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Choosing a Shade of Brown Hair Color

Maffew is a hairdresser, marketer, and dabbler in many things who enjoys sharing knowledge about the science of hair coloring and hair care.


Your hair is a defining feature and one of the first things other people notice about you when you introduce yourself. As such, it makes sense to choose a color that not only matches your style but accentuates your natural features.

Choosing the right shade of brown hair color will boost your confidence and help you stand out from the crowd for any occasion.

The Different Shades of Brown Hair Color

Brown hair colors are every bit as diverse as blondes and reds. Just like blonde hair can range from ash through to bright strawberry blondes, there are shades of brown hair color representing all sides of the tonal scale.

The main shades you will encounter include:

  • Ash brown
  • Natural brown
  • Golden brown
  • Caramel
  • Red browns
  • Mahogany
  • Burgundy
Dying your hair brown can truly bring out your eyes.

Dying your hair brown can truly bring out your eyes.

Reading Dye Codes

When you choose a shade of hair dye, the codes used by manufacturers are able to tell you a lot about the shade:

  • The first number is the level (how dark a color is), and it is generally universal across all hair dye brands. A 1.1 in Indola hair dyes is a blue-black shade, whereas an 8.1 is a light ash blonde.
  • The second number is the primary tone. This varies by manufacturer. For most brands, the number 1 signifies ash, whilst some will use a different number entirely, or a letter. A hair dye with the code 9.3 is a very light golden blonde when using Indola dye, but the same shade in Igora Royal is a 9.5. The best tool here is a color chart for the brand you want to use so that you know exactly what shade you're getting.
  • The last number is only present in dyes with a secondary tone. If you're using Indola's 9.13, it's a very light ash blonde with some gold tone to soften the ash, otherwise known as a beige shade. The secondary tone gives the color extra dimension.

All this means that you have control over the depth and the exact appearance of tones present with all the possible variations available, and you can even mix shades within the same brand to further customize them to the exact look you want.

Chestnut light brown hair

Chestnut light brown hair

Ash Brown

Ash brown is the coolest-toned shade of brown hair color. These dyes have a heavy green base pigment to give the hair a color that is almost grayish in appearance and tone out excess warmth. The color tends to look boring and dull on the majority of people and is best used to neutralize harsh copper or red tones in hair that has just been lightened from black to brown.

Even though ash brown doesn't suit most people, there are exceptions. If you have a light complexion, pinkish skin, and blue eyes, you will be able to wear the color without looking drab. Anyone with a warm skin tone and eyes should avoid the shade entirely because the cold and warm contrast between your hair and skin will have you looking like an eyesore.

Natural brown hair

Natural brown hair

Natural Brown

Natural shades are a neutral tone where coolness and warmth is fairly balanced. With that said, they are still frequently on the cool side, so if you have warmer features, you won't look your best with a natural shade of brown hair color. These shades suit those with cool features best.

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If you do want to get away with a natural shade yet have warm features, the best idea is to use a golden natural shade. This is a natural shade that is on the warmer side and will suit your features better due to the added gold tone. Think of it as a halfway point between natural and gold. You will be able to dye your hair this color and look good even if you have warmer skin.

It is not just natural shades that can be blended either. If you find you can almost pull off a color, a blended shade might tip the scale and give you a color that matches your features more accurately yet still appears true to your desired shade.

For those with cooler skin wanting to wear golden browns, be on the lookout for natural gold shades. If golden shades bring out your eyes best but you wanted something redder, compromise by choosing a gold-copper shade.

Matching Brown Hair Colors

Hair colorSkin type

Ash brown


Natural brown


Golden brown






Fashion reds






Warm Browns

Warm brown hair colors range from golden brown to red-brown. These shades are built on gold, copper, and red tones to create an abundance of warmth that readily complements people with a warm skin tone and hazel or brown eyes.

When matching warm brown hair colors to your features, it is your eyes that will decide the best shade. A warm skin tone matches any warm shade of brown, but a golden brown will really accentuate hazel eyes and make them appear more vibrant. The idea here is that similar tones enhance each other, and the gold tones in your hair help bring out the gold tones in hazel eyes.

In this same sense, chocolate and caramel browns contain copper tones that will enhance brown eyes by bringing out the copper tones present within. Red browns are an exception because depending on how vibrant the red shade is, you may be able to pull it off even if you have cool skin and green eyes. Nothing makes green eyes stand out more than red hair, just don't go too extreme or the contrast will be overbearing.

Should you wish to dye your hair a bright shade of red-brown, you also need to be aware that the level of maintenance is much higher than other brown hair colors. Cherry red and deep scarlet toned brown hair colors will fade rapidly, turning into lackluster shades of auburn. The best way to counter this fading is with color refresher shampoo or temporary rinses. These can be used between dyes to keep vibrant red hair looking its best.

Burgundy hair

Burgundy hair

Mahogany and Burgundy Hair

Mahogany and burgundy are fashion shades and a little different from the rest of the brown hair colors you'll encounter. These shades are combinations of cool and warm that lead to a very vibrant and striking result. Mahogany is a combination of red and violet that sits closer to the red side of the fence, whilst burgundy tends to be more violet.

The violet tones of these colors mean that even though a mahogany shade of brown is mostly red, it can often suit someone regardless of whether they have warm or cool-toned features. The easiest way to avoid making a mistake is to choose mahogany shades that are less red if you have cool skin, or less violet if you have warm skin. Burgundy shades lie further into the cool tone category and will look best on those with a cool skin tone and green or blue eyes.

