While we love baby blonde highlights and platinum dye jobs (we see you, Karlie Kloss), dark, rich chocolate brown hair oozes an essence of sex appeal that can't be denied. The shade complements so many features, bringing out green, hazel, and brown eyes; not to mention it looks totally gorgeous with a golden, bronzy makeup look. It just looks great in all seasons, making for a look that's chic, classic, and alluringly sexy all at the same time. Olivia Cassanova at IGK Salon, and Jaxcee at The Coily Collective gave us all the must-know tips regarding this rich style.
First of all, what is chocolate brown hair? Jaxcee describes it as a beautiful, rich, multi-faceted tone of brunette that can range from milk chocolate, which is warmer, to dark chocolate which is a cooler more matte brown. It’s also important to note that this is typically considered a single process look, which consists of applying Demi-permanent or permanent color to the hair, she says.
"The color process is different for each individual, depending on your natural level and whether you have grays or not," Cassanova says, "However, achieving this color usually requires minimal or no lightening at all."
Just because it's initially a single process look, doesn't mean you can't add other colors after.
“I usually tell my clients with wavy, curly, or coiled hair that it’s always a good idea to add a few highlights to give the hair a more dimensional look,” Jaxcee says, “Adding dimension to clients with more texture allows the beauty of their texture to be seen better."
Cassanova says chocolate browns can be pretty universal for most undertones, and Jaxcee echos this, saying brunette is an easy color for most regardless of tone. Still, there are slight variations to be made. If you have a warmer complexion, cool tones will look edgier because of the contrast, she says, while warmer tones will look softer. If your skin is cooler, then warmer shades can make you look a bit more tan.
Hair texture is important too. Finer hair textures, regardless of whether it is coiled or straight tend to process a lot quicker than more coarse hair textures Jaxcee says, noting the volume of peroxide used when formulating a single process is so important.
The beauty of chocolate brown is how versatile it could be, Cassanova says. "You can keep it one rich, dark all-over shade, or play around with some subtle lighter pieces throughout the hair. It all depends on the look you’re going for."
Whether you're returning to your roots or going for a dramatic style evolution, it's best to know what you're in for. Maybe it's time to go dark, you know? We rounded up a few of our favorite brunette photos to serve as inspiration for your next salon visit. Keep scrolling to see them all, and when viewing what works for the stars, keep in mind what might work best for you.
Chocolate Brown Hair
Choosing a Shade: Milk chocolate uses golden and copper tones, while dark chocolate tends to be more cool-toned with red and violet undertones. When determining the right shade for you, always consider eye color, and skin undertone, Cassanova says, noting, if you have olive undertones, you’re going to want a very warm brown that will appear to neutralize any green undertones in your skin.
Maintenance Level: Natural brunettes are low maintenance. It's a lot more high-maintenance if you're naturally blonde because as the roots grow in, you will have a solid line of demarcation from the blonde to brown, requiring a root touch up every 4-6 weeks.
Price: Single process dye would start at $200.
Milk Chocolate Curls
Actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw has amazingly warm milk chocolate curls and we're truly in love. She illustrates just how deeply flattering the color is; plus, her shiny curls are captivating in general.
We can totally see the golden undertones Cassanova was talking about earlier. Worn with a slight wave and middle part, Ashley Graham's luscious color looks rich, shiny, and natural against her complexion.
Cool Toned Chocolate
Both experts cite Like Emily Ratajkowski as a great chocolate brown hair inspiration. Her signature cool-toned hair is the antithesis to the notion that blondes have more fun. From Paris runways to red carpets, she's a showstopper, for sure.
While Jaxcee also says Bella Hadid (at her darkest), and comedian, Awkwafina make the list as well.
While Zendaya is the queen of switching up her hairstyle, each one more iconic than the last, we're especially feeling this braided look with warm, light-reflecting highlights.
Taylor Hill is another model known for her natural chocolate brown hair, usually twisted, wind-blown, and paired with a red lip. To achieve a milk chocolate brown, like Hill’s here, Jaxcee says she’d use golden and copper tones. For a dark chocolate color, which is more cool-toned, she would use red-violet, copper-violet tones to emulate the rich velvety goodness of dark chocolate, she says.
Bella Hadid's color vacillates from raven to chocolate and right back again. She's a true brunette dream girl, and we'll be copying her hair until the end of time. Though, she's actually a natural blonde like her sister, which can be tricky to maintain if you’re one to skip a salon appointment.
Deep Brown Waves
Being the pop superstar that she is, Normani is often changing up her style. Personally, we're partial to her deep brown waves or an amazing curly ponytail she's sported on stage.
Like Jasmine Tookes's warm brown hair, additional golden highlights so perfectly complement her equally glowing complexion. We can see how pretty her highlights look here, and they probably look even brighter in the sun.
Though one thing you want to avoid with this hair color is too much sun exposure, Cassanova says, as this will cause the color to oxidize, creating red or brassy undertones. Protecting hair from sun exposure is easier than you'd think. Invest in a sun shield, like Supergoop's Poof 100% Mineral Part and Scalp Powder SPF 45 ($34) or use an all-over heat protectant which is also great when styling with hot tools.
