How to Find Your Best Hair Color

Written by: Brianna Peters


Published on: July 9, 2024

Photo courtesy of Nina Kairouz for Najeau

When your hair color really suits you, everything—your haircut, your makeup, even your outfit—looks better. And the key to finding the most flattering shade, it turns out, is your skin tone.

The basic rule of hair color (which people flout successfully all the time, it should be noted) is to go only two shades lighter or darker than your natural color. Sticking to the rule ensures that the color blends better—roots aren’t as glaring, and you get maximum depth and dimension. From there, playing with differences in tones and shades, color placement, and color saturation gets you to the look you want.

Strategy 1: Work with Your Skin Tone

If you’ve ever tried to shade-match your foundation or concealer, you know there are generally three categories that skin tones fall into: warm, cool, and neutral. “Warm skin tones generally pair well with warm hair colors like golden blonde or caramel brown,” says Abby Haliti, a colorist and the founder of NYC’s AH Color Studio. “Cool skin tones look good with cool colors like platinum or ashy brown. And neutral skin tones have flexibility—they can often go warm or cool.”

Strategy 2: Consider Your Undertone

You should also look at your undertone—pinks, yellows, and olives, says Haliti. To determine your undertone, look at the veins in your wrist. “If they’re more blue or purple, you’re likely cool-toned,” says top LA colorist Tracey Cunningham, the founder of the chic Mèche Salon. “If they’re more greenish, you’re likely warm-toned.” (Note: This is why trying foundation or concealer on your wrist is particularly effective.)

Strategy 3: Look at Photos

Bring in a childhood photo of yourself as inspiration, says Cunningham: “It’s a guaranteed way to get a color that’s going to look amazing on you—nature made it that way to begin with.” Or bring in a photo of a celebrity look-alike—pick someone with coloring similar to yours, and try to narrow the pictures down to a single option. Cunningham’s amazing book, True Color: The Essential Hair Color Handbook, is packed with inspiration, including baby photos of her celebrity clients.


A professional colorist can help you find a color that fits with your lifestyle and the amount of maintenance you’re willing to do. For example, if you have black hair and want to go light blonde, expect more than one appointment to make that happen. “The darker your natural color, the more of that natural color has to be stripped away to lighten it,” says Cunningham. “That means you’ll be in the salon chair more often, spending more money and dealing with more potential damage.”

Cunningham’s tip: Prep your hair before your appointment so your colorist has fresh hair to work with. “Don’t come with hair that’s dirty, greasy, and loaded up with a week’s worth of product,” she says. “A day or two before, do a treatment to help repair and smooth damage—leave a deep-conditioning mask or oil on your ends for an hour or so, then shampoo before bed. The day of, dry your hair fully before the appointment—otherwise your colorist has to dry it before they can begin the color service.”

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Go a shade lighter than the color you think you want, even for root touch-ups. “The hair around your face at your hairline grows in lighter and holds color differently than the rest of your head,” says Cunningham. “Buy a shade even lighter than the one you use for your base and reserve it solely for your hairline.”

Roots are easy to do at home. “Touching up only your roots or greys—and leaving the rest of your hair alone—is the best strategy,” says Cunningham. This allows for more time between salon appointments but leaves the harder stuff, like highlights and allover color, to the professionals. “When you’re touching up roots, color only within the line of demarcation, where your color-treated hair meets your new growth,” she says. “Otherwise you’re coloring over color, and it can get darker or give you ‘hot roots’—when the roots are noticeably warmer or brassier than the rest of your hair.”


If you really take care of your hair, you can protect your hair color from fading and you won’t have to color your hair as often. Use color-safe shampoo, do weekly moisture treatments, and condition often to keep hair shiny, bright, and healthy-looking.

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