How to Find the Best Hair Color for Your Skin Tone
Considering coloring your hair at home? Read this first to make sure you're complementing—not clashing with—your skin tone.
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The art of choosing the perfect color
When it comes to always looking your best, the right haircut is important—but the right hair color might be even more important. Certain shades can look beautiful or blah on you, depending on how well they complement your skin tone. “I have clients on a daily basis request a hair color they’ve seen on an actress or model that they just must have,” says Kari Hill, a celebrity colorist for L’Oreal Paris. “The obstacle isn’t the coloring of their hair—it’s understanding whether or not the color is going to match their skin tone.”
If you’re looking to color your hair at home, you’ll undoubtedly find a walk down the drugstore hair-care aisle to be overwhelming and confusing. And it’s too easy to make a hair mistake that ages your face or simply causes you to look less than amazing. Don’t worry—we’re here to help. We asked veteran stylists to explain exactly how to determine your skin tone and identify the best colors for you, whether you want to go natural or be a little more dramatic. P.S.—bookmark this guide on the best fall hair colors you’ll want to embrace this autumn.
How to determine your skin tone
As with complexions, hair colors can be warm, cool or neutral. Cool-toned skin has pink, red, and blue undertones, while warm-toned skin has yellow, peach, and golden undertones. If your skin tone is neutral your undertone most likely matches your actual skin tone. No mystery there!
So, how can you determine your skin tone? An easy way to find out is with a “wrist test.” Simply flip over your wrist and look at the color of your veins. If they are blue or purple, you’re likely cool-toned. Green and yellow veins mean your skin is warm-toned. Here’s another neat trick: “Place a silver piece of jewelry and a gold [one] next to your face, near your eyes,” says celebrity hairstylist Michelle Cleveland, owner of Hair Addict Salon. “If silver complements you, go for a cool hair shade. If it’s gold that works best, then choose warm.”
You may have heard that the golden rule when it comes to hair color is to select a shade that’s the opposite of your skin tone, but that actually may not be accurate. “My advice is to find a color that brings you confidence but also respects your complexion,” says Sophie Georgiou, a colorist at Sharon Dorram Color at Sally Hershberger in New York City. “Lots of women dream of being blonde, but it’s doesn’t suit all complexions.”
For fair skin with cool undertones
Fun fact: The paler your complexion, the lighter you can go with your hair color. “Cool blond shades (like platinum and baby blond) are great on porcelain skin,” says Georgiou. And you’ll want to avoid overly warm tones, like golds, coppers, and caramel, which can look unnatural. “Michelle Williams has a very pale cool complexion, so very light, icy blond works perfectly on her. The reason I love this is because it also contrasts beautifully with her brown eye color. It shows that, contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to have blue eyes and also pale skin to wear this tone,” says Hill. Considering a deeper hue? Matt King, a colorist at Fox & Jane in San Diego, suggests dark red violets and jewel-toned colors, such as rich true red, solid jet (blue) black, and dark deep brown.
If you’re trying this at home, check out Christophe Robin’s Shade Variation Mask with Temporary Coloring in Baby Blonde. Not only is it temporary, as the name suggests, but it also comes with deeply nourishing ingredients such as Buriti oil, almond oil, and silk proteins. If you have existing highlights or color in your hair, rest assured that this will blend in seamlessly. You should also have the right root touch-up kit in your beauty arsenal so you can go a little longer between full colorings.
For fair skin with warm undertones
According to Jasmin Rainieri, a senior colorist at Julien Farel Restore Salon & Spa in New York City, if you have fair skin with warm undertones, a la Emma Stone and Emma Roberts, copper red, butterscotch, rust, golden blond, strawberry, and caramel tones will bring out the warmth in your skin. Remember the copper red on Stone? “The warm golden copper tone [was] beautifully complemented by her very fair but also warm skin tone,” says Hill. “Conversely, with warmer undertones on fair skin, you want to avoid the overly blue and violet-based colors. I actually wouldn’t suggest anything in the black family at all for someone with this complexion, as it could appear too harsh against their skin tone,” says King. Here are another 13 secrets colorists usually don’t tell you for free.
If you’re seeking to recreate Stone’s fiery red hair at home, look no further than L’Oreal Paris’ Superior Preference Color in Intense Red Copper. The fade-defying formula is designed to give you intense shine and smoothness that is long-lasting.
For fair skin with neutral undertones
Blond may seem like an obvious choice for people with fair skin and neutral undertones, given the popularity of the shade and just how well it traditionally blends with fair skin. Just look at Jennifer Aniston and Julia Roberts, who have donned blond tresses over the years. But according to Ian Michael Black, Global Artistic Director of Hair Color at Aveda, it’s all about choosing the right shade of the classic color. “[Try making] a bold statement with platinum blond, but steer clear of having too much of a blue undertone in the color,” he says.
