Reader question: How do I choose the right hair colour for my skin tone?

Nicole Richie blonde brunette hair colour

Longtime readers may recall a post I did last year on Nicole Richie‘s various hair colour (and hairstyle) transformations. I know not all of you agree, but I LOVE Nicole as a brunette.

But this post isn’t about Nicole Richie. It’s about choosing the right colour for YOU.

And will you forgive me? I promised this info to you guys a loooong time ago. Here’s what reader Alana asked before I got beauty amnesia:

Do you have any “in general” tips in regards to hair colour and skin tone? Can you make your skin look more even by changing up your shade? I would like to transform my skin into peaches and cream gorgeousness too!

Great question! And one that has confounded me for ages. I’ve been told different things by different hairdressers over the years—some say to pair warm colours with warm-toned skin and cool colours with cool-toned skin… but others say the exact opposite!

So I decided to get this question answered for once and for all by a guy who really knows his stuff! Luis Pacheco has been a colourist for 15 years (!), is the owner of Hair on the Avenue in Toronto and is the consulting colourist for Clairol. (I also hear he’s terrific at blondes!) Here’s what Luis says about choosing the right colour for your skin tone:

hair highlights 300x229 Reader question: How do I choose the right hair colour for my skin tone?To make your skin look flawless…

You can’t change your skin tone, unless you’re using lots of makeup (or Photoshop!). Skin tone can only be perfected by choosing a hair colour that is suitable for it.

If you’re a natural blonde or brunette with blue or pink undertones in your skin…

You should maintain a hair colour that is cool in nature (such as a cool-looking ash blonde). Otherwise, sporting a hair colour with yellow tones will result in skin that looks green and ill. Remember, yellow and blue makes green!

nicen easy hair colour medium caramel brown Reader question: How do I choose the right hair colour for my skin tone?If you’re a natural blonde or brunette with yellow undertones in your skin…

You should maintain a hair colour that is warm in nature for the same reasons as above. For example, Jennifer Lopez has a yellow skin tone and is always seen with hair colours that are rich in caramels and golds. Nicole Richie also has a yellow skin tone, so she looks best with warm shades of brown. Hence the flawless-looking skin!

For brunettes I like the Nice ‘n Easy Colour-Blend Technology Caramel Collection. They are perfect shades for the summer that will look amazing on warm, tanned skin!

Now for MY two cents:

The only thing I’d add to this is that some of us have skin tones that are in between cool and warm. I fall into this category, so I can usually pull off both warm and cool hair shades. BUT, I think it’s best to veer on the side of warmth—it’s more flattering on most people. For example, my skin looks MUCH brighter with my current honey-toned highlights than the ashy colour I was born with.

(In fact, even though I begged my colourist Joanna to just do highlights on top of my normal ashy light brown base colour, she insisted that she “warm it up” with an all-over demi-permanent underneath. And I have to admit, it DOES look better. When you mix blonde with an ashy base colour, it can sometimes look grey, which defeats the whole purpose.)

If you’re still unsure about what shade will suit you, it’s best to consult with a professional. You could splurge on a salon colour job just to figure out your right shade, and then DIY it at home thereafter, once you know what’s going to work for you.

I hope that helps! Now tell me: have YOU experimented with different hair colours? What has worked best for you—cool or warm shades?

24 Comments

Alana
Wednesday, June 9/2010 at 10:04 am

Yay! The post I have been waiting for! Great tips – especially the ‘if you’re in between’ part. I’m also a bit of both, and it makes deciphering the ‘rules’ about hair colour kind of challenging. Now I know to err on the side of warmth :)

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Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Wednesday, June 9/2010 at 12:00 pm

So glad you stuck around for this post, Alana! I hope it helps. I forgot to also mention that one of my favourite tools is the InStyle Virtual Hair Makeover. Lots of fun and you can try out all kinds of colours before you commit! http://www.instyle.com/instyle/makeover/

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Janelle
Wednesday, June 16/2010 at 11:19 am

I totally agree about pink skin and ashy colour…I’m glad it was one of the first lessons I learned about colouring. Unfortunately, my naturally dirty-blonde hair goes immediately yellow when lightened. Even after using a toner, that golden base is still there. I’ve discovered Clairol Shimmer Lights toning Shampoo to tone down the yellow.

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Sarah B.
Tuesday, July 20/2010 at 1:23 pm

When it comes to blonde, I fully agree. But not really with black and red hair.
I am a “peaches and cream” skintone, and therefore I should be warm. But I look fine with Blueish Black. And I’ve worn cooler and warmer shades of red and they are all fine as well.
So, my guess is, this works to the majority of people. But there are some pretty neutral skintones that can do with more colors than usual :)

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Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Wednesday, July 21/2010 at 9:17 am

Totally agree – I think I’m in the neutral boat as well!

