Lightening up your hair in the sunny season is an easy way to achieve youthful radiance — but the wrong hue can wash out skin and add years to your look. So we asked celebrity colorists to reveal their tricks for the most flattering summer shades; and as a bonus, the best winter hues, too. Read on for the easy at-home how-to, and see real-life examples on celebrities to guide you on your style journey.
Winter-Wonderful: Fiery Copper
The golden tones of copper, like the ones you can get with Clairol Nice’n Easy Born Red in #8R-Natural Medium Reddish Blonde (Buy from Amazon, $20.28) add a fireside warmth to pale winter skin, says celebrity colorist James Corbett. Since the smaller pigments in red dye fade quickly, use a color-protecting conditioner, like Clairol Nice’n Easy CC+ ColorSeal Conditioner in Radiant Reds (Buy from Amazon, $15.90).
Summer-Beautiful: Sweet Strawberry
The “halo” effect of strawberry hair that’s subtly darker at the ends gives skin a youthful glow, says celebrity colorist Kari Hill. To do: Lighten the base with a hue two shades lighter than your winter color, using something like L’Oréal Paris Superior Preference in #9GR-Light Golden Reddish Blonde (Buy from Amazon, $9.97). Then get the “reverse ombré” effect by painting one-inch highlights that are thicker at the roots and taper toward the ends. Try Revlon Color Effects Frost & Glow in Blonde (Buy from CVS, $12.49).
The blue pigments in dyes labeled “ash” or “cool” can give warm skin a grayish tinge.
Winter-Wonderful: Warm Nutmeg
Rich auburn shades have a natural sheen that makes hair and skin look luminous throughout the cold, sun-starved months, says colorist Tommy Bucket. For lustrous locks, use an oil-based permanent dye infused with hair-hydrating grapeseed oil, like Garnier Nutrisse in #535-Medium Golden Mahogany Brown (Buy from Amazon, $7.97).
Summer-Beautiful: Caramel Swirl
“Blond highlights on a medium brown base gives hair dimension while the blended hue brings out darker tones in skin for a faux tan,” says Buckett. To do: Lighten the base with a medium brown, like Clairol Nice’n Easy in Medium Brown (Buy from Amazon, $7.57). Process, rinse, then apply highlights, like Garnier Olia Ammonia-Free Highlights for Brunettes, (Buy from Amazon, $25.98 for pack of two) onto one-inch sections throughout hair from roots to ends.
Over-processed blond casts a greenish glow that robs skin’s radiance.
Winter-Wonderful: Chocolate Truffle
The cool undertones in dark brown help emphasize the natural rosy glow in cheeks, says Ali Ryan, a celebrity colorist and co-owner of The Dry House salon in Nashville. To do: Choose a permanent color infused with keratin and silk proteins, like AGEbeautiful Anti-Aging Permanent Liqui-Creme Haircolor in #5N-Medium Brown (Buy from Sally Beauty, $10.99) to add a healthy shine back to aging tresses. Run the color from roots to ends and process according to box instructions. Tip: If you stain the skin around your hairline, soak a cotton ball with eye-makeup remover and dab on skin. The oily base of the makeup staple will remove the color instantly.
Summer-Beautiful: Toasted Chestnut
Lighter shades of brown blend better with grays, which are the hardest to color at the root. Ryan suggests saturating the color up top with a salon technique called “soap-cap.” To do: Apply a hue that’s one to two shades lighter than your winter color, like Revlon ColorSilk Beautiful Color in #43-Medium Golden Brown (Buy from Amazon, $7.99) to the roots only and let process. Then shampoo the roots and bring the color/shampoo suds down to the rest of hair. Let that sit for 5 to 10 minutes, then rinse.
When pesky grays grow in against a dark color, they inevitably take center stage. And the wiry texture of gray strands makes hair look coarse and skin look dull.
Winter-Wonderful: Toffee Cream
A touch of golden color punches up bland grays, says Hill. Opt for dye with layered tones that mimic subtle highlights, like L’Oréal Paris Excellence Age Perfect in #6.5G -Lightest Soft Golden Brown (Buy from Amazon, $22.95). As the dye processes, drag it up and down with a brush — this helps open grays’ cuticles so more pigment absorbs.