Not your style? For a “slightly softer” but statement-looking light blond, he suggests a complementary champagne beige tone: “It will look soft and flattering because it will finely balance cool and warm.” Another option, he adds, is to make a statement in the other direction with a very deep brown, which “will be feminine but with a strong edge,” he says.
Revlon’s Color Effects in Platinum is perfect for anyone who is naturally blonde or has light brown hair. Additionally, it is loaded with keratin and jojoba oil, which will leave your hair soft and luminous.
For medium skin with cool undertones
With a medium complexion, you can experiment with almost any color. Just avoid going to extremes, King advises. Brunettes should stick with a natural medium to light brown—something like walnut is great. For blondes, look for sand, wheat, and beige to complement your skin tone and still look natural. Taylor Swift is a great example of medium skin with cool undertones. “She also has very cool blue eyes that work well with this ashy natural blond,” notes Hill. And when it comes to red, you’ll want to stick with something in the medium auburn family or a cinnamon tone, according to King.
For fans of natural-looking hair colors, L’Oreal Paris Excellence Creme in Light Brown is a great choice. Not only does it seamlessly blend in with your existing hair color, but it also provides full coverage for grays and comes with a conditioning treatment to strengthen roots. Thinking of embracing your grays? Follow these colorist-approved tricks for going gray gracefully.
For medium skin with warm undertones
Blake Lively is a perfect example of medium-toned skin with warm undertones. “Her complexion looks even more gold and radiant because she stays with a golden tone, no matter how light or dark her hair,” explains Hill. “If she went pale or cool in her blond choices, it would wash out her skin, almost aging her, due to it being so unnatural with her skin tone.”
According to King, people with this skin tone can’t go wrong with something in the middle. “Personally, I have one absolute favorite for a medium complexion with warm undertones: bronde,” she says, referring to a combination of brown and blonde. “I’m not sure there can be anything better than having the best of both worlds.” Warm butterscotch or light golden brown a la Jessica Alba are great. “Copper and golden reds will add just the right amount of pop in these situations while fully complementing the skin instead of stealing the show.”
While bronde is hard to recreate without a visit to the salon, this Color Brilliance by Ion’s permanent color in Dark Blonde comes pretty close. It also features anti-fade UV protection, 100 percent gray coverage, and ultra long-lasting shine. Once you have the perfect shade, find out what you should do to make your hair color last longer.
For medium skin with neutral undertones
If your skin tone is similar to Shay Mitchell’s or Vanessa Hudgens’, try combining both warm and cool tones for a gorgeous look. “Let your hair gently transition in depth and tone as it goes down the hair shaft. A deeper base with a soft golden tone toward the scalp can be blended into a cooler-toned lighter end to give a complementing and gentle look that works with your skin,” advises Black. Or if you’re looking for more of a brunette look, try “a clean gold tone that radiates and brings warmth against the skin.” The key to making sure it works perfectly and gives you a slightly warmer look and glow? Avoiding red tones.
One more thing to keep in mind: “When you have medium or dark olive skin, stay away from shades that can appear to be the same tone as your skin color, specifically light brown or dark blond,” says colorist Marie Robinson, founder of the Marie Robinson Salon in New York City. “You are better going brighter, adding highlights, or adding richer tones and darker hair color to add contrast to your skin.”
For a rush of radiant color and shine, try Clairol Natural Instincts semi-permanent color in one of the Golden Brown shades. Not only does this boxed brand work with all hair types, but it’s made from 80 percent naturally derived vegan ingredients, which are gentle on your hair.
For olive skin with cool undertones
“For olive skin, living in a more brunette family is preferable—and adding in a subtle highlight can really help to add dimension and open up a look,” says King. “I wouldn’t really venture into blond too much here, though I think keeping a darker base with hints of caramel or a honey blond can add incredible texture.” Reddish browns like chestnut, autumn, and cinnamon also look great with this skin tone.
If you want a darker hue, stick with warmer blacks like mocha, which can help cancel out any underlying pinkish tones and smooth the appearance of the skin. Olivia Munn’s gorgeous olive skin tone works amazingly with this dark, cool brown hair. “Her hazel eyes not only marry her skin and hair color, but they keep her looking dramatic and not extreme or harsh,” says Hill.
This Garnier Olia hair color in Dark Brown is great for those looking for an ammonia-free solution and anyone seeking to avoid chemicals. It enhances your hair color with each application and comes with a “unique no-drip formula,” so expect easy application.
