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Will overtone work on brown hair?

Will overtone work on brown hair?

Overtones are semi-permanent hair color products that can add a sheer tint of color over your natural hair shade. They are formulated to deposit color without lifting or lightening your natural pigment. Overtones can work on brown hair, but the results will be subtle. The effect may not be as vibrant or noticeable as on lighter shades of blonde or gray hair. Here is an overview of how overtones work on brown hair and tips for getting the best results.

How do overtone colors show up on brown hair?

Brown hair contains a higher concentration of natural pigment than lighter shades. Most brown shades fall within levels 4-5 on the hair color spectrum. The natural melanin in the hair creates a barrier that resists the uptake of new color. This is why bleach is required to deposit vivid permanent dyes.

Overtones contain direct dyes that stain the outside of the hair cuticle. They do not penetrate into the cortex to alter your natural pigment. On darker shades, overtones create a sheer wash of color. The results are typically subtle, adding a hint of radiance or tone rather than a bold change.

For example, pastel overtone shades like pink or purple will register as subtle hues on brown hair. Rather than turning hair fully pink or purple, it will create a multi-dimensional effect. The overtone shade overlays the natural color to create an eye-catching shift in certain lighting.

This effect works best on light to medium brown shades. On darker levels, cool overtones may only be faintly visible in direct sunlight. Warm shades like peach and gold deposit a little more vibrancy on brunette hair. But in most cases, the color effects will be lower in saturation compared to results on platinum or gray hair.

Getting the best results with overtones on brown hair

Here are some tips for making overtones show up as much as possible on brown hair:

– Start with light brown or medium brown shades rather than dark brown hair. The darker your natural shade, the more dilution and muddying of overtone colors. Light to medium brunette shades offer the best chance for tonal effects.

– Use warm overtone colors like copper, rose gold, peach, and warm pink shades. These deposit more noticeably than cool purple, blue, or emerald shades on brown hair. Warm overtones interact nicely with the underlying warmth in brunette hair.

– Apply overtones to pre-lightened hair or balayage highlights. Lightening sections of the hair first provides lighter underlying canvas for the overtones to build on. Pre-lightening to about level 7 or 8 brown creates more pop.

– Use clarifying or chelating shampoos before application. Removing mineral buildup and increasing porosity on the cuticles helps with uptake and adhesion of overtone color molecules.

– Apply overtones to freshly washed and dried hair. For best results, avoid using conditioner which can create a barrier.

– Section hair cleanly and use sufficient product amount to saturate strands fully.

– Leave the product on for the maximum processing time recommended. Usually 30+ minutes for deeper penetration and staining.

– Use heat from a blowdryer or hooded dryer during development. The gentle heat helps the cuticles open to receive more overtone pigment.

– Repeat application 1-2 weeks later if the initial results seem too subtle. Building up layers of overtone color produces more vibrancy.

– Use a color-depositing or toning conditioner or gloss between full overtone treatments. This helps refresh and maintain the color results.

– Avoid chlorine and salt water which can cause overtone colors to fade more rapidly. Use protective swim caps.

Best overtone color choices for brown hair

Here are some top overtone shades that tend to work well on varying levels of natural brown hair:

For light brown hair:

– Peach
– Warm rose gold
– Golden peach
– Creamy beige blonde
– Warm pink
– Violet gray
– Lavender gray

For medium brown hair:

– Warm copper
– Auburn
– Red violet
– Mauve
– Rose gold
– Peach

For dark brown hair:

– Warm copper
– Gold
– Red
– Auburn
– Mahogany

Avoid shades like pure gray, silver, blue, green, and cool-toned pinks on darker brown hair. Stick with warmer shades that complement and interact nicely with the natural underlying pigment.

It’s best to choose overtones no more than 2-3 shades lighter than your natural hair color. Drastically lighter shades won’t deposit enough tint to register visually. Going a touch lighter helps create dimension while still harmonizing with your overall hair color.

