Determining your natural hair undertone is an important step in choosing the right hair color for you. Your undertone refers to the subtle tones that come through your hair, creating an overall impression of warmth or coolness. While some people have an obvious warm or cool hair undertone, others have a more neutral undertone that falls somewhere in between. Here’s how to analyze your hair and identify your undertone.
What are warm and cool undertones?
Hair undertones come in two main categories:
- Warm undertones include hints of gold, red, or copper tones in the hair. If you have a warm undertone, your hair may sometimes look a little brassy or orangey when exposed to sunlight.
- Cool undertones include hints of blue, violet, or ash tones in the hair. If you have a cool undertone, your hair may look dull or mousy in some lighting.
People with warm undertones tend to have warm complexions with yellow, peach or golden tones in their skin. People with cool undertones usually have pinker or more olive skin tones. But your skin tone isn’t always a perfect indicator of your hair undertone.
Neutral hair undertones
Many people have hair that falls somewhere in between warm and cool tones. This is considered a neutral hair undertone. Neutral hair tends to look shiny and healthy regardless of lighting conditions. Unlike warm or cool tones, neutral hair doesn’t have obvious red, gold or ash tones running through it.
How to determine your hair undertone
Here are some ways to analyze your natural hair color and determine whether you have warm, cool or neutral undertones:
Examine your hair in natural lighting
Find a room with plenty of natural sunlight. Stand facing the window so the light shines directly on your hair. Look for subtle tones of gold, red or ash running through your strands. Cool undertones may be more visible around your hairline, while warm tones often concentrate on the mid-lengths and ends.
Drape a white towel around your shoulders
A white towel creates contrast against your hair, making it easier to spot undertones. The white background tends to accentuate your hair’s natural tones. With the towel as a backdrop, check the areas around your face and neckline for any warm or cool tones popping through.
Examine the roots up close
Your roots offer the best look at your natural undertone since they haven’t been lightened or processed. Pull your hair back and use a magnified makeup mirror to inspect your roots up close. Warm-toned hair will have visible gold, red or copper tones at the root, while cool-toned hair will look more ash or slate colored.
Think back to your childhood hair color
Your natural childhood hair color often offers clues about your underlying tone. If you were blonde as a kid, but your hair darkened over puberty, you likely have a cooler base. If your hair was strawberry blonde or had a reddish tint as a child, you probably have warmer undertones.
How to test for neutral hair
If you don’t see any obvious warm or cool tones in your virgin hair, there’s a good chance you have a neutral undertone. Here are some ways to confirm whether your hair is neutral:
- Your hair appears shiny and healthy in all lighting conditions, without looking overly brassy or dull.
- Your hair color remains consistent from the roots to the ends without noticeable shifts in tone.
- Your natural hair color balances elements of both warm and cool tones.
- You look equally good in both warm and cool hair colors.
Analyzing your skin tone
As mentioned earlier, your skin tone isn’t always an exact match for your hair undertone. But comparing your skin and hair can provide helpful clues. Here’s an overview:
|Likely Hair Undertone
|Fair/pale skin with pink or ruddy tones
|Fair skin with yellow or peachy tones
|Medium or olive skin with golden tones
|Medium or olive skin with neutral tones
As you can see, people with fair skin often have hair that matches their skin undertones. However, those with more medium or olive skin have a wider range of possible hair tones.
Trying hair color tests
Another way to confirm your undertone is to experiment with temporary hair color in both cool and warm shades. Here’s how to test them:
- Test warm tones. Apply a temporary bronzing glaze or semi-permanent gloss with warm reddish tones. If your hair looks vibrant and bright, you likely have a warm base.
- Test cool tones. Apply an ash-toned semi-permanent toner or blue-based color-wash. If it makes your hair look shiny and illuminated, you probably have a cool base.
- Test neutral tones. Apply a demi-permanent gloss in a beige blonde or medium brown shade. If your hair looks most natural and complimentary, you may have a neutral base.
