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A Foolproof Guide to Choosing the Best Hair Color for Your Skin Tone

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Deciding between blonde, brown, and red is tough enough without considering the spectrum of tones that exist within those hues. And then you have to think about which of those shades works best for your complexion? (Can we take a nap now?)

But understanding the nuances of tone can mean the difference between choosing a good hair color and your most flattering color ever—luckily, with a little crash course, it's not as difficult as you think. "It's all about placement, saturation, and what undertones in your skin you'd like to emphasize," says Roxie Darling, former coloring guru at New York City's Hairstory. "The decision you and your colorist have to make is which color you would like to bring out in your face."

But it helps to have a basic knowledge of what cool tones and warm tones look like, as well as an understanding of your skin's coloring to begin with. We consulted with several pro's in the field to get some intel. Consider this your comprehensive, foolproof guide to finding the best hair color for every skin tone. Keep scrolling to learn more and find the best hair color for you.

How to Choose the Best Hair Color for Your Skin Tone
Grace Kim / Byrdie 

How to Find Your Skin Tone

Before taking your pick of hair colors, you need to ID your skin's undertones. Most people fall into one of three categories: warm, cool, and neutral. Figuring out where your complexion lies can seem confusing, but there are a few tricks:

  1. Look for specific colors. "Cool-toned skin has pink and olive undertones while warm-toned skin has yellow and gold," says Rachel Bodt, senior colorist at Red Door Spa in New York City.
  2. Match yourself with a celeb. When you're looking for A-list color inspiration, try to pick out people with similar skin and eye coloring to your own. It'll give you a much better idea of how the hue will actually look on you.
  3. Check your wrist… "You'll see the pinks, reds, blues, greens, and yellows there," says Darling. This includes your veins, which are a great indicator of tone. "If your veins are blue or purple, you're likely cool-toned," notes Bodt. "If they are green, you are warm."
  4. …or your eyes. "If you have a lot of gold specks in your eyes, usually your undertones are warm," says George Papanikolas, celebrity hairstylist. "If you have a lot of blues and greens, then you are usually cool."

Meet the Expert

  • George Papanikolas is a hairstylist, colorist, and Matrix Brand Ambassador.
  • Rita Hazan is a New York-based celebrity hairstylist and colorist with an eponymous salon in New York city.

Now that you're well-versed on your skin coloring, it's time to get schooled on different hair colors.

Pick a tone that's opposite from your skin's undertones. For instance, those with warm undertones might opt for a cooler color, and vice versa. If you have neutral skin, you're lucky—everything looks good on you.

Fair Skin With Warm Undertones

Hanne Gaby Odiele with cool blonde hair
 Pierre Suu / Getty Images

Seen on: Hanne Gaby Odiele

Shades include: platinum, ice, silver, ash, sand, beige, champagne

Who it's best for: Cool blonde shades are great on porcelain-skinned gals with reddish undertones, since those icy hues tend to neutralize redness, according to Chelsey Pickthorn, master hair designer and owner of Pickthorn Salon in Brooklyn. And, a cool, ashy blonde will look great against blue or gray eyes.

Your must-have product:

Amika Bust Your Brass Cool Blonde Purple Shampoo
Amika Bust Your Brass Cool Blonde Purple Shampoo $20
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Fair Skin With Cool Undertones

Ciara with warm undertone hair
Mike Coppola / Getty Images

Seen on: Ciara

Shades include: gold, caramel, amber, honey, butterscotch

Who it's best for: "Fair skin with cool undertones looks better with warm tones like strawberry blondes, copper, honey, and gold," says Papanikolas. He also notes that these hues tend to be better for those with olive skin, as an ashy blonde hue can wash you out. The same goes for those with deep skin: If you want to go light, go for a caramel blonde for a high-impact look.

On the other hand, those with very warm skin should avoid a color that's too yellow for the same reason—cooler blondes will probably work better on you.

Your must-have product:

Rita Hazan True Color Ultimate Shine Gloss in Blonde
Rita Hazan True Color Ultimate Shine Gloss in Blonde $26
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Fair Skin With Neutral Undertones

Jessica Chastain with strawberry blonde hair
Jean Baptiste Lacroix / Getty Images 

Seen on: Jessica Chastain

Shades include: strawberry blonde, copper, amber, rust, russet

Who it's best for: "Strawberry blondes are great on fair and neutral skin tones," says Pickthorn. "[Tell your colorist to] mix cool and warm tones to achieve a creamy yet warm color with a hint of golden copper." Papanikolas also recommends a light, warm red to counteract cool tones in pale skin (think Emma Stone). These hues tend to make deep skin look green, so choose a cooler, brown-tinged auburn instead if you're hankering to go red (think Rihanna). And want to make your hue really trend-worthy? Opt for a luminous shade of rose gold.

Your must-have product:

John Frieda Luminous Color Glaze Clear Shine
John Frieda Luminous Color Glaze Clear Shine $9
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Fair Skin With Peach Undertones

Ali Larter with red hair
Jason LaVeris / Getty Images 

Seen on: Ali Larter

Shades include: true red, dark auburn, burgundy

Who it's best for: It may sound counterintuitive, but red is actually a very flattering option for those with ruddy undertones. "If you have pale skin with red in it, it makes you have a glow rather than trying to fight it," says Hazan. Pickthorn agrees, adding that those with warm, peachy complexions will also see their skin pop with cooler, auburn reds.

