Monday, December 3, 2012

How To Choose The Right Hair Color

by Melissa White
Licensed Hair Stylist
Certified Hair Extension Artist

Choosing the right hair color is something that most everyone stresses over. Many women select a hair color from a photograph they see in a magazine, even though this is probably the worst way of picking the right hair color. Most experts will agree that selecting hair color from a photograph of a famous celebrity is a recipe for disaster unless you match skin tone and facial features exactly.

So what can you do to ensure a great color for your complexion, style and personality? Let's look at what goes into color selection by the expert colorists.

  • Skin Tone  (v
  • Eye Color (blue, green, hazel, grey, brown, dark brown/black)
  • Do you have freckles (yes/no)
  • Color of hair when you were 5 years old (blonde, light brown, brown, chocolate, black, strawberry blonde, red)
  • Have you colored your hair in the past years (number of years depends upon your hair length)
  • How do you usually color your hair (home or salon)

You can see why it's not as easy as looking at a picture on a box of home hair color and saying, "That's the one I want."

Your natural hair color is the best shade range to stay within. Even though your skin tone and hair  may be completely different colors at first glance, your natural hair color and skin both have the same underlying pigments. In fact, it is most often less about the hair color that you like and more about the color your skin likes.

Remember Carole Jackson's Color Me Beautiful method of selecting clothes colors by "season"? This used skin tones and the four seasons to group together colors which are most flattering. She also developed a complete line of cosmetics using the same principle. The same is true of hair color. The perfect hair color will compliment your skin tone. Great color can enhance your best facial features and can even help give you a more youthful, vibrant look. Choose the wrong color and it could leave you looking washed out, tired, totally unnatural and even years older!

Color Level, Shade and Tone

Color with permanent hair dye actually lifts the outer color from your hair shaft. In doing this, it reveals the natural pigments or highlights that are in your hair. Hair color is measured in three ways: by the level, the tone and the shade.

Color level runs on a scale of one to 10. One is the darkest color (true black) and 10 is the lightest color (platinum blonde). Within each of these levels are color pigments—eumelanin (black-brown) and pheomelanin (red-brown), which control the shade of the hair. Levels 1-4 are dark hair containing many red pigments along with black or brown. Levels 7-10 are considered blonde hair, consisting of golden/yellow pigments. Levels 5-6 fall in the middle and will have more orange pigments (red and yellow together).

Tone is divided into three groups: cool, neutral and warm. Cool tones have undertones of blues and greens and are sometimes referred to as "ash" tones. Warm tones have reds, oranges and golds. Neutral tones are a balance of both, with neither warm or cool tones outweighing the other.

For the most natural-looking color, look at what color the sun turns your hair during the height of summer. These tones are what come naturally and what you should stick with when you lighten your hair.

Complexion, Skin Undertones and Makeup

Just as your hair has pigment, your skin also contains pigments that produce undertones just like hair tones of cool, neutral and warm. Women born with black or brown hair are likely to have warmer, earthy undertones (orange, brown, gold or orange-based red) in their skin. Women born with blonde hair are more likely to have cooler skin undertones (blue, green, pink or blue-based red). Those with warmer undertones in their skin will look better with a warmer hair color, like golden blondes or honey browns. Those with cooler undertones will look best with cooler hair colors, like ash blonde, black or auburn brown.

The makeup you use may tell you if you are a warm or cool-toned person if you've selected your makeup correctly. But, if you don't know or aren't sure, try looking at a vein in your arm under natural light. If it appears green, you're warm toned, if it is blue you're cool-toned. An expert colorist will look at your skin, color of the eyes and even your age to help assess what tone your hair should be. The chart below will give some general guidelines.

Complexion          Complimenting Colors/Shades                                                 
Fair/Pale              Use dark expresso browns, warm reds, medium blondes
                            Avoid extremes and too dark of colors which will wash you out
Pink/Red              Neutral tones are best - avoid cool reds
Golden Tan          Neutral shades, copper and non yellow or gold bases look best
Olive Tan             Cool reds, caramel, burgundy, darker shades, and highlights                
Dark                    Golden hues without overall lightening can work
                            Avoid lightening and highlights or you'll look brassy
                            Dark reds, chocolate, deep rich browns and blacks excel

Of course these are just guidelines. You can also use makeup to help match your skin to any new hair color you choose. With today's better self-tanning products, we're able to effectively change to shades that better compliment a desired hair color. Just beware of the added effort needed to keep your look consistent!

Eye Color

The color of the eyes is a pretty accurate predictor of good hair color. If your eyes are deep brown, black-brown, gray blue, dark blue or hazel with white, gray or blue flecks you will probably look best with cool tones in your hair. If you have eyes that are golden brown, green, turquoise or hazel with gold or brown flecks you will look best with warm tones in your hair.

Age and Selecting Hair Color

My client's age helps tell me how far from their natural hair color I should go. With youth, we're able to experiment with color boldly and sometimes even recklessly without too much consequence. But, as we age, it becomes less forgiving. As a general rule, as we age softer colors look better on us. As we grey, skin tone becomes lighter. Extremes in the color palette (platinum blonde or true black) tend to bring out all sorts of imperfections. Wrinkles seem more pronounced, skin tones seem more exaggerated, pores seem more pronounced, and so on.

Most experts follow these general rules of thumb:
  • The key to great color is keeping your color changes within the correct warm or cool tones and staying within two color levels of your own color, if you want a natural look.
  • Professionally applied permanent colors provide the best coverage and last the longest. Semi-permanent colors are good for trying out a darker color before committing, but you can only go darker or hide grays. Semi-permanent colors won't lighten your hair.
  • Keep your hair healthy by always applying color to unwashed hair. Your hair's natural oils protect your hair.
  • If you make a color mistake with a home box product, don't try to fix it with another box! A minor mistake might be corrected by immediately washing your hair 2-3 times with a good clarifying shampoo. If you're afraid you've made a bigger mistake, or if the washes don't do the trick, do yourself a favor and see a hair professional.

Hair Color and Hair Extensions

Working with hair color presents a unique set of problems when working with hair extensions. Not only do you need to match the natural hair on the scalp, but work with the natural tones found in the hair extensions. This is why the use of quality hair extensions produces the best possible outcomes. The way in which quality hair extensions are created ensure that the stylist has Remy hair that has not been treated in any way that would produce unexpected color results. By closely matching the hair, an experienced hair extension artist can create a well-blended, natural look. If you've got color concerns, make sure you see a stylist who is experienced with color and hair extensions!

Have a specific color in mind, but don't know how to explain it to your stylist? A method I like to recommend to my clients is to go onto Pinterest to find photos of hair that you particularly like. Many of my hair extension clients who also use color visit my board, "Hair Inspiration" on Pinterest.

Color Me Beautiful - Reinvent Yourself with Color Me Beautiful: 4 Seasons of Color, Makeup, and Style 
Extensions of Yourself - The Hair
Extensions of Yourself blog - Is Red the New HOT Color?
Extensions of Yourself on Pinterest

Melissa White is an experienced, licensed hair extension artist and stylist whose passion is to bring out the natural beauty in everyone by enhancing their own individual features with the use of exquisite hair extensions. Melissa has over 10 years of extensive training with the industries top hair extension companies in the newest techniques. Originally from Boston, Melissa has been in San Antonio for the past 10 years. She believes that everyone should be able to access and afford the hair of their dreams . . . thus the creation of Extensions of Yourself, San Antonio's first salon which specializes exclusively in quality hair extensions.