How to Choose the Right Hair Colour For Your Skin Tone

Celebrity hairstylist Tony Chaar on finding your most flattering shade.
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Thomas Marrington
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Celebrity hairstylist Tony Chaar on finding your most flattering shade.

When it comes down to it, at the heart of beauty is skin tone. It informs almost every makeup, hair and even wardrobe decision we make, whether it's choosing a foundation, an outfit—or maybe the most importantly, a shade of hair dye.

Unfortunately, figuring out how to flatter your skin tone is also confusing. The usual advice is to find out whether you are warm- or or cool-toned, and then to stick to that same colour family in everything. 

But when it comes to hair colour, do those rules always apply?

I asked Toronto-based celebrity hairstylist, expert colourist and fellow Beauty Editor contributor Tony Chaar to share his thoughts on the whole "warm versus cool" thing, and what it means for our hair colour choices. He's shared his secrets with us, and guys—they're seriously good. Let's finally make some sense of this tone thing!

Tony Chaar

Celebrity hairstylist Tony Chaar.

Q: What's the best way to determine your skin tone?

A: There are a few tests you can try. If the veins on the inside of your wrists appear blue, then you are cool-toned, and if they appear greenish, you are warm-toned. Another one is if you put a white T-shirt next to your face and you appear blue, you are cool; if you are yellow, you are warm. 

Also with jewellery, if silver makes your face brighter, you are cool-toned. If gold makes you look healthy and glowing, then you are warm-toned. If you're neutral—in between warm and cool—then both silver and gold will look good. 

Skin tone can change with the seasons. Sometimes in the winter, when you don't see the sun so much, people are more cool or neutral. In the summer, skin becomes warmer. If you tan well, you're warm. 

Play around with a coloured T-shirt around you face—see how white makes you look, how black makes you look, how brown makes you look. This is the key to being playful with colour.

Q: Do you follow any rules for which skin tones suit which hair colours?

A: I always break the rules when it comes to colour. I think that's the key to going above the limitations of box colour. This is when you achieve something unique and personal that isn't seen everywhere as a "trend"—you create a kind of signature colour. But the key is to not totally break the rules, so that you end up with a clashing result rather than something flattering.

Q: The usual advice is to match your hair to your skin tone—warm with warm, cool with cool. Is this correct?

A: No. Opposite tones (warm with cool and vice-versa) will actually attract when used with subtlety. 

For example, you often see warm-toned women with a lot of yellow in their skin who also have yellow-blonde highlights. The whole thing clashes and generally looks unnatural. 

Jessica Alba, VH1 Divas event, 2004

Jessica Alba's highlighted hair at the 2004 VH1 Divas event.

But if you make it a cool-toned pale blonde, then the result is softer and looks very chic. 

Jessica Alba, Young Hot Hollywood Style Awards, 2005

Jessica Alba's pale blonde at the 2005 Young Hot Hollywood Style Awards.

The yellow hair is not fighting with the yellow skin, and the two tones complement each other. It has to be done very tastefully through experience, and this is where you break the limits of colour rules.

Q: Can anyone do this at home, or is it best to see a professional when you're "breaking the rules"?

A: Once you've done your full research with all the colour tests and understand it, then you could go to the drugstore and play subtly. Then you will see how you can change your own skin tone with colour. The right ones will make you feel uplifted; the skin is happier and glowing.

Little touches can make your skin and eyes appear completely different. If you have a box-shaped face, highlights in the centre, right on top of the forehead, stretches the face up to make it look more elongated. These little details are very important for face shape and skin tone. 

Q: Is the hair colour we had as children what usually looks best on us as adults?

A: This is true for about 85 percent of us. But for the other 15 percent, it’s not that simple. As we get older, our skin changes, so it's not a surefire solution. Sometimes it becomes a bit greyer, and sometimes pinker. As you age, you should go softer with your hair colour because it will reflect on the skin.

Q: Do certain tones look best at certain levels of lightness or darkness? 

A: I do think so, with certain levels of lightness. Take for example, Nicole Kidman, who suits very light golden copper hair. 

Nicole Kidman, G'Day USA Gala, 2015

Nicole Kidman's light copper hair at the 2015 G'Day USA Gala.

