Skip to main content

The Best Highlights for Your Hair and Skin Tone

Instead of picking a color on a whim, work with what nature gave you.

Art Credit:

There's something about the turn of a new season that inspires the need for a new look. Adding a little color to your hair can perk up your complexion for the sunny days ahead. While it's tempting to want to scour Pinterest or the drugstore aisle and choose a color on a whim, we encourage you to embrace your natural hair color but simply step it up a notch. Knowing your natural skin tone and your natural-born hair color can make a world of difference and empower you to choose the highlights and color treatments that help you look your best.

We turned to professional image consultant and color specialist Megan Cost of The Sunnyside of 26 salon in NYC for expert advice when it comes to trendy highlights and colors that will work well for your skin tone.

First: Determine Your Skin Tone  

There is a lot of debate and confusing rhetoric in the beauty world regarding skin tone, and it can be understandably difficult to figure out what your tone is. If none of the descriptions below seem quite like you, we recommend having a consultation with a skin tone specialist or making a trip to Sephora to try out its iQ system to get a better idea of what skin tone you have.

Skin tone comes down to some really interesting science. There are three main chemicals that determine everyone's shade: hemoglobin, which is red; melanin, which can be either blue-brown or red-yellow; and carotene, which is yellow-orange. Your DNA determines how these chemicals are combined to create your unique skin tone. The amount of melanin determines whether you are cool or warm, while hemoglobin and carotene will determine your variation within cool or warm, such as whether you are Dark Cool or Light Cool, or Dark Warm or Light Warm.

  • Cool skin: blue undertone, blue-brown melanin is dominant

  • Warm skin: yellow undertone, orange-brown melanin is dominant

The same chemicals determine hair color as well, so looking at your natural hair color may help to indicate what type of skin tone you have. Using indicators such as natural hair color and eye color or even holding fabrics of different hues against your skin to see which complement or clash against your undertone can all give you clues on your skin tone as well.



1. IMDB / 2. IMDB / 3. via / 4. What The Chung? / 5. via Polyvore / 6. via Styles Weekly

Characteristics of Dark Cool Skin:

  • Clear white (think snow white), olive, or even sallow skin.

  • Does not tend to have natural rosy cheeks.

  • Natural hair color is black or dark/medium/light brown with no auburn or red tones at the root.

  • Looks best in stark black and white and jewel tones such as royal blue, deep purple, fuchsia, bright blue-red or emerald green.

The Best Highlights for You:

“There are a few options when it comes to this beautiful cool skin tone. If you'd like to go for an allover lighter look, and if you are starting with your natural hair color, soft, ash-toned (meaning no orange or red undertones) highlights will work wonders. Plus, the cool ash-toned highlights will look fresh for longer than an allover color.

If you have darker hair or are working with pre-colored hair, you can opt to lighten your base one to three levels higher with a very cool, ash-toned dye. Then, you can do slightly brighter, ash-tonedhighlights over the lightened base.”



1. IMDB / 2. via Tumblr / 3. via Pinterest

Characteristics of Light Cool Skin:

  • Fair or light olive skin that tends to tan rather than burn.

  • May have naturally rosy cheeks.

  • Natural hair color is light blonde to dark or dirty blonde with no visible orange tones at the root.

  • Looks best in cool tones like blue-red but with a lighter value such as pastel blue, lavender, mauve, light gray, off-white, and soft green.

The Best Highlights for You:

“Natural ash as a base color is very on trend. I prefer to balayage (a French technique in which the color is applied freestyle by hand) beachy highlights on people with this base and skin tone. It makes for a more natural grow-out process and allows for a low-maintenance, less heavy look. Remember to ask for silvery, ash-blonde highlights with absolutely no orange or red tones.”



1. IMDB / 2. via CinemaBlend / 3. Madison Reed / 4. via Pinterest

Characteristics of Dark Warm Skin:

  • Creamy white, fair skin with or without freckles.

  • Skin tends to burn easily in the sun.

  • Cheeks are typically without much color.

  • Natural hair color is auburn, copper, carrot-top red, or brown with red undertones from the root.

  • Looks best in warm colors such as orange-red, peach, gold, forest green, olive, teal, and brown.

The Best Highlights for You:

“Highlights are great to add shine and richness on this warm skin tone and hair combination, which includes deep reds and auburns. A semipermanent glaze to deepen the natural tone of the hair will give it a gorgeous reflective quality. It's also beautiful to add rich caramel highlights throughout the hair under the crown and hairline. They will provide a pop of color and movement in the hair. It really helps give the hair dimension.”



1. via Pinterest / 2. via / 3. via Pinterest / 4. Colored Hair

Characteristics of Light Warm Skin:

  • Creamy ivory, peachy pink with or without freckles.

  • May blush and have rosy cheeks easily.

  • Natural hair color is strawberry blonde or golden blonde with an orange tone from the root.

  • Eyebrows and eyelashes are very light blonde or orangey in color.

  • Looks best in orange-red, bright peach, coral, bright purple, blue, light teal, soft yellow, and creamy ivory.

The Best Highlights for You:

“With this combination of warm fair or peachy skin and strawberry blonde or natural orange hair, it's great to use the natural warm base color. Adding any cool tones will wash out your skin. Instead, opt for bright and neutral golden highlights throughout, whether in thin, subtle strands or larger pieces in the balayage style.”

Special thanks to Annie Lang, professional image consultant and founder of Leaders Now International, as well as Megan Cost of The Sunnyside of 26.