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How do I choose a hair colour which will suit me?

Updated on September 19, 2012

Feel like a change?

We have a vast array of choice when it comes to hair colour! It is possible to dye even the darkest hair blonde, (depending upon natural colour, pre-existing dye and condition, of course) and any number of colours in between.

Maybe you are choosing a wig, and want to try a different colour to the one Mother Nature bestowed upon you. How do you choose?

Whether you’re wanting a change to a natural, but different look, or want to try pink, green or blue, some things will need consideration first.

Clothes and your colours

Lets say you have dark hair and you wear a lot of strong colours like deep pink and red. If you then decide to your love of red a step further and dye your hair red, how will this affect your wardrobe of red clothes? Will that red Chinese silk dress still look as fantastic, or will you look a bit too red all over? Could you adjust the effect with a black wrap, or black scarf? Are you ok with having to make wardrobe changes to suit the new look? Of course, makeup is easier, and you can experiment quite cheaply with different shades before committing to more expensive purchases of staples like lipsticks and eye shadows.


Am I cool? Or warm?

If you do some research first, there may be a way to retain your existing wardrobe (with maybe a few easy adjustments if necessary) and keep the same make up in your bag as before. You can do this if you stick within your tone and colour groups. How does this work? Lets break it down as simply as possible, beginning with the first division - tone. Dependent upon a combination of natural skin tone and eye colour, people fall into one of two groups when it comes to tone, either ’warm’ or ’cool’.

So this can be quite difficult to decide on some people to start with, although with others you can tell straightaway. What’s the easiest way to tell on yourself whether you’re a warm or cool tone? Answer this one simple question; ‘which suits you better, gold jewellery or silver?’

If the answer still isn’t immediately obvious, hold a gold, then silver earring, preferably quite large, close to your ear and look in the mirror for a moment. Does the gold look warm, gleaming and complementary next to your skin? Or is it brassy looking, drawing attention to itself rather than to your face? Does the silver enhance your colouring, or is it a wrong, cold note in your personal blend of skin and eye tones? Can you see which tone you are?


Imagine a grey haired woman, with blue eyes, wearing gleaming silver jewellery. She is cool toned. Then think of a someone you know with blonde or reddish hair, and brown or freckly skin. Her eyes may be green, or brown, and her gold jewellery gleams and complements her warm tones.

By now you should have an idea about where you fall in the tones. If not, try this. Would your wedding dress be pure sparking cool white? Or warm soft ivory? Can you wear warm orange, or does it make you look washed out and strange? Can you carry off an icy cold blue? Or does it get noticed before you?

Try collecting some plain swatches of coloured material, or borrow some scarves and clothes in big selection of colours that you wouldn’t normally wear. Separate the colours into warm and cold tone piles. Red can be warm if it is orangey, or cool if it has pink-blue in it. Green can be cool emerald blue-green, or warm olive. It is hard to find a cool orange and a warm blue. Acid yellow can be cool; other yellows are warm.


Sit in front of the mirror, in natural light with no make up. You may wear the earrings in either gold or silver if you have decided which suits you best. Now select a swatch from one of the piles and wrap it around you, so that your face and neck are visible close to the material. Sit for a while and look at your skin tone next to the coloured material. Does it complement it? Is the material more noticeable than your skin and eyes, or do they go well together? This should give you a very good idea about tones and colours that suit you.

learn about colour

The Hair Color Mix Book: More Than 150 Recipes for Salon-Perfect Color at Home
The Hair Color Mix Book: More Than 150 Recipes for Salon-Perfect Color at Home

A book about colouring your own hair, written by a celebrity hair colour expert. This book is comprehensive and very practical and can get you experimenting with colouring your own hair. This is a subject I would only approach if you are confident and knowledgeable about hair as results can be unpredictable. The book does explain alot, and remember you can always test small areas of your hair first to see what the result could be. A fun book.

