Choosing highlight colors for brown hair

Give your brown hair depth and dimension with highlights. Here is how to choose the perfect complimentary shade:

At long last, after years of bleached blondes, fiery reds and even jet black, people are finally recognizing the classic beauty of brown hair. It is earthy, elegant, without looking flashy or unnatural. Whether you are a natural brunette, or dye your hair brown, you may want to add a highlight color to give your look a lift.

When choosing a highlight color for brown hair, first take your skin tone into consideration. Highlights can compliment your coloring, or clash with it. For example, if you have reddish, ruddy, or blemished skin, highlights with red or orange base colors will only serve to bring out the reddish tones in your skin and make your face appear blotchy and uneven. If you have a sallow, yellowish or very pale complexion, golden or honey highlights may wash out your skin tone. Sometimes deep olive tone skin can actually appear slightly green with ash hair colors, which have a green base.

If you're not sure which base colors to choose from, a simple way to experiment is to get three pieces of fabric - one red, one gold or yellow, and one green. Hold them up to your face by draping them over your head or neck when you are not wearing any base make-up. Ideally, do this in natural light, but not direct sunlight.


Look at yourself in a mirror while wearing each color and decide which flatters your skin tone best. If the red looks best, consider red tone highlights, such as reddish-brown, strawberry blonde or auburn. If gold or yellow flatter you, consider going with "warm" tone highlights, which are golden or honey colored. If the green brings out the best in your skin tone, go for the "cool" tone highlights, which usually have "ash" in their names.

While highlights usually imply lightening strips of hair, you can alternately use the same technique for "lowlights", or darkening strips of hair. If you want the depth and dimension highlights afford without over-all lightening your hair color, you can add darker brown colors, such as rich chocolate tones over your already medium golden-brown, or deep violet or dark cherry reds to spice up a neutral or mousey brown.

Once you have decided on the color you want your highlights, you should consider the intensity. Do you want your highlights to be subtle and blend well with your hair color, or very bold and stand out? Much will depend on the color of your hair and the intensity you desire. If you will be highlighting your hair at home, don't pay attention to the color hair of the model on the front of the box when selecting a color; this can be misleading. Guidelines can usually be found on the back of most hair color products that will tell you what color will result based on the color your hair is now.

For example, if your hair is dark brown, and you want medium golden brown highlights, a medium golden brown dye would probably not give you those results. You would do better to find a box several shades lighter than your own, such as a dark honey blonde, that will result in a medium brown color when applied to dark brown hair. If you wanted much more intensity in your highlights, you might have to go to a light blonde to achieve the variation. On the other hand, if your hair is already light brown, a subtle look may require only a shade or two lighter than your own. Remember, the darker your hair already is, the lighter you will have to go to achieve the look you want.

If you want very subtle highlights that will not change the over-all color but give your hair a "lift", you can also choose a similar shade that will give your hair a hint of red or gold that it might currently be lacking.

If you are going to lowlight, however, keep in mind that darker dyes take better to hair and remain more true to color. You'll want to stick to a color no more than three shades darker than your current color or you may risk a striped look.

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