For olive skin with warm undertones
For those with olive skin and warm undertones—think Jennifer Lopez and Eva Mendes—you can’t go wrong with deep golden and caramel hues. “Jennifer Lopez’s skin tone is the most golden caramel olive tone out there! Her golden brown eyes literally glow because she doesn’t stray from the warm tones both her skin and eyes dictate,” says Hill. Ebony and mocha tones are also stunning. If you’re going red, stick with the violet reds—keeping colors deep and rich. When it comes to going blond, you’ll want to embrace warmth and stay with tones that are more honey-based. “While blue-black is an option, I would stick to a more violet black for a striking appearance—it’s also just a little more fun,” says King. “Warm blacks also work here to give a very natural exotic look.”
Clairol Natural Instincts’ hair color in Light Caramel Brown is perfect for both an immediate radiant effect and for those looking for a gradual but natural fading of color. It’s also paraben- and ammonia-free, so you can rest easy knowing that it will be gentle on your hair. If you struggle with grease, make sure to find the best shampoo for oily hair.
For olive skin with neutral undertones
Rich, dark tresses are stunning on those with olive skin, from Penelope Cruz to Padma Lakshmi. Black agrees: “Rich chestnut and chocolate tones bring out some warmth from your skin’s neutral undertones.” But there’s no need to limit yourself to darker tones if you want to mix things up! “If you want to go on the lighter side, soft balayage works well with darker natural levels and lighter pieces that have a cool honey color,” Black explains. “This will add warmth and glow without looking too stark or brassy against the skin. It works really well to complement those with bright hazel eyes to create a well-rounded and flattering look.”
John Frieda’s Precision Foam Color in Dark Cool Espresso Brown offers a rich chestnut shade that will last beyond several shampoo washes. It also provides 100 percent coverage for old color and gray hair, and provides a hefty dose of moisture via its after-color conditioner. You might also want to pick up another John Frieda product while you’re at it: an $8 frizzy hair serum with near-perfect reviews on Amazon.
For deep skin with cool undertones
“Deep, cool complexions, like Viola Davis, are where inky black truly shines. The color and light-catching factor really help to add to the multitudes of depth in this skin tone,” explains King. Other hues to consider? Espresso, blue-blacks, and deep violet shades, according to Jason Dolan, a colorist at Roman K Salon in New York City. And for highlights? “Choose cool hues, regardless of whether they’re brown, blue-red, or platinum blond,” says Hill.
This tricky shade is not always easy to recreate at-home. But Schwarrzkopf Color Ultîme’s Sapphire Black definitely comes close. It promises vivid color intensity, long-lasting effects, and incredible shine.
For deep skin with warm undertones
“The richness of a deep, warm skin tone—like Beyoncé’s and Halle Berry’s—is something that you can play up with simple color tricks,” says King. Considering a blond hue? He suggests staying in the caramel and toffee family. Brunettes should favor maple and mahogany tones, which help enhance skin’s natural radiance. Similarly, if you’re going dark, warm blacks are best. For redheads: “As contradictory as it may sound, a blue-red works best with this skin tone. It will help to appropriately balance underlying tones while enhancing the warmth that you want to see.”
This Garnier Nutrisse Ultra Color formula in Caramel Chocolate is perfect for a complete transformation. Plus, it’s loaded with shea, avocado, and olive oil, so it’s deeply conditioning, and its color-boost technology makes sure the shine stays. If dullness or dryness are a concern, check out the super-moisturizing hair masks that can revive even the most damaged strands.
For deep skin with neutral undertones
Deep skin with a neutral undertone looks best with a strong contrast. (Think Kerry Washington and Zendaya.) “A really light cool-toned blond, from platinum to softer cool beige, can work beautifully to bring out the warmth in deep brown eyes,” says Black. “Brunette shades with soft warmth, from gold-toned chestnut to rich mahogany with red-violet undertones, can create a flattering complementary look that brings warmth to the face.”
If you’re still unsure, Cleveland recommends a combination of skin tone and eye color to determine the best hair shade. “The ideal look is achieved by one of these two combinations: warm, warm, cool, or cool, cool, warm. For example, if your eye color is warm and your skin color is warm, then your hair color should be cool,” she says.
If you’re really missing that professional salon touch, L’Oreal Paris’ Féria Multi-Faceted Shimmering Permanent Hair Color in Champagne Cocktail can fill the void. This edgy shade also comes with a conditioner that seals and smoothes hair, providing for lasting color. Make sure hair stays healthy by not falling for these common hair myths that are ruining your hair.
- Kari Hill, celebrity colorist for L’Oreal Paris
- Michelle Cleveland, celebrity hairstylist and owner of Hair Addict Salon
- Sophie Georgiou, colorist at Sharon Dorram Color at Sally Hershberger in NYC
- Matt King, a colorist at Fox & Jane in San Diego
- Jasmin Rainieri, senior colorist at Julien Farel Restore Salon & Spa in New York City
- Ian Michael Black, Global Artistic Director of Hair Color at Aveda
- Marie Robinson, colorist and founder the Marie Robinson Salon
- Jason Dolan, colorist at Roman K Salon in New York City