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Is auburn darker than dark brown?


Auburn and dark brown are both shades of brown hair color that can sometimes be confused with one another. Auburn hair is characterized by reddish undertones, while true dark brown hair lacks those warm undertones. This key difference means that auburn is generally considered a lighter shade than dark brown. However, color perception is complex and subjective, so there is some overlap between how the two shades are defined.

Defining Auburn Hair Color

Auburn hair is a reddish-brown hair color featuring strong golden, copper, and red tones. It ranges from light reddish brown to rich burgundy. The amount of red pigment distinguishes auburn from traditional brown hair. True auburn hair has a distinct reddish cast and fiery glow.

Some key facts about auburn hair:

  • Part of the brown hair color spectrum
  • Contains pheomelanin, a red pigment, in addition to eumelanin (brown pigment)
  • More red pigment than traditional brunette shades like chocolate or dark brown
  • Subtle or dramatic reddish tones depending on depth of color
  • Wide color variation from strawberry blonde to deep auburn

While auburn is genetically a variation of brown hair, the strong presence of red pigment means it is chemically more similar to red shades. The higher pheomelanin content gives auburn its distinctive red-orange glow, which contrasts with neutral dark brown hair.

Defining Dark Brown Hair Color

Dark brown hair contains large amounts of eumelanin but minimal pheomelanin pigment. This makes it a neutral, cool-toned shade without overt red, orange, or golden undertones. While natural dark brown hair can have subtle warm undertones, it lacks the distinctive red/orange cast of auburn.

Some key facts about dark brown hair:

  • Very dark brunette shade
  • Minimal red/orange pheomelanin pigment
  • Mainly contains eumelanin, which creates cooler dark shades
  • No vivid red, copper, burgundy, or golden tones
  • Neutral, sometimes ashy undertones
  • Color ranges from milk chocolate to espresso brown

Dark brown hair sits at the darkest end of the natural brown hair color spectrum. The very low levels of pheomelanin mean it lacks the fiery glow of auburn. While subtle warm undertones can be present, the overall effect is a cool, neutral brunette shade.

Comparing Lightness and Darkness

When considering whether auburn is darker or lighter than dark brown, the main factors are:

  • Pigment content – Auburn has more red pigment, while dark brown has more brown pigment
  • Warmth – Auburn is warmer and brighter due to the red/orange tones, while dark brown is cooler-toned
  • Depth of color – How rich or deep the shades are due to pigment saturation

Although there is variation within each shade, when comparing typical examples of auburn and dark brown hair:

  • Auburn is lighter, warmer, and brighter due to the higher red pigment levels
  • Dark brown is darker, cooler, and more neutral due to higher eumelanin

This makes dark brown generally a deeper shade than auburn hair. However, a very rich auburn with lots of pigment could potentially be darker than a lighter milk chocolate brown. Depth of color depends on genetics, hair care, and styling techniques.

Here is a table comparing typical levels of lightness for auburn and dark brown hair:

Hair Color Lightness Level
Auburn 5-7
Dark brown 3-5

Impact of Red Tones on Lightness

The red, orange, gold, and copper tones in auburn hair impact how light or dark it appears. These warm pigments interact with light differently than the neutral brown eumelanin in dark hair.

Some ways red undertones affect lightness:

  • Reflect more light, creating a luminous glow
  • Cause hair to absorb less light overall
  • Boost warmth, brightness, and visibility of color
  • Give hair a lighter, softer look compared to neutral shades
  • Allow darker auburn to maintain vibrancy rather than looking flat

Even when auburn is significantly darkened, the red hues maintain luminosity. This keeps it from reaching the same cool, flat darkness as non-red brown hair when colored to the same depth. The warmth provides a highlighting effect.

Conversely, the lack of red in dark brown hair allows it to absorb more light. This gives it a darker, moodier look compared to auburn of equivalent depth. The cooler, neutral tones don’t brighten or lighten the way red pigment does.

Subjectivity in Color Perception

With color being both complex and subjective, people may perceive the lightness of auburn and dark brown differently. Factors like environment, eye health, genetics, culture, and individual experiences can all impact how we see color. This makes objective comparisons difficult.

Some examples of how perception varies:

  • Color blindness affecting ability to distinguish red hues
  • Cultural associations impacting light vs dark categorization
  • Personal preferences influencing flattering vs dull judgments
  • Lighting conditions altering subtle tone visibility
  • Device screens unable to fully replicate true hair color

With so many variables, two people can look at the same shades of auburn and dark brown and come to different conclusions about which appears lighter or darker. This subjectivity means “lighter” and “darker” are not always clear-cut.

Auburn and Dark Brown in Real Life

When comparing real-world examples of auburn and dark brown hair, the redness of auburn usually creates a visibly lighter effect. However, there are exceptions. Here are some factors that influence the depth and tone of real auburn and dark brown hair:

Auburn Hair

  • More vibrant and lighter near the roots where concentration of red pigment is highest
  • Tends to gradually darken towards ends as red fades over time
  • Can be rich and saturated or diluted and soft depending on genetics
  • Usually maintains some brightness thanks to the red tones

Dark Brown Hair

  • Usually darkest near the roots due to minimal sun exposure lightening the ends
  • Lack of red pigment allows hair to reach a deep, almost black shade
  • Color is most neutral at the roots then gains subtle warmth towards the ends
  • Muted and flat in appearance compared to auburn of equivalent depth

With exposure to sun and styling, all hair tends to lighten and warm over time. But the red pigment in auburn provides extra resistance to darkening. Even faded, auburn usually retains some underlying brightness compared to non-red brunette shades.


While there are always exceptions, when comparing typical examples of the two shades, dark brown hair is generally darker than auburn hair. The significant red, orange, and gold tones in auburn act like natural highlights, creating a lighter, warmer, more luminous look. Dark brown lacks those lively red undertones, allowing it to absorb more light and appear darker and cooler in tone. However, perception of color is highly subjective, so there is not always a universal consensus on lightness and darkness. Despite the general trend, with the diversity of real-world hair color, some shades of rich auburn may appear darker than some shades of lighter brown.