With summer on the horizon, and most everybody being “vaxxed and waxed” (or so say the cries of every New Yorker at their local watering hole on a Friday afternoon) there is absolutely no excuse not to experiment with a cute new hair color. Sure, you could go with a sunkissed blonde hue and tousled beach waves, but if you’d rather try out something new, there’s another faux-natural color route you can take: red, baby!
From Gigi Hadid sticking with the ginger-red strands that she debuted last spring, to a model going viral on TikTok for her own romantic red tresses, fiery strands are most definitely the trending hair color that’s on everybody’s mind — and head — this summer. But before you start dipping into your at-home hair dye kits or trying to frantically make an appointment at your go-to salon before the season officially kicks off, you should know what type of red you’re going for — and in order to create the most complementary red for you, you have to keep your skin tone in mind.
In need of some assistance? Look no further: below are a few celebrity hairstylist-approved tips, tricks, and style inspirations for manifesting your best red hair color yet.
Understanding Your Skin Tone & Undertones
Before dedicating yourself to a new Tobasco-red head of hair, keeping your skin tone in mind is key for creating a truly flattering look — and that includes your undertone. If you’re not familiar, your skin’s undertone refers to the natural colors underneath the surface of your skin, which is actually the main factor as to why some shades (red, blonde, and brunette all included) may look great on you while others fall flat.
Your undertone usually falls into one of three categories: cool, neutral, and warm. According to Aaron Bradford, colorist at NYC-based hair studio Cedric Salon, “cool” undertones have hints of blue, green, and violet in their skin, while “warm” tones appear red, orange, golden, or yellow. As for “neutral” hues, their undertones are usually a mix of warm and cool tones, which means this lucky bunch is able to find a wider variety of hair colors that flatter them.
Bradford says that one trick for determining your skin’s undertone is through the color of your veins. “Look at your wrist in bright indirect light: cool tones will show blue/purple, neutral tones will show blue/green, warm tones will show green/olive,” he says. “Warm tones of skin will visibly appear red, orange, or yellow (golden) while cool tones will have somewhat blue, green or violet tints. If you have a hard time discerning visibly, you are most likely neutral meaning you have a mixture.”
Another way to determine your undertone is through the “fabric” test, says celebrity colorist Jeremy Tardo. “An easy way to determine your skin’s undertones at home is to examine your complexion next to a stark white or jet black fabric,” he says. “Look into a mirror and hold the fabric up behind you or to the side of your face. Are your natural tones golden next to the fabric? Do you see reddish hues, pink, or even green? If you see none of these, your natural tone may be quite neutral in which case, you can wear almost any hair color well.”
The Basics For Finding The Right Shade Of Red
Now that undertones are out of the way, it’s time to talk about hair color. As a baseline, Trado recommends considering your features when choosing any new hair color, and the right red shade is heavily reliant on your actual skin tone.
When choosing a flattering shade of red for yourself, Bradford says that you shouldn’t assume that you should always choose a tonality that’s opposite of your undertone — sometimes it’s best to accentuate our natural pigments instead of contrasting them. But overall, Bradford’s rule of thumb is this: the fairer you are, the lighter a shade of red you should go with.
“The great thing about red is the versatility and shade range — you may be able to pull off multiple shades of reds and coppers especially if you have a neutral skin tone,” says Bradford. “For women with darker skin tones, I especially recommend rich reds, [which] will look especially stunning and draw the eye.”
For fairer skin tones, Trado suggests opting for a strawberry or copper hue. As for medium/tan tones, a poppy or terra cotta hue will do, and he also recommends that darker skin tones opt for rich auburn or ruby tones.
Red Hair Color For Cool Tones
Remember all of that chatter about undertones? Well, there was a reason for that: Your base skin tone is of course important to the equation, but your undertone is also something to be taken into consideration when looking for a new shade of red hair (or any new hair color, for that matter).
For cool tones, Kate Reid, KEVIN.MURPHY COLOR.ME Design Director, suggests experimenting with pinks, peach, gingers, auburn, cool coppers, deeper reds, or cinnamon shades.
Red Hair Color For Neutral Tones
Neutral undertones are especially lucky in this scenario. Since neutral undertones usually have a mix of warm and cool tones, they can virtually work with any red hair color thrown their way.
“Neutral skin tones are a little more flexible as you can wear almost anything,” says Reid. “Opt for richer red shades, violets or mahogany auburn, or even look to combining shades by adding in more natural red or flecks of warm toffee shades.”
Red Hair Color For Warm Tones
According to Reid, golden and olive undertones have more leeway to go a little more vibrant with their look. She suggests opting for “bolder” choices like coppers and bright reds, as long as you incorporate warm tones in your red hair color to make your skin tone radiate.
“Consider face-frames and utilizing techniques that help to make the total look pop,” says Reid. The money-piece color trend (which frames your face with highlights) is still going strong, and is a great way to test out this bold color without committing to a full head of red hair.
How To Care For Red Hair
When it comes to colored hair, the vibrancy and fresh look will unfortunately only last so long until you need to dye it again. Red hair is no exception: according to Bradford, red hair is actually more prone to fading than most colors.
“The red hair color molecule is larger than other color molecules which is why it fades and rinses out so quickly,” he says. “Since this molecule doesn’t enter the cortex (center) of the hair easily, we want to keep the cuticle (shell) as sealed and healthy as possible.”
Bradford says that there are three main keys to nourishing your hair’s cuticle: not shampooing often, not using hot/warm water when rinsing your hair, and not using hot tools often. “A good rule of thumb is the more vivid and vibrant the color, the quicker it will fade, so to avoid this try not washing your hair often — the most often being twice a week,” he says.
At some point you’re going to have to wash your hair, so when you do Bradford suggests grabbing color-protecting shampoos and conditioners so you won’t strip your strands of any precious color. When it comes to color-safe shower essentials, Bradford recommends Rene Furterer’s Okara Color Protection Shampoo and Conditioner, while Reid suggests opting for Kevin Murphy’s REPAIR-ME.WASH and RINSE duo. “It not only maintains color brilliance but it also helps to repair, renew strengthen and restore dry, damaged, frizzy over-processed hair,” she says.
If you’re headed to the salon to get your color, Tardo says that most salons usually have mix-in options to increase the longevity of your red hair. However, if you’re a DIY kind of person, you can easily craft your new red shade in the comfort of your own home with a trusty box dye. Tardo recommends using red shades from the Clairol Nice’N Easy collection, and touch-ups can be easily achieved with the Tressa Watercolors Shampoo, which will help redeposit red into your hair between coloring sessions.
And since you’ll probably be having some fun in the sun this summer, Bradford notes that sun exposure and salty oceans or chlorinated water can also cause your color to fade. For these situations, he recommends using the Rene Furterer Color Enhancing Spray to protect against sun exposure. “An easy tip to maintain color at the beach or pool is applying conditioner through your hair before entering the water, it will keep color from fading but also prevent salt/chlorine buildup in your hair,” he says.
Ready to try flaming hair for yourself? Be sure to stock up on a few of the experts’ go-to products for redheads.
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