Here’s How to Get Beautiful, Natural-Looking Highlights

Learn how you can predict what will be the best hair color based on your skin tone and eye color.
By Jill Schuck Taylor for

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We’re deep in the throes of a '90s-revival moment in fashion, what with the abundance of overalls, crop tops and minimalist slip dresses all over the streets and runways. But please, trend-makers of the world, do not allow that decade’s awful highlights to make a comeback.

You know the ones we mean: They were chunky, stripey and just so wrong. Instead, let these expert tips guide you toward highlights that brighten and flatter while remaining totally realistic.

1. First Consider Skintone
Much like choosing the jewelry that best complements your complexion, adding the right highlights is all about differentiating between warm and cool undertones.

You're cool if...icy silver and platinum brighten your face. Go for beige, white or cool gold highlight tones.

You're warm is more your jam. Go for shades of warm gold, honey and caramel accents in your hair.

But since this isn’t exactly a matter of life and death, Moran Gallagher, master colorist and educator at Mizu Salon in NYC, says there are exceptions to that rule. “If your complexion is fair with pinkish undertones, you can go with a copper-hued highlight,” she says. “Ombre shading is also a good way to introduce warmer tones to your hair if your skin is cool. Because they’re placed further down, not right next to the face, they won’t fight with your skintone.”

2. Then Assess Your Base Shade
Whether you’re working with your real hair color or have already altered your base tone (lighter or darker), Adrian Wallace, a colorist at NYC’s Rita Hazan Salon, says it’s best to only go about two shades lighter with highlights to create dimension in a natural-looking way.

If you have auburn hair, he likes copper touches.

For brunettes, try chestnut or caramel accents.

Blondes, in general it's best to go with warm, buttery highlights à la Cameron Diaz and Gwyneth because they look the most natural. Icy cool beige tones, like January Jones has, are a very specific look most people can't pull off.

3. Next Look at Your Eye Color
Still not sure what's best? Here’s a surprising and totally effective way to choose appropriate highlight shades: Look into a mirror in bright, natural light and really examine your irises. Notice all those little flecks and marbleized colors? “Your natural highlights will reveal themselves in your eyes. Nature has already played its hand here,” says Keith Bocklet, senior colorist and educator at Butterfly Studio Salon in NYC.

Article written by Jill Schuck Taylor