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Celebrity Colorists: The Best Hair Color for Tan Skin — And How To Get It At Home

When your skin color changes, your hair color should too — discover the best way to refresh *your* color

No matter if it comes from spending time in the sun’s rays or from a self-tanner bottle, a sun-kissed glow can add radiant color to your face and shed years from your look. But depending on your current hair color, a late-summer tan can change the play between your hair color and skin tone which can end up making your skin looking drab, dull or washed out. And so a hair color tweak might be something you want to consider. As Gregory Patterson, an at-home color & styling expert for Sally Beauty puts it, “Think of hair color as an additional makeup palette stored in your drawer for special things — like being a bronzed goddess.” Luckily the changes are simple to make! Read on to learn your best hair color for tan skin.

What hair colors look good with a tan? 

When you first colored your hair, you most likely had your skin tone, undertone and color in mind. But tans can bring out warmth in your skin — even for people who are normally in the cool family and that can throw off the usual balance of the play between the tones of your skin and hair. “This is the time when cooler hair tones and going slightly lighter can be very flattering, especially if you are blonde,” says Carin Freidag, Senior Manager of Global Retail Hair Education for Clairol. “The tan will support the contrast, which will make it complementary to your hair color.” (Click through here to learn if you are cool, warm or neutral.)

If you are a brunette or redhead, she says adding dimension to your hair can bring out the glow of your tan. For people with lighter hair in those color families, that translates into a smattering of highlights or an overall lighter hue. Something to consider for those with darker hair: The sun can fade your color in a way that can make it seem washed out rather than sun-streaked. This is when adding a gloss or deepening your hue slightly might have a positive impact. 

And as a bonus, all these tweaks can trim years off your look, too. Cody Renegar, a hair colorist and master stylist who has worked with Gwyneth Paltrow and Cameron Diaz says it can even have an anti-aging effect! “Adding highlights and depth can soften the appearance of fine lines.” That means a summery youthful glow is just steps away! 

What to know before you choose a hair color for tan skin:

If you’re simply adding highlights, Freidag says, “Keep in mind that if you have used a darker hair color within the last few months, the permanent color you are applying will not lighten your previously colored ends.” That means you’ll need to use a blonding or highlighting kit to lift your shade. And, for all hair colors, she reminds, “Do a strand test to see if this will work for you before you apply all over.” (Click through here for more about highlighting hair at home.)

Gray hair? Polish it with a silver ash

Glenn Close

Arguably the best hair color to have with a tan? Gray! Your new-glowing skin will just pop against the silver strands. The only problem is, if your skin has been touched by the sun, your grays likely have too. “If you spend too much time under its rays, the radiation will bleach any silver-boosting purple or blue molecules in your hair shaft making dirty-looking yellow tones stand out,” explains Mike Petrizzi, hair colorist at Chris Chase Salon in New York City. To get hair back to a striking silver hue, he suggests applying a blue-based toner. “This adds a sheer cast of cool-toned blue pigments that instantly cancel out any yellow for silvers that pop.”

To do: Apply a toner, like AGEbeautiful Topcoat Toner in Silver Ash Blonde, (Buy From Amazon, $11.40), to damp hair from roots to ends; brush through with a comb to ensure an even application. Let sit for 20 minutes, then rinse out with shampoo.

Light blonde? Add an icy tone hair color for tan skin

Reese Witherspoon sporting the perfect shade of blonde for her tan skin
Reese WitherspoonGetty

Why it flatters: Adding touches of icy blonde to paler blonde hair is a way to make fair locks really shine against a sun-kissed complexion. “With a tan adding some depth to your skin, it provides a good contrast to the icy tones and pale lightness of the color,” explains Freidag. 

To do: If haven’t colored your hair before, you can use a permanent all over color such as Nice ‘N Easy 8S Soft Silver (Buy from Walmart, $7.57), which Freidag says, “will provide the silvery icy tones and will be easy to tweak again once the tan is gone.” 

For those lightening already-colored hair, Freidag recommends Clairol Born Blonde (Buy from Ulta, $11.99) followed by a Clairol Crystal Glow Toner (Buy from Walmart, $9.97). 

Medium blonde? Try smudged roots

Kate Hudson
Kate Hudson

Why it flatters: “The bleached strands create a stark contrast against tan skin, while the darker roots add depth that can help minimize fine lines,” says Renegar.

To do:  Renegar recommends using a demi-gloss to add a richness to your hair to play up the contrast. One to try: Kristin Ess Signature Hair Gloss in Winter Wheat (Buy from Ulta, $15). “Naturally part your hair and apply the color to about 1 inch of your roots, layer by layer,” he says. Then follow the box directions from there. 

Dark blonde? Apply ashy streaks

Jennifer Aniston sporting hair color that looks great with her tan
Jennifer Aniston

Why it flatters: There are a lot of reasons to love the effect of ashy blonde streaks on a dark blonde base. “This color can help to neutralize any unwanted brassiness in the hair, works beautifully with olive-complected tans and can really add a sexy and sultry overall tone to your total look,” says Patterson. One caveat: “Ash tones can appear to be darker because of its absorption of light. You may want to err one to two shades lighter when formulating with ash tones,” he says.

