How to Choose a Red Hair Shade

By Tammie Jo , last updated September 16, 2011

The trick to choosing the right shade of red hair is to first determine which type of skin tone you have. There’s something mysterious and alluring about hair in shades of rust, strawberry, copper and auburn; maybe it’s because only about two percent of people have red hair naturally. But choosing the wrong shade can make you look washed out, and sallow. To make sure you get it right, take a look in the mirror and determine your skin tone. If you plan on having your color done by a stylist, remember that not all “professionals” have the same training and experience in hair color. Having some understanding about what shades are best for you may spare you an expensive and embarrassing mistake at the hands of an unknowledgeable hair dresser. And if your plan is to color your hair at home then you need all the information you can get in order to choose the right red.

People with a warm skin tone look better with warm shades of hair and those with a cool skin tone look better with cool shades of hair. But wait, aren’t all shades of red “warm?” Well, that is what the elementary school color wheel says, but in the world of hair and makeup, cool reds are those without gold undertones such as burgundy or brick. Warm reds include copper, auburn and mahogany.

Cool Skin Tone

People with a cool skin tone typically have gray, green or blue eyes and hair that’s naturally ash-brown, black or blonde. The veins on the inside of a cool-toned person’s arm appear bluish when looking in natural light.

Warm Skin Tone

Warm-toned people usually have black, brown or hazel eye and hair that’s naturally, brown, auburn, black or strawberry red. In natural light, the veins on the inside of their arm appear green through the skin.

If you’re still not certain, remove all traces of makeup from your face and wash it well. Wait 5 to 10 minutes for any redness from the washing to disappear. Place a white towel next to your skin and look in the mirror. If your skin looks yellow in comparison to the towel, you are most likely a warm tone. If it looks blue or pink you are probably cool-toned.

Choose Your Shade of Red

In addition to deciding between a cool shade of burgundy or a warm copper, you should also consider your age, profession and lifestyle. Typically, reds are the hardest shades to maintain because the red dye pigments fade easily. If you know you’re not going to visit the hairdresser often for touchups, stick with a shade that’s close to your natural hair color.

Much depends on your personality and how well you can “wear” a red, but older women may look unattractive in bright orange or strawberry reds. And no matter what your age, if you work in a professional setting, showing up with bright scarlet hair on Monday might get you the kind of attention no one wants. In all cases, it’s probably best to stick with a shade of red that’s no more than two shades lighter or darker than your natural color.

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