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Should I color my hair darker or lighter?


Whether to dye your hair darker or lighter is a common hair color dilemma. Many factors come into play when deciding which direction to take your hair color, including your natural hair color and complexion, lifestyle, maintenance requirements, and personal preference. Here’s an in-depth look at the pros, cons, and things to consider when deciding between going darker versus lighter with your hair color.

What is Your Natural Hair Color?

Your natural hair color is an important starting point when considering a hair color change. Here are some quick tips based on natural hair color:

If You Have Dark Brown or Black Hair

Going lighter: This will require bleaching and can damage hair, but allows you to achieve blonde, caramel, auburn, or red shades. Regular toning and conditioning is needed to keep lighter colors looking fresh.

Going darker: This is an easy change that doesn’t require bleaching. Deep browns, espresso, black, and blue-black tones will all look natural.

If You Have Medium Brown Hair

Going lighter: Light brown, bronde, and blonde shades can be achieved with gentle lightening. Avoid over-lifting to prevent brassiness.

Going darker: Rich chocolate browns, auburn, and black cherry shades can be done without bleaching. This adds depth and drama easily.

If You Have Light Brown or Blonde Hair

Going lighter: Subtle highlights or a warm golden blonde tone can brighten without much damage. Avoid over-processing.

Going darker: Dark blonde, brown, and reddish shades create contrast and are low-maintenance. Too dark could look unnatural.

If You Have Red Hair

Going lighter: Lift just 1-2 shades to avoid brassiness. Keep a hint of warmth for a flattering look.

Going darker: Deep auburn, burgundy, and violet-red hues complement fair and pale complexions.

How Does Your Complexion Factor In?

Your skin tone and complexion should also help guide your decision between going lighter versus darker. Here are some recommendations:

If You Have a Fair or Pale Complexion

Going lighter: Pale blonde and platinum can suit very fair skin beautifully. Avoid shades that are too icy.

Going darker: Go for black cherry, deep wine, or chocolate browns. Stay away from black, which is too harsh.

If You Have a Light or Medium Complexion

Going lighter: Buttery blondes, beiges, and light golden browns will give a radiant effect. Avoid washing you out.

Going darker: Caramel browns, auburn, and chestnut shades will contrast nicely without being too dark.

If You Have an Olive, Tan, or Darker Complexion

Going lighter: Honey and buttery blonde will give you a beautiful glow. Avoid shades that look brassy.

Going darker: Rich espresso, black, plum, and vibrant red tones will make your features pop.

Your Maintenance Level and Lifestyle

Factor in your lifestyle and maintenance level when deciding to go lighter or darker. Here’s what to consider:

If You Want Lower Maintenance

Going lighter requires more upkeep. Root touch-ups are needed as regrowth comes in. Hair can become brassy quickly.

Going darker is lower maintenance. Root regrowth is less obvious and color lasts longer before fading or needing a refresh.

If You Lead an Active Lifestyle

Going lighter means sun exposure and activities like swimming, sweat, and hats can quickly alter your bright hair color.

Going darker holds up better against sun, sweat, and wear and tear. The color lasts longer.

If You Have Sensitive Scalp or Damaged Hair

Going lighter involves bleaching which can irritate the scalp and cause further damage.

Going darker can be done without lightener in most cases, causing less scalp sensitivity and damage.

If You Want to Invest Time and Money

Going lighter is pricier (bleaching is required) and needs more frequent salon visits to maintain roots and tone brassiness.

Going darker is more budget-friendly. It grows out gradually and lasts longer between color appointments. At-home glossing keeps color fresh.

Your Ideal Hair Color Levels

Here is a quick reference guide to hair color levels and how they affect your light versus dark decision:

Hair color level chart

If You Want to Go 2 Levels Lighter

Bleaching is required. Use Olaplex to prevent damage. Tone frequently to counteract brassiness.

If You Want to Go 2-3 Levels Darker

No lightener is needed. Warm tones like chocolate, chestnut, and burgundy suit this well.

If You Want to Go 4+ Levels Lighter/Darker

Have several consultations with a colorist. Such drastic changes risk major damage and an unnatural look. Go gradually.

How Much Color Contrast Do You Prefer?

The level of contrast between your hair and complexion impacts whether you should go lighter or darker:

If You Prefer Lower Contrast

Going lighter is harmonious and blends with fair skin smoothly.

Going darker minimizes contrast for olive/dark complexions for a subtle look.

If You Prefer Higher Contrast

Going lighter makes dark complexions really pop. But avoid washing out paler skin.

Going darker creates drama against fair skin but can overwhelm olive/dark complexions.

If Unsure, Stay Within 3 Levels of Your Natural Color

1-3 levels lighter or darker typically works well on most people. Small shifts create flattery without going overboard.

Potential Damage and Safety Considerations

Here are some risks and precautions to consider:

Going Lighter Going Darker
Can cause dryness, breakage, and irritation without proper hair prep and toner Minimal risks; does not require bleaching
To prevent orange tones, lift hair no more than 2 levels at a time Patch test any permanent dye to check for skin sensitivities
Requires diligent conditioning and treatment to repair any damage No need for extra conditioning; can actually improve texture

Some Key Safety Tips:

– Do allergy patch test for any chemical services
– Use bonding treatments like Olaplex when bleaching
– Avoid lifting more than 2-3 levels in one session
– Space out coloring services by 4-6 weeks for healthy hair
– Use heat protectant spray when styling and limit heat tool use
– Get regular trims to prevent splitting at lightened ends

Your Personal Preference

While considering all the factors above, don’t forget to focus on what you feel most confident and excited about trying.

If You’ve Always Wanted to Go Blonder

Consult with a colorist on the healthiest technique. Thin highlights or balayage can create a sun-kissed look. Take good care of bleached tresses.

If You Love Deep, Dramatic Hair Colors

Go as dark as you want! Reds, browns, black, and purple-black are all stunning options that require minimal maintenance. Enjoy the effect.

If You’re Unsure, Focus on Enhancing Your Natural Color

Boost your natural base with some subtle highlights or lowlights around your face for dimmension. Or simply add gloss and shine with a clear semi-permanent glaze.


Deciding whether to go darker or lighter with your hair color depends on many factors. Consider your complexion, natural hair color, lifestyle needs, maintenance requirements, and personal preference. While going lighter creates drama, going darker is lower maintenance. Focus on enhancing the tone you have, and consult a colorist if making a drastic change. With the right considerations and techniques, you can achieve a gorgeous hair color that looks naturally flattering.