How to Find the Best Hair Color for Your Skin Tone
Beyond basic colors like blonde or brunette, certain shades can look beautiful or blah on you, depending on how well they complement your skin tone. We talked to veteran colorists to help you find the perfect hue for you.
How to determine your skin tone
As with complexions, hair colors can either be warm or cool. “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, 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.” Cool-toned skin has pink, red, and blue undertones, while warm-toned skin has yellow, peach, and golden undertones. Wondering which one you are? 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. 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 we’re here to tell you that actually may not be the case. “My advice is to find a color that brings you confidence, but also respects your complexion. Lots of women dream of being blonde but it’s doesn’t suit all complexions,” says Sophie Georgiou, colorist at Sharon Dorram Color at Sally Hershberger in NYC. Don’t miss the myths about hair you need to stop believing.
For fair skin with cool undertones
Fun fact: The paler your complexion, the lighter you can go with your hair color. “Cool blonde shades (like platinum and baby blonde) 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 blonde 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, 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. These are the 15 hair terms you need to know before your next salon visit.
For fair skin with warm undertones
According to Jasmin Rainieri, 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 blonde, strawberry, and caramel tones hues are best to bring out the warmth in your skin. “I’m loving this new copper red on Emma Stone! The warm golden copper tone is beautifully complimented 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. Don’t miss the 13 secrets colorists wouldn’t dare tell you for free.
For medium skin with cool undertones
With a medium complexion you can still have a lot of fun with almost any color, just avoid going to total extremes, King advises. Brunettes should stick with a natural medium to light brown—something like a 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 blonde,” notes Hill. And when it comes to red, you want to stick with something in the medium auburn family or just a cast of a cinnamon tone, according to King. Check out these other tricks to stretch the time between your hair color appointments.
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. If she went pale or cool in her blonde choices, it would wash out her skin, almost aging her, due to it being so unnatural with her skin tone,” reveals Hill. “Personally, I have one absolute favorite for a medium complexion with warm undertones: Bronde. I’m not sure there can be anything better than having the best of both worlds,” says King. 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 instead of stealing the show.” Learn what stylists do to make hair color last longer.
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 blonde too much here, though I think keeping a darker base with hints of caramel or a honey blonde can really help to add incredible texture.” Reddish-browns like chestnut, autumn, and cinnamon look great. Looking for a darker hue? Stick with warmer blacks like mocha, which can help cancel out any underlying pinkish tones and really smooth the appearance of the skin. Bella Hadid’s gorgeous olive skin tone works amazingly with this dark, cool brown hair. “Her light blue eyes not only marry her skin and hair color, but they keep her looking dramatic and not extreme or harsh,” says Hill. Looking for a new cut to go with your color? Find out what your hairstyle says about your personality.
For olive skin with warm undertones
For those with olive skin and warm undertones—think Jennifer Lopez and Eva Mendes—Rainieri suggests 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. Stick with the violet reds—keeping colors deep and rich. When it comes to going blonde, you’ll want to embrace the warmth and stay with tones that are more honey-based. “White 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. Warm blacks also work here to give a very natural exotic look,” says King. (Hairstylists reveal the worst things you can do to your hair.)
For deep skin with cool undertones
“Deep, cool complexions, like Viola Davis, is 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? According to Jason Dolan, colorist at Nunzio Saviano Salon in New York City, espresso, blue-blacks, and deep violet shades. And for highlights? “Choose cool hues, regardless of whether they’re brown, blue-red, or platinum blonde,” says Hill. These are secrets stylists won’t tell you—including how to find the perfect color.
For deep skin with warm undertones
“The richness of a deep, warm skin tone (like Beyoncé and Halle Berry) is something that you can play up with simple color tricks,” reveals King. Considering a blonde 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 darker, 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.” Read up on these fun facts about redheads.