How long do overtones last on brown hair?

Overtones are not permanent hair color. On brown hair, the results from a single application last anywhere from 4-12 shampoos, fading progressively over time.

Lighter brown shades with less natural pigment hold onto the tones a little longer. For darker hair, plan on the color becoming subtler and washing out completely within 1-2 weeks.

Proper maintenance techniques can extend the life of overtones on brown hair. Using sulfate-free shampoo, washing in cool water, limiting wash frequency, and using bond-building conditioners all help lock in the color.

However, refreshing with repeated applications is necessary about every 2-4 weeks to maintain vibrant results. The good news is overtones can be reapplied directly without needing to pre-lighten the hair again.

Should you pre-lighten brown hair before using overtones?

Pre-lightening is not mandatory, but it can help boost the intensity and longevity of overtone results on brown hair. Lightening just a few shades to a medium golden brown first provides a lighter base for colors to build on.

If your primary goal is a bold or dramatic color change, pre-lightening is advisable. This gives the overtones more to grab onto for opaque, saturated vibrancy.

For a soft, wearable hint of color that harmonizes with brown hair, pre-lightening is optional. You can always start by trying overtones directly on your natural shade first. If the results seem too subtle for your liking, you can choose to lighten it a bit before the next application.

Either way, overtones alone will not drastically alter or damage brown hair. Pre-lightening carries more risks of dryness and damage. It also requires more commitment to continual root touch-ups. Skipping pre-lightening can be a more fuss-free, temporary way to test out a new color vibe.

How to use overtones to tone or correct color on brown hair

Overtones can also be used as toning glosses to cancel out brassiness and correct issues on color-treated brown hair.

For example:

– Ashy or green-tinted overtones counteract brassiness and warm tones by neutralizing yellow/orange undertones.

– Mauve or violet overtones cancel out yellow tones and provide an anti-brassy toner effect.

– Using complementary tones, like red or copper overtones on brown hair with too much green or ash undertone, neutralizes and balances the color.

– Warm peach or beige overtones soften or warm up hair that has become too cool-toned and icy.

The key is to use an overtone hue that is opposite on the color wheel to the undertone you want to counteract. This helps restore vibrancy, dimension, and a flattering color balance to brown hair.

Should you use overtones on color-treated hair?

Overtones are safe to use on color-treated and highlighted hair. They will not interfere with or compromise professional permanent color.

However, the results will be affected by how light or dark your artificial color is. For example, overtones on hair colored a medium brunette brown will give similar results as natural medium brown hair.

If you get balayage highlights, applying overtones just to the lighter sections creates a fun, customizable result. The overtones essentially act as a refresher gloss and toning treatment to enhance the dimensional effect of the highlights.

One exception is overtones likely won’t show up as desired on hair freshly colored with an ash or platinum toner. These deposit blue and violet pigments that dilute the overtone shade. Waiting until the toner fades after a few weeks provides the best canvas.

Overall, overtones offer a simple way to have fun with color in between permanent coloring services. They can provide a temporary color change without the damage of bleach and permanent dye. Plus overtones nicely enhance and customize professional highlighting work.


While overtones create more subtle results on brunette shades, they can still add pretty multi-dimensional effects to brown hair. Choosing lighter brown base shades and warm overtone colors while following proper application techniques leads to your best chance of vibrant results.

Going for a soft wash of color rather than bold saturation is the most realistic outcome on unlightened brown hair. Pre-lightening a few shades first provides a lighter base for more opaque overtone color. Either way, embrace the chance to experiment with fun colors free of long-term commitment!

Overtones offer a damage-free way to temporarily customize your brown locks. While the results won’t be as bold as on platinum hair, embrace the chance to add subtle pop and dimension. With the right overtone shades and techniques, you can craft beautiful, wearable brunette color blended with pretty peach, pink, lavender, or copper hues peeking through.