Hair coloring is one of the oldest traditions known to humankind. No, really: It dates back to 1500 BC. It wasn't always popular for personal appearance reasons, but in 1907, Eugene Schueller created the first chemical dye for commercial purposes, which would go on to become a brand today known as L’Oréal... and the rest is history.
Fast forward over a century later, and the art of hair coloring is only getting more advanced, detailed, and specific by the day. We spoke to hairstylists Tracey Cunningham, Nikki Lee, and Jennifer Korab about the different hair color categories and subcategories, and what goes into choosing the right color for their clients. Check out our complete guide to cool and warm hair colors below, including some of our favorite examples of each.
Meet the Expert
- Tracey Cunningham is a celebrity colorist and Redken ambassador. Her clients include Halle Berry, Khloe Kardashian, and Mariah Carey.
- Nikki Lee is a celebrity colorist and Garnier ambassador. She works with clients including Selena Gomez, Hilary Duff, and Sarah Hyland.
- Jennifer Korab is a stylist and the owner of Renaissance Salon and Revival Barber Shop in New Jersey.
Warm Hair Colors
When you think warm tones, think of the top half of the rainbow. "Think of fire or the sun, gold, red, and orange," Lee says. "[These] all make up warm hair colors. Golden blondes, vibrant red, strawberry, and orange hair are some examples."
Cool Hair Colors
"Oftentimes, there’s confusion over what warm is and people point to ash, which is actually a cool tone," Cunningham notes. "Cool tones are ashy, more wheat colors. There’s no red or warmth."
"Think of cold weather environments, blues, grays, greens, and whites," Lee adds. "An icy blonde or an ashy brunette."
Understanding Your Tone
Choosing a stylist who can find the perfect tone for you is the recipe to success when it comes to adding color to your hair. "Warm tones in [the] hair are best suited for warm skin tones," Korab explains. "Warmth like gold or red in your hair will complement your complexion, while cool tones will bring out pink and blue tints."
Korab also notes that if you have a neutral skin tone, you're in a great position to try out cool or warm hair colors, depending on the look you want. "Mostly people with neutral undertones can pull off both warm or cool tones," she says.
And how do stylists narrow down the oh-so-perfect color once they've chosen the right tones? "Colorists use the color wheel along with color charts to see what tones would complement or cancel out existing tones in the hair," Korab says. "They can add, enhance, or neutralize tones by checking the color chart."
While choosing a cool or warm hair color that complements your undertones is best for getting a result you'll love, rest assured that you have plenty of options, and a good stylist can help you create your ideal version of the shade you want. Ahead, see 13 of the most popular hair color variations in cool and warm tones, complete with insights from our experts.
For the Euphoria Season 2 premiere, Nikki Lee worked on a fresh, cool blonde for Sydney Sweeney, which maintains subtle golden tones alongside the icy highlights to keep the look dimensional and seamless. "A soft, cool blonde really complements her blue eyes and pretty pale skin," she says of why the look works so well on the actress.
When in Rome (or in this case, Venice), Jennifer Lopez likes to keep it fresh. "J.Lo is usually golden, but she has more cool tones in this photo," Cunningham says. While the star often sticks to warm hair colors, here, her blonde shade takes on more of an ashy undertone that complements her complexion in a whole different way.
With a more golden base than an icy blonde, Lee opts for warmer tones when working with Hilary Duff, and the results really pay off. "A warm blonde complements her warm green eyes and olive skin, making her a glowing goddess," she shares.
Mariah Carey is a great example of a slightly darker shade of warm blonde, and we think she rocks it beautifully. "Mariah Carey is always golden," Cunningham remarks, confirming this look is a staple for the star. Less yellow than Duff's strands, Carey's golden hues combine with subtle strawberry tones for a stunning, dimensional look.
In case you missed it, Kehlani is always glowing on and off the stage, and this expertly crafted strawberry shade only enhances her look. "Kehlani’s strawberry blonde is so pretty on her," Lee says. "[It's] such a great tone next to her skin, and I love that there’s a root to create contrast. The root also sits nicely next to her dark eyes and eyebrows."
Warm Brown with Golden Highlights
Let's be honest: Ciara looks good with pretty much any hair color under the sun, thanks in no small part to her fairly neutral undertones. In this photo, the star is rocking a subtly warm brown bob, made dimensional with the addition of highlights. "For Ciara, the warm brown with a few golden pops creates a soft contrast between her features and hair color," Lee says.
If Sophia Bush is making you want to run to the hair salon immediately, we get it. "Warm brown for her hazel eyes just screams for a golden pop: The warmth brings out the warmth in her eyes," Lee explains. "I love the new Garnier Whole Blends Sulfate Free Remedy Red Rose Extract & Shine Vinegar Blend Shampoo and Conditioner (both $8) for color-treated hair to help keep her color fresh."
We have to say it: Zendaya's warm brown gives us a sense of, well, euphoria. "The warm brown color looks beautiful and soft on Zendaya," Lee says of the look. "It complements and sits nicely next to her glowy skin, bold brows, and dark eye color."
Warm Brown with Light Tips
Rosalía continues to prove that she can pull off any and every hair color with this warm-toned chocolate shade, which complements her golden undertones beautifully. "Rosalía’s shiny milk chocolate hair with baby brown tips is so dreamy for her," Lee says. "The lighter ends pull the eye down, keeping it interesting and [making] the hair appear longer."
Dakota Johnson rocks a cool brown year-round—she's actually a natural dark blonde, but this shade works alongside her skin so well, it looks like she was born with it. While this provides great inspiration for anyone with a cooler skin tone who wants to go brunette, Cunningham notes that cool browns can often photograph incorrectly. "Dakota Johnson is always very, very cool, but sometimes it photographs warm," she says. Try to check out multiple photos of any looks that inspire you to get an idea of how they'll turn out, and speak with your stylist about your ideal result.
Warm Dark Chocolate
If you follow Zoey Deutch, you know that she can pull off just about any hair color in the books. Pictured, the actress wears a dark brunette with mixed undertones that skew warm, created by Cunningham using all Redken products. We love how the color catches in the sunlight and highlights her glowing skin.
HoYeon Jung is a vision whether she's trapped in the Squid Game competition or on the red carpet, and she's pulled off both fiery red and this decidedly cooler shade of black. "This cool black looks stunning on Jung," Lee says. "It’s a beautiful contrast next to her light skin and makes her dark eyes shine."
"[We used] golden red tones to help bring out her green eyes and sun-kiss her skin for summer," Lee says of Sarah Hyland's highlighted red hair. "I recommend Garnier's Nutrisse Color Reviver in Vibrant Copper ($10) to keep [shades like this] glowing in between salon visits."
The Final Takeaway
Feeling inspired to change up your hair? Us, too. Remember to always work with a stylist who understands not only what you want in a hair color, but also what makes sense for your undertones. The stylists all agree that not every color works for everybody, and that's okay—but rest assured you can find a shade you love that complements your skin tone, as the options are endless.