Colour Me Beautiful: Expert Guidance to Help You Feel Confident and Look Great
Colour Me Beautiful: Expert Guidance to Help You Feel Confident and Look Great

This book is a great start to understanding your own personal colour tones. Once you understand this, you can shop with confidence, knowing that you wil only have items in your wardrobe that suit you, in colours that can be combined without clashing. This book covers body shape and size as well as personal colours, make up, clothes and hair.


A brief look at your overall look

Does a contrasting look suit you best? Maybe you are dark haired, blue-eyed and fair skinned, bold and striking in your silver earrings. Strong, bright shades in cool tones are looking good, and looking even better when you add a couple of other swatches in contrasting shades of icy white, or cool dark blue. Charcoal grey, black, navy and silver grey are great for coats, skirts and work suits for you, with a strong bright or icy cool ‘white-with-a-touch-of-cool-colour’ blouse or scarf.

If you’re cool but your hair is light, very blonde maybe or white, with icy blue eyes, you may do better with cool, light and bright pinks blues and mauves. Think cool, but less intense and contrasting. Coats and suits are best in silver grey or mid blue, worn with a fresh and bright cool mid-toned colour.

Maybe you have a warm toned skin, with subtle, neutral hair and neutral to warm brown or green eyes, and your gold jewellery blends in softly with your look. Warm subtle colours are looking good, maybe several shades of the same colour softly blending. Soft taupe, warm charcoal, and soft browns are great basic colours for your suits and coats, with soft, light, blending colours; creams and dusky pinks.

If you’re warm with a strong colouring, dark skin and eyes, or deep red or brown haired with freckly skin and deep green eyes then strong warm spicy colours will enhance. Your coats and suits can be deep rich brown, maroon, or warm charcoal. Mustard, olive green, orange and ivory will look wonderful on you. You can pick up on the contrasting look too.

This is a cool toned red, probably not cool enough, and a little harsh on my aging skin tone!
This is a cool toned red, probably not cool enough, and a little harsh on my aging skin tone! | Source

Back to Hair!

So, you've experimented in front of the mirror with materials of different colours in warm and cold tones. You've got an understanding of whether strong contrasting, or subtle blending shades are best for you. How do you decide on a colour for your hair?

The principals are the same as deciding on clothing. Choose a warm toned dye, or wig, if your skin and eye tones suit gold, warm tones. Choose a cool toned dye or wig if you suit silvery, cold tones. Check the table to help you decide which box is which when you're in the supermarket or chemist.

Do subtle shades complement your look, or would a bolder contrast be better? Start with your skin colour and go from there, contrasting or blending. As you can see from my pictures, I suit a strong, contrasting look, which makes the blonde shades that I admire quite difficult to wear. My emerging white hair is helping with this, but I do wear a slightly darker foundation so as not to look too ghostly!

Hair colours and their tones

Cool Tones
Warm Tones
light warm blonde
golden blonde
platinum blonde
light copper blonde
pearl blonde
strawberry blonde
ash blonde
dark ash blonde
light brown
light warm brown
medium brown
medium warm brown
pinky red
orangy red
plum red
brownish red brick
warm burgundy brown
dark brown
dark reddish brown
fashion shades orange
fashion shades orangy red
fashion shades blue
fashion shades warm red
fashion shades emerald green

Do people instinctively know what colours to wear and what tone they are?

See results


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    • Mrs Jil Manning profile image

      Mrs Jil Manning 4 years ago from Sussex, England

      My daughter is light warm tones, and I'm a winter with contrasting cool tones...but at the moment we have the same hair colour! It is fun to play around when you understand the rules! Thank you for taking the time to read and comment!

    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 4 years ago from United States

      Lots of great ideas on the hub and I love the pictures you have of your own hair colors! I had my "colors done" many years ago--maybe over 35 years now! My mom and I did it together and it has been so helpful over the years--especially to learn that we had completely different seasons. She is spring with purples, blues and pinks; I am fall with greens, browns and oranges. However, recently, I've been wearing versions of her colors in my tones. It is fun to switch around as you said!