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."
Curious about the color? Want to know how to perfect the look on your own? We asked the experts for their advice on this color.
Meet the Expert
- George Papanikolas is a hairstylist, colorist, and Matrix Brand Ambassador.
- Kari Hill is a celebrity colorist at Mèche Salon in Beverly Hills.
- Sunnie Brook is a hairstylist, educator, and Biolage brand ambassador.
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," Papanikolas says. "The highlights should be no more than four 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," Brook explains. "The clients I do this on see me once every three months."
Goes Great With: Brunette hair, warm and cool undertones, curly or wavy textures
Similar Shades: Ecaille, bronde, toasted marshmallow, tiger's eye
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."
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 ($10) is a great option.
Tortoiseshell looks amazing on a head full of curls, as evident 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 result," Papanikolas says.
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," Brook suggests. "I 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 and Choppy
Individual ombré waves add an appealing choppiness to a shorter cut. You can play with color at any length. No matter your style, Hill suggests adding a piece-y 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 Alessandra 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 [client] prefers to wear their hair on a regular basis."
This is 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.
Jessica Alba 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.
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," Papanikolas says.