A warmer brunette on a lighter complexion like Denver's helps create contrast without looking too extreme. Plus, the darker color makes her eyes look super bright.
Healthy, Rich Curls
Stylists should always consider the specific needs of the hair texture they're coloring. Jaxcee makes sure to do so, especially when working with clients like Hamilton alum, actress, and singer Jasmine Cephas Jones.
Deep and Dimensional
We're absolutely captivated by Issa Rae—her wit, beauty, and, of course, her glorious natural hair. Here, the CoverGirl ambassador shows off the chocolate brown color with curls and an award-winning smile. This type of dynamic brunette is not the kind that you want to do as a kitchen beautician, Jaxcee says. "To truly get the nuanced tones and dimension chocolate shades call for, let a professional do it."
It's important to ask your colorist to formulate a shade best for your complexion, like Emilia Clarke's true chocolate brown look. Many of us know her best as the legendary platinum-haired Mother of Dragons (R.I.P. Game of Thrones), but it's common knowledge these days that she's a true brunette—and we love it.
Enhance Color like Victoria Beckham's
One thing we love about Victoria Beckham: She has the sharpest sense of what she likes and what works for her. Her timeless brown hair is one of those things. Like many celebs, she had her stint as a blonde, but Posh is clearly a brunette at heart.
Try to get your roots redone every 6-10 weeks to keep hair luscious and vibrant like Beckham. Plus use a color-enhancing conditioner like Moroccanoil Color Depositing Mask in Cocoa ($28) and Pravana Nevo Color Enhancer Treatment in Cocoa Brunette ($21) to help keep color looking new between appointments.
Sam McKnight styled a bevy of beautiful brunette looks. Scroll through to see them all. Whether your hair is naturally brunette, like some shades here, or you're choosing the color, it's always a good idea to invest in a weekly hair mask.
Hair masks help restore moisture and are important to use after coloring your hair—especially if your hair is on the coarse side. Jaxcee says a hair mask is essential after a color service, noting it’s always a good idea to moisturize, but it's even more important once hair dye comes into the mix. She recommends and loves Mizani's True Textures Moroccan Clay Steam Hair Mask ($30) for this purpose.
Mandy Moore has mastered practically every hair hue on the spectrum but has stuck with a rich espresso and a few well placed bronzy highlights for the long haul. It's a classic look, yet Moore's natural color skews towards blonde, requiring her to go in for a touch up every once in a while. This touch up depends on how dark you go compared to your natural level of lightness, Cassanova says, noting the upkeep usually requires just a root touch up or an over-all gloss.
Try a hair gloss. They're known to boost hair shine and improve color. While glossing treatments can be applied in the salon by a professional, there are also a surprising number of effective at-home hair glosses on the market today.
With Kaia Gerber's shiny long look, she's definitely investing in a great hair gloss. Cassanova recommends using IGK Hair’s Mixed Feelings Toning Drops ($30) for brunettes for an easy at-home gloss. "Use about 5 drops, mixed into your conditioner or leave-in product. This will help keep any brassiness at bay," she says.
Is Kaia not the spitting image of her supermodel mother Cindy Crawford? Just like her mom's thick, luscious brown hair, Kia's gives off major glamazon vibes.
Hailee Steinfeld's wavy, middle-parted hair is one of the first things we think of when strong, long brunette locks enter the conversation.
Brown Tipped Bob
Our forever crush Lucy Hale is another gal who's experimented with everything from the blackest hair to blonde highlights. We're fans of all her trendy looks, but this brown-tipped hue is definitely one of her sweet spots.
Zazie Beetz seems to always get it right and yeah, her natural curls are incredible. Plus, we love how she embraces this effortless, confident vibe, and it has us thinking—maybe we should all try to be more like that, too.
Shay's espresso hair has been a mainstay since the beginning of her career. While she occasionally works with various hairstylists and has been known to switch it up with some honey-hued highlights, stylist Glen created a sleek half up-half down look that we can totally incorporate into our own style arsenal.
Amazing Finger Waves
Hairstylist Vernon François crafted these beyond stunning cornrow finger waves for Amandla Stenberg at the 2019 Oscars.
Dark Retro Waves
Eliot also crafted Beanie's retro waves! The Booksmart actress's chocolate-colored hair looked so glam here.
Kryssi at IGK Salons in NY used Redken shades to get this perfectly highlighted brunette style. But highlights don’t always have to be bright or blonde, Jaxcee says, noting milk chocolate highlights on a darker base would be equally as stunning.
Also, invest in a ready good color-safe shampoo. Jaxcee likes Bumble and Bumble's Color Minded Shampoo ($31) for finer textures, and Mizani True Texture True Cream Cleansing Conditioner ($26) for coarse textures. Using a sulfate-free cleanser will ensure that your color stays vibrant for as long as possible, she says.
The nice thing about chocolate brown hair is how versatile, and easily adjustable it can be, as the color caters to every individual! As you can see, no shade is exactly the same as the next, and isn't that what makes it so great?