Do you know what the tortoiseshell hair color trend is all about? If the manes of Lily Aldridge, Gisele Bündchen, and Jessica Alba come to mind, then you’re on the right track. Celebrity colorist Kari Hill explains it best: “Tortoiseshell is a fun, fresh combination of a lot of the special effect techniques out there: highlights, babylights, ombré, sombré, and rooting.”
Matrix celebrity colorist George Papanikolas adds, "Tortoiseshell is a soft, natural color that is created by blending multiple shades of soft caramel tones, golden blondes, honey blondes and chestnut browns."
Choosing a Shade: "Ideally, there should be enough of the base color as the foundation, and the honey/caramel/golden blonde tones should be seamlessly blended into the hair," says Papanikolas, "The highlights should be no more than 4 shades lighter than the base color to create a flattering and seamless blend."
Maintenance Level: Medium to Low. "If it’s done well by a professional the grow out can be very soft and natural," says Biolage brand ambassador Sunnie Brook. "The clients I do this on see me once every 3 months."
Goes Great With: Brunette hair, warm and cool undertones, curly or wavy textures
Price: "It depends on what city you live in, hair length, and density," says Brook. To get more of an idea of the cost, Papanikolas notes that the style is "typically priced out the same as a full highlight/balayage plus gloss."
Curious about the color? Want to know how to perfect the look on your own? Keep reading to see some great examples of tortoiseshell hair.
Miranda Kerr's signature look is tortoiseshell coloring with soft, elegant waves worn over one shoulder. To get a similar style at home Hill says, “Choose two of the L’Oréal Paris highlighting kits, and very subtly layer highlights with different applicators so the outcome is natural-looking.” The L'Oreal Paris Colorista Bleach Ombré Kit ($8) and L’Oréal Superior Preference Glam Lights Kit ($13) are great options.
Tortoiseshell looks amazing on a head full of curls, as evidenced by the caramel highlights mixed with deep brunette shown here. "This is a great goal for brunettes who want to go lighter as the tones can be adjusted warm or cool depending on the skin tone and desired end result," says Papanikolas.
This example shows how tortoiseshell can be accomplished with a few well-placed highlights concentrated near the bottom of the hair for an ombré effect. To achieve a balanced ombré look, Hill recommends applying a heavy amount of color at the bottom of your hair and then, using your fingers, feathering in the color to lessen the effect.
While most tortoiseshell hairstyles focus on brunette and blonde tones, this reddish highlighted bob is giving us major fall vibes. "If you want more spice in your warmth, use the Biolage Clove Brown ($24) with equal parts of the Ginger Copper ($24)" suggests Brook. "Love how syrupy this looks in the hair!"
Jessica Biel shows off a blonder take on this trend with lighter tones that give off a summery feeling—perfect for the beach (or making you feel like you're at the beach when it's 20 degrees outside).
Short 'N Choppy
Individually ombréd waves add an appealing choppiness to a shorter cut. You can play with color at any length. No matter you style, Hill suggests adding a piecey amount of babylights around your face. The soft, subtle color framing your hairline will dramatically brighten your face.
Highlights don't have to be dramatic. This shoulder-length bob features subtle dimension.
Model Alessandro Ambrosio's super straight, shiny locks clearly show off the varied tones of brunette in her hair. Hill suggests you (or your colorist) "be light-handed and intentionally rogue” when deciding where to apply color throughout your mane. In other words, do your best to not overthink it.
Sofia Vergara is almost always sporting some form of tortoiseshell. We love this golden take, with warm caramel strands framing her face and exploding into lighter ends. Brook notes, "For wavy or curly textures, the placement of the highlights will need to be altered depending on how the clients prefers to wear their hair on a regular basis."
Further proof that full curls look stunning with balayage. If you have very curly hair, Papanikolas suggests "bolder, stronger highlights" so that the different tones stand out more clearly in the hair.
A highlight placement like the one pictured above can give your look more mileage. "If you do more delicate highlights at the roots, gradually getting thicker and heavier towards the ends, then you will have a more seamless grow out and the color will only need to be refreshed every few months," says Papanikolas.
Jessica Alba is another famous woman who is usually rocking some variation on tortoiseshell. Here, she shows off a deep chestnut base color with caramel highlights that play beautifully off her raspberry lipstick.
This style shows how you can do tortoiseshell even if you're wary of streaks. Balayage can be very subtle and play up the dimensions in your base color, rather than making a bold statement.
Chestnut straight-across bangs do their part to balance out the lighter brown highlights near the ends, creating a hip ombré effect.
Although tortoiseshell coloring is often associated with wavy and curly textures, it can certainly work on straight locks, as seen here on Beyoncé with a chic center part. Be sure to tell your stylist how you prefer to wear your hair when you go for your appointment; the width and placement of the highlights should take hair texture and styling into account. "Fine, straight textures are better suited to more delicate placement," says Papanikolas.
Up next, learn what the difference is between partial and full highlights—and how to choose which is right for you.