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.”

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.QUIZ: How Healthy Does Your Hair Look? 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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Brown hair color for dark skintones
For olive skintones, dark colors work best and look the most natural. You can pull off deep tones of brown with darker red highlights. If you have pink undertones in your skin, try something softer, like an amber shade. Again, stick within two shades of your current color. And (again, unless you were born with it), avoid going too light as this will clash with your skin.

Celebrities with brown hair
If you’re still unsure, Hollywood gives us some great cues, according to Garrison. Mandy Moore looks great as a blonde, but her light-toned skin seems to glow even more with rich, warm brown hair. Sophia Vergara recently went from blonde to brunette with great results. She is the perfect example of the right color for medium-toned skin. And Jennifer Hudson wowed us at this year’s Oscars with some warm highlights interspersed through her dark brown hair, making her a perfect example of how to work with a darker skin tone.

”While some might think all browns are the same, it can be a lot of fun to prove them wrong and try out different shades (without looking like you have drastically changed your image),” said Garrison. “Just be sure to keep the tone of your hair within the same tonal family as your skin and don’t get stuck in a rut.”

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