Brown Hair Color for Your Skintone

Pick the perfect shade of brown—from light to golden to red—for your skintone with the latest science and color theory.

From “bronde” to mahogony to deep chocolate, brown hair is anything but boring. Being on the dark side is not only trendy, it’s downright sexy. All it takes is a little know-how on perfecting your shade. That starts with matching your brown hue with your skintone.

“Under dark-medium brown hair is a really strong red tone,” said Kelly Van Gogh, hair colorist and founder of Kelly Van Gogh Hair Color. “Some of the best brunette shades include beautiful rich auburn, warm red and pretty caramel highlights.” So why fight Mother Nature?

The lightness or darkness of hair color is graded on a scale of one to 10, with one being a jet-black and 10 being a platinum blonde. Most brunettes fall in the two to five range, allowing them to go lighter or darker. According to Van Gogh, if you go two levels lighter, you’re going to get a really rich, warm brown. “Beyond that, trying to go blonde or golden does not look good. Plus, you’re going to ruin your hair.”

Jason Merritt/Getty ImagesSophia Vergara
Sophia Vergara

Because brunettes have very strong underlying red pigments, adding a dye will lift the top color of the hair and bring out these reddish tones. According to Mark Garrison, owner and celebrity stylist at Mark Garrison Salon in New York, some women shy away from this hue. “’I don’t want to see any red’ is many a client’s mantra,” he says. Instead, they request more caramel or honey tones.

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Either way, when choosing the perfect shade of brown, look at your skintone first. Here are Garrison’s top recommendations:

Brown hair color for light skintones
Staying within two levels of your natural color most likely means keeping your hair a medium brown shade. Warm red tones can look beautiful as well as lighter strawberry tones, particularly as highlights. Unless you were born with it, avoid really dark hair—faired-skinned women usually don’t have enough pigment in their skintone to carry this off.

Brown hair color for medium skintones
For those with sallow or yellow undertones, medium browns are great. You have more versatility here and can go lighter or darker from a caramel shade to a rich, auburn shade. Just keep it more neutral and don’t go too warm (blackish) or too cool (blondish).

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