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Carrie
Wednesday, November 17/2010 at 6:38 pm

There’s a lot of online makeover games to try on different hairstyles too, just make sure you have good lighting and your regular makeup on for a true test! Also, there are a lot of wig stores in malls…good way to try out a colour in person! I also think eyes are a good indicator– cool eyes (blues, deep browns, greens etc) usually have WHITE flecks near the iris, while warm eyes have GOLD flecks near the iris… there’s a lot of other charts and things online that are useful in evaluating your own colours (try googling ‘colour charts’ or ‘seasons’, here’s an example: http://www.beauty-and-the-bath.com/Season-Color-Analysis.html ). I have the same tones as you Michelle, and find that dark colour CAN look good, but tends to wash me out, and has to be a warm as opposed to cool…and when blonde I’m best when golden or platinum.

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Carrie
Wednesday, November 17/2010 at 6:42 pm

woops haha the online makeover you mentioned above is excellent :) . And that natural unflatteriny-ash colour is a problem with my hair too.

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Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Monday, November 22/2010 at 5:33 pm

Hey – trying on wigs is such a good idea! I’ve never actually seen them at the mall though… where are you looking? :-)

Thanks so much for the awesome colour chart link! I love that stuff. Glad to know it confirmed what I thought – I’m a Summer right down to the “mousy brown” hair. Ha!

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Carrie
Monday, November 22/2010 at 9:57 pm

there seem to be quite a few retail wig stores in Vancouver area (but they charge you $5+ if you want to take a picture in the wig–lol! sneaky!) but i think you’re in TO?? here’s a few that came up around there: http://www.cylex.ca/toronto/hairpiece%20retail.html or any big mall might have one :) (Eaton centre??)

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Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Tuesday, November 23/2010 at 12:53 pm

Thanks Carrie! I will check that out!

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Sheli
Saturday, April 2/2011 at 6:09 pm

I have a warmer, olive skin tone (what you would typically find on Italians and the Middle Eastern) and the darker is often the better. Most of my compliments come from when my hair in its natural very dark brown state. However, I can just as easily pull off a variety of reds and lighter browns. I’m paler in comparison to my Persian father, and look more European than Persian or American –something a hairdresser suggested as an explanation why I can pull off colours you wouldn’t expect for someone with my skin tone. Blonde, however, is a very hard colour for me to work with. Nevermind how warm or cool it is. My blonde variant is incredibly limited and may very well go bad if not done perfectly.

My mother, however, is a natural auburn and looks brilliant in shades of chocolate brown and brighter reds. She, also, looks ridiculous as a blonde –which is kind of unexpected. If you look at her you’d think she’d make a lovely blonde, but we’ve tried on multiple occasions and its just not for her. The ruddy complexion you barely noticed before just came out full-fold when she went blonde and her green eyes just weren’t as bright.

I have a friend who is a natural blonde, warm yellow skintone, who looks best as a blonde or a strawberry blonde. Anything outside of that just sort of drowns her and isn’t flattering.

Its hard to set up rules for people to go by, its all kind of trial and error. My mother and I will visit wig shops and try on wigs to get an idea of what colours we should go for. And I think lighting has some influence, too. The one time I went completely blonde it looked great outside but disgusting once I went inside. Still can’t explain that one.

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Dani
Sunday, June 26/2011 at 4:22 am

Any tips on how to figure out whether you have warm or cool tone skin? I have no idea which one I am.

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Carrie
Sunday, June 26/2011 at 12:34 pm

Generally you can figure it out by natural hair colour, skintone and eyecolour, but some of the tests are a little vague: http://www.womenshealthcaretopics.com/bn_makeup_Are_You_Warm_Cool_or_Neutral.htm

from my own experience, the description of cool/warm doesn’t fit me (i’m a warm with brown hair/blue eyes, but with gold flecks in my eyes, and a golden hue to my skin). For a test, if you try putting on both warm and cool makeup, one should look noticeably better than the other (ex: if you’re warm, the cool makeup will make you look washed out).
Another test can be lipstick: blue-based reds suit cool, true-red/orange/coral/brown-based reds suit warm. When you try both, one may suit you more than the other.

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Dani
Monday, June 27/2011 at 4:45 am

Thanks for your help Carrie I appreciate it!

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Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Sunday, July 24/2011 at 10:26 pm

Thanks Carrie! You can also try with jewellery – do you look better in silver or gold?

Check out this video as well: http://beautyeditor.ca/2011/07/11/video-its-hair-colour-101-how-to-choose-the-right-shade-and-maintain-your-colour-at-home-plus-the-celeb-secret-i-absolutely-swear-by/

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Dani
Sunday, July 24/2011 at 10:35 pm

So not to sound silly, if you look better in silver then you are a cool skin tone, and if you look better in gold then you are a warm skin tone? Thanks!