By seeing how your hair reacts to different color conditions, you can draw conclusions about your underlying tone.
Consulting colorists and stylists
Salon colorists are experts at analyzing hair undertones and choosing flattering shades. Schedule a consultation and ask your colorist to assess your base. A professional can examine the tone of your roots and strands in different lighting to determine whether you have warm, cool or neutral undertones. They may also perform strand tests by applying color swatches in various tones to see which are most attractive against your base.
Common undertones by hair color
While all hair colors can have different undertones, there are some general tendencies among shades:
|Most Common Undertone
|Cool blue tones
|Warm golden tones
|Cool violet tones
|Warm copper tones
|Warm red tones
|Neutral brown tones
|Cool ash tones
However, don’t rely on your natural hair color alone to determine your undertone. Two people with chestnut brown hair may have very different undertones based on their individual hair makeup.
Why your undertone matters for hair color
Identifying your correct undertone is key for choosing flattering, natural-looking hair color. Here’s why it’s important:
- Avoid color mishaps – Warm tones can clash with cool ones, resulting in off-putting brassy or muddy shades. Knowing your undertone helps prevent this.
- Get your ideal shade – You’ll get best results from colors formulated for your undertone.
- Complement your complexion – Hair color that matches your skin tone is more harmonious.
- Simplify color maintenance – You won’t have to fight against your natural undertone.
- Go lighter or darker easily – Shades within your undertone palette transition more seamlessly.
Work with your natural hair undertone instead of against it for beautiful, long-lasting hair color results.
Tips for warm-toned hair
If you have warm undertones, here are some tips for choosing flattering hair colors:
- Look for shades with golden, coppery or reddish tones like caramel, ginger and auburn.
- Avoid ash and platinum shades which can over-accentuate brassiness.
- Boost your tone with warm chestnut or red-violet glazes.
- Protect color vibrancy with golden toners and Sulfate-free shampoos.
- Warm your complexion with peachy blush and bronze makeup tones.
Tips for cool-toned hair
If you have cool undertones, keep these tips in mind:
- Choose shades with ash, beige or neutral tones like butterscotch blonde or mushroom brown.
- Avoid golden shades that may turn brassy against your base.
- Use blue or violet-based toners to reduce brassiness.
- Rinse with blue shampoo to maintain vivid color.
- Choose rosy makeup shades to match your hair.
Tips for neutral-toned hair
For neutral hair, you have lots of versatility. But here are some ideas:
- Favor neutral shades like beige, espresso and chestnut.
- Dabble with both warm and cool shades – your hair can handle them.
- Use purple shampoo to maintain brightness.
- Boost shine with moisturizing masks and serums.
- Match your makeup to your desired hair hue.
How to transition colors
If you want to move from one undertone palette to another, it’s best to do it gradually. Sudden dramatic shifts in tone can damage hair. Here are some tips:
- Move slowly from blonde to brunette if your base is changing. Do it over multiple processes.
- Use demi-permanents first. They wash out gradually to allow a subtle transition.
- Ask your colorist to blend your current tone with your new one at first.
- Upgrade your conditioning routine to keep hair healthy.
- Adjust your makeup, clothing and accessories to match your new shade.
Determining your natural hair undertone takes some analysis and experimentation. Examine your hair in natural light, test temporary colors, and consult a colorist to identify whether you have warm, cool or neutral undertones. With this knowledge, you can confidently choose hair colors that work in harmony with your base for stunning results. Matching your makeup and clothing to your undertone also helps you create a beautiful, cohesive look.
Keep in mind that undertones can change over time due to sun exposure, mineral loss and other factors. It’s a good idea to re-analyze your base every year or two and adjust your color selections accordingly. When in doubt, do a strand test to see how new shades interact with your hair before committing to an all-over color. With the right understanding of your unique undertones, you can always select colors that enhance your natural beauty.