On the other hand, Hazan cautions those with olive undertones against going red, as it can make skin look very green in contrast.

Your must-have product:

Davines Alchemic Red Shampoo
Davines Alchemic Red Shampoo $27
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Medium Skin With Warm Undertones

Miranda Kerr with cool brown hair
Jacopo Raule / Getty Images

Seen on: Miranda Kerr

Shades include: dark chocolate, chestnut, dark auburn, mocha

Who it's best for: It's pretty hard to go wrong with brown in general, since it's almost universally flattering. But a cooler brown tone can look particularly striking on those with warm skin, as it helps make yellow undertones look creamier. Daniel Sanchez, color specialist at Frederic Fekkai in New York City, adds that for those with deeper skin, lightening from black to deep, mocha brown (ideally with multi-tonal highlights) can have a gorgeous, soft effect.

Your must-have product:

Leonor Greyl Masque Quintessence
Leonor Greyl Masque Quintessence $145
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Medium Skin With Cool Undertones

Jamie Chung with warm brown hair
Jon Kopaloff / Getty Images

Seen on: Jamie Chung

Shades include: caramel, honey, golden brown, amber, mahogany, cinnamon

Who it's best for: Sanchez especially recommends this color range for those with medium skin, though he advises picking a shade that contrasts with your complexion in order to avoid looking washed-out. "Caramel browns fit best with skin tones on the lighter side of olive, with a bit more yellow and green tones to them," adds Pickthorn. "This color looks really beautiful on a base or roots that are naturally dark."

Your must-have product:

Drybar Sparkling Soda Shine Mist
Drybar Sparkling Soda Shine Mist $28
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Medium Skin With Neutral Undertones

Bella Hadid with cool black hair
Mireya Acierto / Getty Images

Seen on: Bella Hadid

Shades include: true black, espresso, blue-black, licorice

Who it's best for: In the world of hair color, black isn't a one-note option—different tones and highlights add subtle variety. A cooler shade like this can read a little harsh on those with fair, cool-toned skin, but for those with warmer or neutral undertones, it has a dramatic, porcelain effect on the complexion. (The same applies to olive skin).

Your must-have product:

Gloss Moderne Clean Luxury Conditioner
Gloss Moderne Clean Luxury Conditioner $48
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Deep Skin With Warm Undertones

Beyoncé with warm brown hair
Jason LaVeris / Getty Images

Seen on: Beyoncé

Shades include: caramel, golden brown, butterscotch

Who it's best for: "For warm deep skin tones, it's best to choose warm browns and caramels to accentuate your skin's natural depth," notes Melissa Gonzalez, elite artist and education trainer for Farouk Systems.. "If your hair is already blonde, tone with hues of caramel."

Your must-have product:

Avon CHI Essentials Hair Color in Medium Honey Blonde
Avon CHI Essentials Hair Color in Medium Honey Bonde $32
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Deep Skin With Cool Undertones

Joan Smalls with warm black hair
Caroline McCredie / Getty Images

Seen on: Joan Smalls

Shades include: dark mocha, brown-black

Who it's best for: Cool blacks look great on deep skin, but adding chocolaty tones is also a flattering way to warm it up. And those with fair, cool skin who really want to go dark should opt for a hue in this tonal range rather than something cooler, as mentioned before.

Your must-have product:

SheaMoisture Jamaican Black Castor Oil Strengthen and Restore Treatment Masque
SheaMoisture Jamaican Black Castor Oil Strengthen & Restore Treatment Masque $12
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Deep Skin With Neutral Undertones

Zendaya with reddish-brown hair
David Livingston / Getty Images

Seen on: Zendaya

Shades include: auburn red, reddish-brown, chestnut

Who it's best for: According to Gonzalez, neutral undertones can rock every color. "I would recommend going with a color that looks rich and vibrant like an auburn red or chestnut brown," she says. "These tones contain warmth adding that perfect amount of glow against the skin."

Your must-have product:

Garnier Whole Blends Color Care Shampoo
Garnier Whole Blends Color Care Shampoo $3
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Pastel Hair

Irene Kim with pastel hair
@ireneisgood

Seen on: Irene Kim

Shades include: whatever your heart desires

Who it's best for: For rainbow-colored locks, the only real rule is to let your imagination run wild. That being said, there are some pointers to keep in mind. "Darker skin tends to look washed out if paired with paler shades, while saturated hues enhance deeper skin tones," says Darling, who specializes in creative color. "So for tan skin, you can go for more vibrant and saturated tones: jewel tones like ruby, fuchsia, magenta, etc." She adds that blue hair looks particularly flattering on those with golden complexions.

Candy-colored hues tend to fade fast, so make sure you're using color-protecting products to extend that shelf life as long as possible.

Your must-have product:

Overtone Daily Conditioner
Overtone Daily Conditioner $18
Shop

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