cool” your skin and teeth are.

Warm Color Pallette:
Pink with a blue undertone
Reds & purples that lean towards blue
Lilacs and purples
True blues and turquoises

Cool Color Pallette
Pink with an orange undertone
Reds that lean towards orange and brown
Sunset colors and browns, khaki
True greens running to yellow greens

For lipsticks that turn on your whitest smiles?
Warm palettes can choose a rich blue-red
Cool palettes can choose a rich brown red

Going the Extra Step

"A properly enhanced smile should be alive and full of your personality," says Vincent Devaud, "you'll want to look like you, only at your most beautiful."

Now we're not in the glamour business here at, but we thought you'd like to understand a little more fully about the relationship between your skin color and your tooth color. It's a fun way to make yourself a little more informed about improving your looks. And who wouldn't smile at that?

Reviewed by Master Ceramist, Vincent Devaud
Since 1989, Vincent has owned & operated a high-end aesthetic-oriented laboratory, as well as an in-house patient clinic & teaching center. Vincent is a well-known enhanced smile celebrity expert in the dental field & is considered a pioneer in dynamic natural smile solutions.

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