One piece of information that can be critical to the end result is the client’s skin tone. Simply put, certain hair colors will look better or worse on an individual depending on the unique undertones that are found in their skin, and a part of your job as a stylist is to educate your clients about this interaction.
Below, we take a look at the science behind the relationship between skin tone and hair color, examine some of the more common skin undertones that you’re likely to encounter, and provide some examples to guide you.
Color Theory: Hair Color and Skin Undertones
Often, someone comes in wanting a color that is certainly not right for their skin tone. This ultimately all boils down to color theory.
We also know that many times their hair won't even lift to or hold onto that tone of color because of the amount of pheomelanin and eumelanin in their hair. Hair naturally wants to return to the color of its natural melanin. That is why lifting out pigment is important. The more eumelanin in the hair, the darker it usually is. The more pheomelanin in the hair, the warmer or brighter it is.
The other reason this is important is that certain skin tones carry certain hair colors better. A cooler hair color generally doesn’t compliment an olive skin tone. You want to enhance the person’s natural colors. This means picking out the hue of the skin tone to pull out and compliment with a hair color.
The best color for someone can change throughout the seasons. In the summer, generally people have warmer features because of the sun and can wear colors that would not flatter them otherwise. So, it's important to look at skin tone each time you have an appointment with someone as the seasons change.
Another thing that helps with this is looking at eye color. Sometimes someone may have a cooler skin tone with a warm eye or warmer skin tone with a cooler eye. Hair can definitely enhance the eyes as well. Rules can be broken in these instances as either can be complimented in different ways.
Common Skin Undertones To Know
There are different warm tones in the skin that should be looked at separately. Some need to be calmed down and others enhanced.
For example, skin with pink undertones generally need to be calmed down with a cooler finish, but these are also people who can wear strawberry and red tones well. Golden or yellow tones do not work well with this skin tone as it’s two warmths fighting against each other.
Yellow tones in skin should be complemented with something that helps warm up their skin and not wash them out. Typically this means a darker, cooler warmth, such as chestnut since lighter shades tend to have too much yellow in them. Matching skin tone to hair is a big no no.
The more brown in the skin tone, the more amber or golden should be in the hair color. Picking up warmth from the eye is important as this tends to be the underlying pigments in the hair. When these tones are brought together, it’s a beautiful balanced finished look. Think of the colors of fall when working with this skin undertone. Warm and reflective is always the goal.
What hair colors work best for someone with warm undertones in their skin?
Being aware of what the warmth is will help decide what undertones are present.
Warm can be golden, yellow, pink, caramel, or even some neutrals. Pink skin tones often need to be calmed down by a cooler color, but when we think of natural redheads, this is generally the undertone in their skin. What is forgotten is that there is violet in pink, which makes pink sometimes a cooler tone and why it can carry red so well.
It’s easy to wash someone out that has a more yellow undertone, so choosing something to keep their skin warmer with a subtle finish is best.
Above: Keeping depth for this skin tone helps to balance everything out. Here we have a beautiful honey chestnut that brings so much brightness to her completion.
Above: Golden pink skin tones are best complemented with much warmer hair colors. The following is an example of using hair color to enhance both the eyes and skin color through warm copper and golden accents.
Above and Below: Richer skin tones are beautifully complimented with a color that picks up the warmth in the eyes. These tend to be honey, golden and mahogany tones. The warmer the eye color, the warmer the hair can be!
What hair colors work best for someone with cool undertones in their skin?
Cooler pink undertones can carry both strawberry, pearl and platinum finishes. You can see below how eye color also can play a role in this pretty strongly.
It’s also important to take note of how makeup can totally change someone’s glow. In consultation, always include questions about how someone wears their makeup as well.
Above: Green eyes are beautifully brightened with copper tones. Here we see a gorgeous strawberry blonde accentuating both skin tone and eyes.
Above: This platinum works so well on someone with bright blue eyes and cooler pink undertone.
What hair colors work best for someone with neutral undertones in their skin?
With neutral skin tones, it's best to really look at the client’s eye color. They can technically go for any hair color, but to actually enhance the final look and make their eyes pop is the goal.
Above: The iciness of her eyes goes beautifully with the cooler tones in her hair. She also has bits of warmth in her hair which help to compliment the warmer parts of her skin and not completely wash her out.
Above: The sandy beige family also works well on people with more neutral skin tones. It has a slight warmth, but nothing shockingly clashing. It’s a very balanced color.
Tips for Stylists Working With Skin Undertones
Head back to the color wheel! This is one of the many reasons why understanding the color wheel is so important. Each color has a complimentary tone and that helps so much when formulating for skin tone and eye color.
Always remember that skin tone is really more than just the skin. Eyes, lips, eyebrow color, makeup and summer tans all play a huge role in how someone’s look should be balanced. It’s not impossible to wear any hair color, but there are certain tones that should be balanced together.
Educating yourself on how to actually formulate tones instead of just glosses that minimize raw lift tones is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Anyone can put a gloss on, but are you formulating to the actual tone?
Make sure to understand how your color line works and what the letters or numbers actually mean. Swatches help, but those are placed on clear hair and are not super accurate.
Color theory will be your best friend in all of these situations. It may be scary to even attempt to learn if you are really unsure, but each step or class you take will help grow this part of your career tremendously. Lots of stylists get caught in everything technical and forget that the actual formulation makes or breaks your entire final result. Don’t be afraid to jump in!
It’s Both a Science and an Art
Color theory is and will always be both a science and an artform. By understanding why and how different colors and undertones work together, you can learn the rules that you need to know to give your clients the stunning results that they’re after. Better yet, you’ll also know when you can break the rules, which can lead to some truly surprising, yet remarkable, looks.
Have you been struggling with your confidence when it comes to formulation? Building confidence in this area is the key to becoming a better stylist, empowering you to deliver the results that your clients are looking for. Sign up for the Salt Lab course with Christine, where you'll learn the fundamentals of color theory and real, tactical skills that will allow you to formulate with the confidence that you need! You can also sign up for our free Successful Smudging Masterclass by clicking the button below.