If you apply a mahogany or burgundy dye that turns out too red or too violet for your skin tone, it's easy to correct that by applying a more complimentary tone. You can do this with a semi-permanent color, temporary rinse, or color refresher shampoo. If the color looks too warm for your features, add soft violet tones to cool it down. Vice versa, if it's too cool, you can add red tones to heat it up a little.

As with other fashion shades, mahogany and burgundy hair require a higher level of maintenance to continue looking good and prevent color fading. You will need to use color refresher shampoo or semi-permanent dye to keep your hair vibrant. If you prefer brown hair colors that don't carry an intensive toning regime, it may be better to give that tube of burgundy hair dye a miss and swap it for a more natural shade instead.

  • How to Dye Blonde Hair Brown
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  • How to Dye Black Hair Bbrown
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  • How to Dye Your Hair
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  • Caring for Dyed Hair
    Dyed hair needs specialized care to keep it looking and feeling its best. Find out how to care for dyed hair and maintain your new color.

Brown Hair Dye Brands

The brand you choose when you dye your hair is paramount to your success, and the best brown hair colors are achieved through the use of quality dyes. To ensure that your color turns out great, every time you dye it, use salon dyes. These dyes are leagues ahead of the inferior box dyes you find in supermarkets and pharmacies.

There is no real secret to applying a salon dye. The only difference is that the color has to be mixed with developer in a tinting bowl instead of in a bottle, although technically you could use an applicator bottle if you really wanted. The quality of these dyes is much higher, the colors are more vibrant, and they won't fade rapidly as box dyes do.

If you want salon results, you need to use salon dyes. Brands like Igora, De Lorenzo, and Matrix will give you shades of brown hair color that really turn heads your way as well as a range of bright, modern styles.

Do you have a question about brown hair colors? Struggling to choose a color that will suit your features? Leave a comment for tailored advice and share your insight with other readers.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2014 Maffew James


Maffew James (author) on August 15, 2020:

Hi Elizabeth,

You can use semi-permanent ash blonde dye, eg a mousse, to tone it as needed and keep it from starting to look warm.

This kind of dye doesn't damage hair at all and the right shade will only affect your lighter highlights without changing the tone of your brown hair at all, making it probably the easiest method. Alternatively, use blonde shampoo to keep it toned, but given that your highlights turn orange rather than yellow, it sounds like they're a dark blonde and you'd need a shampoo with a lot of pigment to tone that effectively, eg De Lorenzo silver would work. If you can look at shampoos, check for a really dark, intense purple to blue-ish colour before you buy any shampoo to make sure it's going to be strong enough to tone it. If you find a shampoo like this you can just replace whatever other shampoo you're using and it will be enough to keep the highlights from turning overly warm.

Elizabeth Willett on August 15, 2020:

I Want brown hair with blonde high lights but not bleach. Every time my hair dresser dyes my hair it always has a red orangie tone to it I hate it. Have expressed this. At first it looks great then as time goes by it fades to this horriable orangie brassish color. Normally in the first week. What can I do about this?

Alisa on July 01, 2020:

My hair is Darker than medium brown but not black I have gray mostly underneath and roots are showing gray again. Can I mix medium ash brown & light brown to make sure it’s not to dark

Bri on June 23, 2020:

Hey ! So i had faded red hair then i stripped it twice and been using blue shampoo for 2 weeks now my hair is almost brown but still a little brassy in the sun...if i put a light golden brown over this what will happen

Anita on June 23, 2020:

I have honey brown hair I want to go a light brown a bit darker! What do I do

Lilly on May 24, 2020:

I have very pale pink skin with blue eyes and my natural ash brown shade looks awful on me! I always wondered why I only looked good as a blonde. Then I realized that it was the golden tones that looked good on me. Now I'm rocking light golden brown hair and it looks just as good as blonde did. The color rules don't always work.

Dee on May 03, 2020:

Should I use protein colors number 5.4 and 5.0 together

Jennifer Sons on April 07, 2020:

If I put brown hair color over Auburn will it turn it ashy

Laci on March 04, 2020:

What are the best three shades of hair color would best extenuate a person with hazel green eyes and freckles?

Laci on March 04, 2020:

What are the best three shades of hair color would best extenuate a person with hazel green eyes and freckles?

Jodie on February 23, 2020:

Is light/medium Ash brown the same as cool brown "anti-brass" hair color?

Anne on February 05, 2020:

My hair looks has a green hue to it, what color would you recommend to get rid of it?

Debi k on February 01, 2020:

Does light brown have a blue base to the color n will applying it over my orangish hair take away the brassiness?

Sharon on January 27, 2020:

I have brown eyes, a warm skin color and dark brown hair now. Want to know what is the best brand of over the counter dye to use? Thinking I would like a warm brown color that will look natural and turn heads with maybe a little lighter highlights.

Maffew James (author) on December 16, 2019:

Hi Annie,

It doesn't have to be a protein filler, though that's an option. You can use a permanent or demi-permanent red dye if you want. The protein filler is best for porous hair to make it dye more evenly, and yes you apply it, process, and then leave it in while applying the dark brown dye.

Using a lighter shade is up to you. For porous hair, use medium brown instead of dark brown to avoid it looking more black. Otherwise you're fine to just use dark brown. If it does turn out too dark, which is pretty common going from lightened hair back to dark, it'll fade with washing so that's not something to worry too much about.