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Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Sunday, July 24/2011 at 11:58 pm

Yep, basically – but if you watch that video and read this post you’ll see that I don’t think that “rule” matters so much anymore: http://beautyeditor.ca/2011/04/26/newsflash-there-are-no-more-colour-rules-when-it-comes-to-makeup-and-maybe-even-hair-too/

Dani
Monday, July 25/2011 at 12:07 am

Just read the article and… true that Michelle!

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Denise
Thursday, August 11/2011 at 2:07 pm

Another easy way to tell whether you’re warm or cool or which shades look better is to look at your inside wrist. If you see blue veins you’re cool, green you’re warm. If you see both(like me) you are more neutral and should take your cues elsewhere. Or as Michelle and others say err on the warm side. But not too warm. In hair color look for a color that says nnatural gold, or natural warm, natural. If they don’t have buy two colors(same brand and line only) and mix them. This way you get some warmth but are adding enough natural colors to ensure going to warm. Especially if you’re going lighter. Hair ALWAYS lightens warmer, so even using a haircolor formula that says ‘natural” base you’ll have some warmth. Of course if you’re going more than a shade or two lighter( though honestly most people shouldn’t do this)you will pull too much warmth need to counteract that with an ash. In order to keep from going too ash, do the same as above but replacing the warm shade with ash(i.e. mixing one ash, one natural).

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Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Saturday, August 13/2011 at 5:19 pm

This is amazing advice, Denise! Thank you! I love the idea to mix two colours together.

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Sandra
Friday, December 9/2011 at 8:32 am

I definitely believe that warm skin tones look good in warm hair colors and cold ones in cold hair colors. But my problem is, I am a medium skin tone (think Monica Bellucci and Penelope Cruz), with medium golden brown hair. I like my natural hair color, but because of some white hair, I have to dye it. I want to replicate my natural hair color, but whenever I dye my hair in some warm brown color, after 2 weeks, the nice rich initial color is gone and I am left with some rusty, almost orangey shade that I hate. I noticed that when I use some cold shade (ash brown), it doesn’t happen, and the result is more natural. Basically, I am confused.
P.S: Please excuse my English, I am from Europe and not a native English speaker

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Denise
Friday, December 9/2011 at 10:00 am

Sandra, the reason you are getting the rusty, brassy tones when the color fade is because of the color you are using. One I suspect you are you box color which makes choosing the correct shade(s) difficult. You should be using a double neutral shade which are specifically designed for gray. And/or you are using a permanent color which has 20 volume peroxide which by nature LIGHTENS hair, your formula is then depositing darker color but when it fades, what’s left showing through is your natural color lightened a few shades and the remaining pigment for most of us is in the red/gold/orange/yellow area of the spectrum. This isn’t as apparent with the ash shades as the color pigments left behind are blue/green/violet which is canceling out or neutralizing the appearance of the warm. I’m not sure how much gray or how resistant yours are but at this point on your pre- colored hair you can add a DEPOSIT ONLY also called semi or demi permanent color in a warm or natural shade and it will hold. If you don’t have too many gray hairs and they aren’t very resistant to color this is all you should be doing. Clairol has a line called beautiful collection and there are six advanced grey shades which are fantastic at covering gray. The regular line which has 15 shades and is fabulous too though not as effective with grays. . This color is NO ammonia no peroxide it’s actually a conditioning color. I know you’re in Europe and this may not be available or sold under another name there but this is a true SEMI permanent non damaging color. No mixing involved as there is no peroxide.As it will fade away its also risk free and you can play around with shades often with zero damage. I know Wella has a similar line sold in Europe( not sold here) Boots has one as well though I can’t attest to either one as I’ve not used.
If you’re not wanting semi color, then at the very least go with demi permanent color.

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Sandra
Saturday, December 10/2011 at 6:53 pm

Denise, thank you very much for the information. It makes total sense. I do use a 20% peroxide, and obviously that when my color fades, all that’s left is the bleached orangey color. You have saved me of another hair disaster. But what is surprising to me, is that I had a professional stylist doing the same mistake on me. You’d think they should know better. After that I thought, why should I pay money at the hair dresser when it comes out the same at home. I was obviously not going to a good stylist. I have just few white hairs, I am 30 y.o. I’ve heard Clariol has some great dyes, but unfortunately they are not available in Germany. I don’t know what line from Wella you are talking about, they have a lot of lines here. I’ll try to buy the Clariol from Amazon.
Once again, thank you for the advice, it’s the first time anybody cleared things up for me.

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Christine
Saturday, July 6/2013 at 10:16 pm

I love this! Most people don’t even know what skin tone they are… they just assume they are warm in they’re tan and cool if they’re pale, but that’s not true. I actually wrote a blog article that has some great tricks and tips. Check it out and let me know what you think! http://www.weartostandout.com/blog/dress-for-your-skin-tone
xoxo, WearToStandOut

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