Copper always looks the most natural and reflective when it is done on a light to dark blonde base. If the copper tone is done on a dark base, it's going to look more fake and unnatural.

Christina Hendricks, Lost River photocall, Cannes 2014

Christina Hendricks' bright copper hair at the 2014 photocall for 'Lost River'.

Q: Are there any guidelines for how light or dark you can go? 

A: I saw a beautiful woman the other day in my chair. She was in her early 50s, Italian, with an olive skin tone. She had dyed her hair a number two level, almost black. It looked so claustrophobic—the black really took all the attention. When you looked at her, all you could see was the black hair, even the curls. 

So even if you have warm skin, your hair should not be so dark that it overpowers your skin tone. As soon as we lifted from black to a level four (dark brown), the whole face changed. Suddenly, you see the skin tone glowing. Suddenly, you see the curls. The curls were not showing—that's how dark it was. Sometimes the depth of your hair can really affect the texture. 

Another example is with strawberry blonde. Let's say Julianne Moore. That skin tone she has, it's so flawless. If she goes too dark on the red, then the red will eat her face. Then it becomes a competition between the hair and the face—and of course, the hair's going to win. Hair colour shouldn't be overpowering the skin or the face. They should actually marry together. So that's why Julianne plays with that soft copper red and she doesn't go to a deep red. It would wash her out.

Julianne Moore, Golden Globes 2015

Julianne Moore at the 2015 Golden Globe Awards.

Q: Are there certain tones you recommend to bring out certain eye colours?

A: When the hair is washed-out and the colour is blah-looking, it will take away from the skin and the eyes, and make you look more dull. 

If you have green eyes, a couple of soft copper highlights will bring out your eye colour beautifully.

Kristen Stewart, Twilight Breaking Dawn Part 2 premiere, 2012

Kristen Stewart at the 2012 premiere of 'The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2'.

If you have brown or hazel eyes, having some sun-kissed golden tones in your hair will reflect the tone of your eyes nicely. 

Beyonce Knowles, Topshop flagship opening dinner, 2014

Beyoncé at the 2014 Topshop New York City flagship opening dinner.

For blue-eyed people, the cool, baby blonde tones make a great combination, which you see a lot in Hollywood.

Sienna Miller, International Medical Corps dinner 2014

Sienna Miller at the 2014 International Medical Corps Awards dinner.

Q: Who are your favourite celebrity examples of great hair colour, eye and skin tone combinations?

A: Amy Adams for her copper hair colour, blue eyes and cool skin tone.

Amy Adams, Critics' Choice Awards 2014

Amy Adams at the 2014 Critics' Choice Awards.

Julianne Moore with her red hair, green eyes and freckles.

Julianne Moore, Critics' Choice Awards 2015

Julianne Moore at the 2015 Critics' Choice Awards.

Reese Witherspoon’s baby blonde sets off her blue-grey eyes beautifully.

Reese Witherspoon, Wild premiere, 2014

Reese Witherspoon at the 2014 premiere of 'Wild'.

Jennifer Lopez and her sun-kissed mocha hair colour and warm skin.

Jennifer Lopez, American Music Awards 2014

Jennifer Lopez at the 2014 American Music Awards.

Q: Any other tips we should know about hair colour and skin tone?

A: Adjust your makeup and accessories when you change your hair colour. You've got to play with them, and really wear the new colour, otherwise it will wear you. You can't be self-conscious, or it will look like something's wrong. This is especially true if you've made a strong statement, something very drastic. Take Gwen Stefani for example. Her lips always make a big impact. When you're that light and bright, you always have to have strong lips so you don't look washed-out. 

Gwen Stefani, The Voice season 7 event, 2014

Gwen Stefani at a 2014 event for 'The Voice'.

If you're not confident with such a dramatic change, stick with something more natural and playful. 

The Bottom Line

The rules really ARE made to be broken! I've personally found this myself, when I went platinum blonde. I'm naturally a warm medium brown, so it shouldn't work—but it does! Like Tony said, looking at photos of yourself as a child is a great starting point for finding a flattering hair colour—that and playing around with different colours of fabric against your skin. Have fun with it! The colour you've always wanted but maybe thought you couldn't pull off could be within your reach.

Have Your Say

Do you think you've found the right hair colour for your skin tone? Have you tried any of Tony's tips? Which celebrity example is your favourite?