Brown hair is the middle child of the hair color family.
Sometimes underestimated and overlooked, many make the mistake foregoing the shade altogether and write it off as boring. It is, obviously, anything but: Sensual and oh-so-versatile, brown hair can evoke an aura of approachability, sophistication and even downright sultry sex appeal, depending on the iteration you choose.
Browsing the hair color aisle at the drugstore or flipping through the hair swatches at your go-to salon can offer up a myriad of options, with one sounding even more tempting than the next—and quirkily enough, not unlike a menu at your neighborhood pastry shop. Espresso, chocolate, toffee and caramel are not only ways to indulge in your sweet tooth; they’re a few of the many, albeit deliciously-monikered shades of brown that can give your classic base color a chicer and more exotic-looking twist. The process is also generally more forgiving on hair strands, since going darker sometimes doesn’t require a mega-damaging bleaching process.
For those still on the fence about coloring their hair (and have a darker base to begin with), trying out a new shade of brown hair is a quick and painless way to amp up your overall look and keep it on-trend.
Like a gateway drug to hair color, it’s easy to achieve, low-maintenance and perhaps most importantly, opens you up to a whole other dimension and beauty point of view.
And currently, with a plethora of techniques to play with—highights, balayage, demi-permanent browns, the über-popular #bronde—honing in on that perfect brunette shade has never been easier, more accessible or more fun.
Not all browns are created equal however, but all it takes is a check back at the palette Mother Nature gave you, as well as a bit of color wheel knowledge. Below, a fast and furious guide to the best brown hair for every skin tone:
The Definitive Guide to Brown Hair Color
Keywords to look for: light golden brown, butterscotch, toffee, honey
Perhaps the blondest of the spectrum, light golden brown to golden brown hair best flatters those with warm undertones and men and women with a tan. This particular light brown shade gives peachy fair-to-medium complexions a warm, youthful, sporty vibe—like you just spent an hour too long in St. Tropez and have the sun-streaks to prove it. It also is the most natural-looking version for blondes, especially via strategically placed highlights.
Cool Ash Brown
Keywords to look for: rich espresso, khaki, beige, neutral brown
The ash brown color range neutralizes the natural pinkish skin of those with cool undertones (read: if you burn instead of tan, welcome!). Anything with a hint of beige or gray enhances your natural, delicate glow and adds some lush dimension to your mane. Ash tones are also one of the best shades for balayage highlights. The effect is swanky, classy and a tad uptown—cooler browns wash out the fastest due to their blue and green tints, and the upkeep is slightly higher maintenance. Feeling risky? Go for a bronde (brown-blonde) or a subtle ombré, a.k.a. sombré, using ash brown and beige.
Care for your color: Pick up a lower-sulfate wash and care system that’s specifically made for colored hair. Dove Nutritive Solutions Color Care Shampoo and Dove Nutritive Solutions Color Care Conditioner gently cleanse strands and can help retain your new color’s vibrance for up to 8 weeks.
Keywords to look for: Deep auburn, mahogany brown, burgundy
The red base in mahogany and auburn shades offset the green in warmer, olive-skinned ladies, and those on the lightest side of the medium-toned set can even get away with some strawberry-ginger highlights and lowlights. Just like how reddish undereye circles are balanced out with green-tinted concealer, the red in the shades counteract a sallow complexion and give it depth.
Keywords to look for: chocolate, walnut, caramel
If you have a yellower undertone (some Asians and Latin Americans are under this bracket), a chocolate-to-dark golden ombré or a caramel balayage is particularly stunning. Favor the shades in the neutral to chocolate “true brown” family, as they complement brown, hazel and golden-flecked eyes the best too.
Care for your color: Products with essential oils can also nourish and help give back the shine and body your hair’s proteins might have lost. Bed Head by TIGI Colour Goddess Oil Infused Shampoo is infused with coconut oil, almond oil and keratin, and Bed Head by TIGI Colour Goddess Oil Infused Conditioner has shea butter and is developed to smoothen and deliver lipids on hair.
Keywords to look for: chestnut, espresso, dark ash brown
Deep skin colors with a cooler undertone retain that lit-from-within glow but without any yellowish tinge. Rich colors with a slightly cool sheen (hint: without red tones) enhance these complexions best. A rich espresso hue is the darkest shade of coffee brown but is also surprisingly neutral. These dark shades are gorgeous with a barely-there balayage and is best rocked with some smoothing serum, such as TRESemmé Keratin Smooth Keratin Infusing Serum, to seal in shine and eliminate frizz.
Dark Golden Brown
Keywords to look for: amber, raven brown, deep toffee
Yellower dark undertones, whether from mixed-race genes or just a glamorous Ibiza tan, can pull off a medium-to-dark shade of brown via some amber highlights around the face or a deep toffee wash. Darker burgundies, raven and ruby-browns are also muy caliente against your skin tone, especially when styled with a bouncy blowout or some voluminous waves.
Care for your color: A pre-poo treatment, such as Nexxus New York Salon Care Pre-Wash Primer, is a great switch-out for those with colored hair. Its formula helps shield hair in the shower and has both coconut and Argan oil for softness, vibrancy and shine.
What shade of brown hair are you excited to try?