Summer-Beautiful: French Vanilla
No need to change your base shade to get stunning shiny hair, says Corbett. “Simply add a few strategically placed highlights to pick up the light and give skin a bright, youthful appearance.” The secret to shimmer? Use a blonding kit, like Clairol Born Blonde Ultimate Blonding Hair Color (Buy from Amazon, $22.49) to highlight two-inch sections of hair along the part and around the face. Hold strands taut at a 90-degree angle and apply the bleach using long sweeping motions. If you accidentally go too light, paint lowlights onto bleached-out strands with your winter base hue to balance out the color.
One-dimensional gray with no shine leaves skin looking dull and dry. Plus, it does nothing to help conceal thinning spots in hair.
Winter-Wonderful: Pralines and Cream
Face-framing highlights add vibrance to strands and skin while softening any angular facial features, says Ryan. To do: Choose a light golden brown base, like ion Light Golden Brown Permanent Creme Hair Color (Buy from Sally Beauty, $9.89); process according to box instructions, then rinse and blow-dry hair. Next, use a clean mascara wand (the smaller brush size allows for more control) to apply highlights from a kit, like Revlon Color Effects Frost & Glow in blonde (Buy from Amazon, $6.98) around sections of hair that outline the face.
Summer-Beautiful: Golden Honey
Going bright blond without overdoing the bleach can be tricky, says Hill. Her suggestion? Rather than going full-on blond, build in a head of highlights. To do: Look for a kit with a larger applicator brush to help cover bigger sections of hair with ease, like L’Oréal Paris Superior Preference Glam Lights in Light Ash Blonde (Buy from Amazon, $19.94 for pack of two). Then, starting at the back of the head, paint highlights and wrap each in foil. Continue until the whole head is highlighted. Let the bleach process for 25 to 30 minutes, then rinse hair. If you accidentally go too light, apply a semi-permanent dye one shade darker than highlights all over hair to darken bleached-out sections without ruining the multi-tonal effect of the highlights.
The lack of dimension in flat color leaves hair looking thin and lifeless. Plus, hair that has a brassy tone can bring out the yellow pigments in skin, making the face look sallow.
Winter-Wonderful: Rich Cocoa
A darker hue with a slightly cool undertone, like John Frieda Precision Foam Hair Color in Dark Cool Espresso Brown (Buy from Amazon, $7.49), keeps a rich shade from overpowering a warm complexion, says Ryan. To do: Apply color from roots to ends, then brush through hair with a wide tooth comb to evenly distribute the color.
Summer-Beautiful: Iced Mocha
Tortoise shell is the new ombré, and it’s super flattering. “When highlights are placed underneath a layer of hair rather than on top, you get a gorgeous lit-from-within glow that
reflects light to distract from fine lines — plus, you have no noticeable roots,” says Ryan. To do: Look for a kit like L’Oréal Paris Frost and Design Kit in Caramel (Buy from Amazon, $21.88 for pack of two), toss the highlighting cap it comes with, and apply the lightener with a toothbrush instead. Start underneath (at the nape of your neck to your ends) and cover each section with plastic wrap to prevent the bleach from drying. Work your way up in small layers around one inch under the root line.
An ombré with a stark color change (instead of gradual lightening) makes the face look pallid and enhances under-eye bags.
Change Your Hair’s Hue Without the Commitment
For youthful highlights sans bleach, use hair makeup like Redken Color Rebel Naturals, (Buy from Walmart, $5.99). Simply apply the makeup to a clean toothbrush, then paint streaks on hair from roots to ends. Lasts for three washes.
Want an ombré?
Try an intense coat. A color coat, like Garnier Color Styler Intense Wash-Out Haircolor, (Buy from Amazon, $7.99) can give you stunning ombré. Just apply to damp hair, saturating ends and fading up. Lasts for two washes.
Want all-over color?
Try a pigmented rinse. Test out a new single process shade with a temporary wash, like Roux Fanci-Full Temporary Color Rinse, (Buy from Sally Beauty, $12.59). Work the color into towel-dried hair, comb, and style. Lasts for two washes.
3 Secrets to Healthier Hair That Only Pros Know
Years of coloring can wreak havoc on hair’s health in the form of thinning, dullness, and breakage. The good news: Supplements packed with hair-nourishing ingredients can reverse the damage.
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A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.