To do: If you’re hair hasn’t been colored previously, Patterson says to opt for ash-toned hair color and paint on in 1 inch streaks. Try ion Permanent Creme Hair Color in 6A Dark Ash Blonde (Buy from Sally Beauty, $9.99) or Revlon Colorsilk Permanent Hair Color in Medium Ash Blonde (Buy from Walmart, $21). If your hair is already colored, try a lightening kit. One to try: Blond Brilliance Highlighting Kit (Buy from Sally Beauty, $18.69

Light brunette? Try mocha hair color for tan skin

Jennifer Lopez
Jennifer Lopez

Why it flatters: A little toffee brown hair color against a rich, warm tan is a classic combo for a reason. Renegar explains, “Cool brown shades brighten the skin’s complexion, while the warm undertones boost the tan skin’s natural glow.”

To do: “Mocha hair color is multidimensional, so if your hair is lighter, you’re going to want to add lowlights, and if you’re brunette, you’re going to add highlights,” he says. For a blonding kit, try Garnier Olia Oil Powered Ammonia Free Highlights Kit for Brunettes (Buy from Walmart, $10.97) painted on in sections around the crown of your head and framing your face. For richer lowlights, paint a honey brown shade like L’Oreal Paris Excellence Triple Protection Permanent Hair Color in Light Brown (Buy from CVS, $12.49) in bigger streaks under half of your hair.

Medium brunette? Go chestnut hair color for tan skin

Mandy Moore for hair color for tan skin with medium brunette hair.
Mandy Moore

Why it flatters: “The tones in this shade mimic what the sun will do to your hair after a summer at the beach; a glint of warmth in a rich brown base,” says Freidag.

To do: Want the pretty tone to layer on your current color and sparkle when out in the sun? Try Natural Instincts 6W Light Warm Brown, (Buy from Amazon, $7.59), a demi-permant shade that will add a honey cast to your brunette hue.”

Dark brunette? Try dark chocolate hair color for tan skin

Priyanka Chopra for hair color for tan skin for dark brunette hair.
Pryianka Chopra JonasGetty

Why it flatters: “This color is very rich, velvety and warm.” says Patterson. That last one matters for tan skin, as warm tones work well with yellow, orange and red, “and for some melanated skin tones, those are the exact hues that are enhanced when tanning happens,” he explains.  

To do: Look for hair colors that are one to two shades within your color range currently.” Patterson says. Then make sure your color doesn’t swing too cool and grab a color you like with N (neutral), G (golden), R (red), C (copper)’ or “any combination of those letters following the level number on the box,” he says. His pick: Permanent Creme Hair Color in 4G Medium Golden Brown (Buy from Sally Beauty, $9.99). He continues that if you’re mixing your color yourself, “Just be mindful that you have selected the right developer cream or powder. Using more than a 10 vol will begin to create lift, and if you use it on your roots, you may land on some ‘hot roots’—lifted and lighter than the rest of your hair.”  

Light red? Go strawberry 

Isla Fisher for hair color for tan skin with light red hair.
Isla FischerGetty

Why it flatters: “Strawberry hair color has the perfect blend of golden and orange to make tanned skin glow,” says Freidag. It also creates a beautiful backdrop to make any eye color stand out from across the room! 

To do: For a strawberry that will fade with every wash, Freidag advises to use Clairol Natural Instincts 7RG Dark Rose Gold Blonde (Buy from Amazon, $7.57). Looking for something brighter — and permanent? Try Nice ‘N Easy 8R Medium Reddish Blonde (Buy from Amazon, $7.19) or Madison Reed Matera Marigold (Buy from Madison Reed, $30).

Medium red? Go ombré

Julia Roberts for hair color for tan skin with medium red hair.
Julia Roberts

Why it flatters: Hand-painting highlights on your hair (a.k.a. balayage) to make for ends that are lighter than your roots recreates the look red hair naturally takes on in the sun. Plus, says Patterson, “It brings forward the flushing or blushing effect the sun brings to the skin and just makes it dance.”

To do: An easy way to recreate the look of ombré hair color without heading to the salon? Patterson says to pick a hair color that needs a separate developer, like ion Permanent Hair Color (Buy from Sally Beauty, $9.99) and ion Sensitive Scalp Cream Developer (Buy from Sally Beauty, $4.89)

Then he says,You’ll mix the exact same formulation into three bowls. In your first bowl, use 10 volume developer. In the second bowl, use 20 volume and in the third bowl, 30 volume.” Then apply each down the length of your hair, starting with the mildest developer where you want your lighter area to start, ending with the 30. Where the colors meet, blend them “by rubbing and mushing them together,” he says. 

Dark red? Go rich auburn 

Debra Messing sporting the best color hair for her tan
Debra MessingGetty

Why it flatters: “The deep vibrancy of a rich auburn gives warm skin tones an all-natural glow,” says Renegar. It also adds depth that can help contribute to an overall look of fullness — a bonus for anyone with thin or thinning locks. 

To do: An all-over hue like this is simple: Look for a rich auburn hue like L’Oréal Paris Superior Preference Permanent Hair Color, Dark Mahogany Brown 4M (Buy from Walgreens, $12.49) and follow the box directions. And if you have long hair, make sure to pick up two boxes to ensure you have enough product to get even coverage! 

Click through these stories for more on hair colors:

Julia Roberts’ Toffee or Taraji P. Henson’s Walnut? Find the Best Hair Color Match for Your Complexion

7 Hair Colors To Make Your Tresses Look Thicker and Fuller

3 Secrets to Longer-Lasting Hair Color That Will Transform Dull Strands

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