What You Should Know Before Deciding on Your New Hair Color

By Jean D , last updated November 7, 2011

When it comes to deciding on the right hair color for you, there are a few things you should know. Choosing the right color means more than standing in the store and browsing the boxes available on the aisle. Choosing the right color also means more than asking your BFF what brand and color she uses on her hair. The color you choose will chemically alter your hair, and the results might not be easy to correct if you get the color wrong. The decision is too important to leave to chance. Read on to find out more about how hair color works, and how you can find the shade that's just right for you.

Warm or Cool

Your ideal hair color will help bring out the color in your eyes and highlight the tones in your skin. This is, not surprisingly, the same goal you use when you're choosing clothes. In fact, you probably already have a good idea of the colors of clothing that look best on you. This short list can help you determine if you have a warm skin tone or a cool skin tone.

If your closet is full of clothing in blue, green, pink or purple, you have a cool skin tone. Cool skin tones should avoid hair colors that have red or bronze elements. These hair colors can tend to make you look a bit drawn. Blond, black and brown colors look best with cool tones, and you may also be able to get away with unique colors such as blue and violet. If your clothes tend to be orange, brown or yellowish green, you have a warm skin tone. Colors that contain blue, black or violet will not complement your skin tones, but colors that contain auburn, chestnut or golden brown tones will make you shine.

How It Works

Knowing your skin tone is only part of the battle, as hair color doesn't simply pop out of the box looking just like it does in the picture. Your hair contains pigments of its own, and these pigments will interact with the pigments in the hair color to give you a final color. Your friend has different pigments, so her hair will look different than yours, even if you're using the same color. Additionally, it's incredibly difficult to use a hair color to lighten your hair. Most hair colorings don't have the ability to remove pigment; they just add pigment. If you want to make your hair lighter, you'll have to use a process to strip away your existing color before you can add new color. This can do a lot of damage to your hair, and you'll have to keep doing that damage on a regular basis. Your hair coloring only deals with the ends of your hair, not the roots. New hair will grow in its original color. For these reasons, experts say you should choose a hair color that's very close to the hair color you have right now. This may not sound very exciting, but you'll be choosing within a spectrum of color your hair already holds, and you won't have to do a significant amount of damage to get there.

Tips for Success

If you're coloring your hair at home, always start the process by coloring one small strand by itself. You can quickly find out if you're allergic to any of the chemicals in the hair coloring, and you won't burn your entire scalp to learn that lesson. Also, most hair colorings don't contain hard-and-fast rules about when you should wash the color out. Instead, you'll be given a range, and it's hard to know just where you fall on that range without doing a test. Apply color to just one strand and watch the clock. Wash it out at the low level of the range, and check the color. Repeat until you find the right time to remove the color. Leaving color on for too long can give you dull, lifeless locks.

If you simply cannot decide on just one color, or you think a range of colors will look fabulous on you, consider going to a professional for your coloring. A stylist may be able to dye the base of your hair one color and give you streaks and flashes of a complementary color you may not have considered. This is a great way to get a unique look that has nuance and play. Your stylist may also be able to provide you with actual dyed samples of hair, so you can see how the color really works on hair, instead of in pictures.

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