We’re spoiled for choice nowadays when it comes to changing our hair colour style. We can have it any shade we want, from a box or at a salon, and gone are the days when certain people couldn’t get away with blonde locks or becoming a red head because there are literally hundreds of shades and tones to choose from.
That doesn’t mean that you should go all in on a brand new hair colour without doing a little bit of due diligence. The important thing, according to hair stylist Paul Edmonds, is that you colour your hair according to the natural base rule.
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Paul has styled the likes of Julie Walters, Christina Hendricks and Sam Smith and he was the colourist behind Margot Robbie’s red hairdo for her role as Queen Elizabeth I in Mary Queen of Scots.
According to Paul Edmonds and his team at his Knightsbridge salon, the hair colour that suits you the most is determined by your natural base hair colour and eye colour. The general rule of thumb is:
Beyond that, standard hair colours levels are then defined on a scale of 1 to 10. If you’ve ever bought a box of hair dye – and you can read more about how to find the best hair dye in our Best Buys guide – you’ll be familiar with the numbers that appear on the packaging. The first number tells you what natural base level the hair dye is.
Platinum-blonde tends to be referred to as level 11 and higher.
The second number refers to the tone.
Hair tone, like skin tone, is divided into three main categories –warm, cool or neutral. Typically, if you have warm skin undertones, it’s best to opt for cool hair tones, and vice versa. If you have neutral skin tones, you can get away with having warm or cool hair tones. If you’re unsure what your skin tone is, check out our How to find your perfect foundation match article.
On a hair dye box, the tone number comes after the decimal point and each tone is given a number from .1 to .9. These range from neutral tones up to blue.
On a box, such as Garnier’s Light Chocolate Brown hair dye, the number is shown as 6.35.
The 6 refers to the fact it’s a brown on the natural hair base level scale, the 3 represents the major tone, which is Gold/golden, and the 5 represents the minor tone, which is mahogany. This means that the hair colour will particularly suit people with warm skin tones whose hair is already dark brown to medium blonde. The mahogany minor tone also suits cool skin, so this hair colour may also be good for neutral tones which sit somewhere in between.
By determining your base hair level, and then the tone, you can find the best hair dye to suit you.
It also comes down to colour theory. On the colour wheel – as you can read in our colour theory makeup guide – colours which sit opposite each other are what’s known as complementary colours. Red and green are complementary colours, for instance, as are orange and blue.
When two complementary colours are placed side-by-side they create contrast and accentuate your features. This is the reason why Charlotte Tilbury recently released her Eye Colour Magic palettes, each one aimed at enhancing our different eye colours. The Copper Charge palette, which is full of warm orange hues, bring out the blue in blue eyes. Meanwhile, the Mesmerising Maroon palette is perfect for green eyes.
Alternatively, when two complementary colours are mixed, they cancel each other out or at least help to neutralise the strength of the other. When it comes to hair, the latter is particularly important. As you can read in our What is hair toner? guide, putting purple shampoo on blonde hair helps reduce the yellow tones. While blue hair toning products work better for brunettes, as the blue balances the orange tones in the hair.
For those looking to make an extreme colour change, the impact will be stronger if the natural base and eye colour don’t follow this rule.
For example, people with blue eyes going for a hair dye with a dark natural base. Put simply, the further you move away from your natural hair colour, the more dramatic the results, but also the more work that goes into moving you from one base to another.
If you want a more natural look, but one that still makes a strong impact, Paul Edmonds recommends you expose the natural base at the root and around the face.
Changing your eyebrow colour also helps. For low-maintenance hair colour changes, it’s advised that you stick within two levels of your natural hair colour.
They key point is, don’t expect a miracle; changing your hair colour is going to take time and things like colour removal, hair being pre-pigmented and colour application means it can be a long-winded process, if you want to get it right.
Your hairdresser, when they open again, will most likely want to carry out a strand and elasticity test. This is to determine how suitable your hair is for an extreme colour alteration; if the strand of hair breaks with little to no stretching when wet, your hair is not getting enough moisture.
Home hair care treatments are not to be underestimated either: the best hair masks, specifically designed for coloured hair, work wonders.
Our favourite hair colour changing app online is the Redken Virtual Hair Colour Try On (see screenshot below). It seems to present the widest number of options, and make the transition look more natural than some we’ve tried.
If you’re still struggling to know which hair colour suits you, try a hair colour change app. Available as apps for phones, or via your browser on a computer, you can upload photos and test out a variety of colour options to see which is best.
In terms of apps, L’Oreal and Garnier both produce AR-powered hair colour change apps. The L’Oreal StyleMyHair app gives you the option to apply colour changes to your photos or see what the colours look like superimposed onto your live image.
The Garnier Color Match app does the latter, but doesn’t work with existing selfies, but the app does come with a questionnaire to help you find your perfect shade – from the Garnier product range, of course – and you can then see what that particular shade looks like on a live image.
Amira Arasteh is a freelance journalist and content creator. Find her making sense of beauty trends, tips and topics – when she’s not stuffing her face with the best food in London or travelling the globe