A few decades ago, saying a woman dyed her hair was equivalent to calling her a painted hussy. Today, changing your hair colour is as acceptable as changing lipsticks.
Modern products are brilliant both for colour and condition and a far cry from the dead peroxide blonde, garish red or matt flat black that used to be our only options. The right hair colour can flatter your skin tone, make your eyes sparkle and your whole face come alive.

Unfortunately, satisfaction is not guaranteed and, unlike your new lipstick, you can’t just wipe off the colour and start again. A good number of the women we know who colour their hair have had some sort of disappointment or disaster. We asked Britain’s leading colour expert Jo Hansford to give us the lowdown on getting results, both at home and in the salon, to lift looks and spirit.


  • Your hair is the frame around your face, so the tone is really important. Sit yourself in front of a good mirror in a good clear light, with no make-up. Really study yourself and say, ‘I’m going to be totally truthful.’ Take your hair, hold it against your face and analyse what colour skin you have: is it pale; do you have high colour with broken veins; is it basically pink or are there yellow or sallow tones; do you have olive skin? What colour are your eyes and how does your hair look with them? How dark are your brows? (Remember you can lighten or darken them as well.) Finally, ask yourself, ‘Does the colour I have now actually suit me?’
  • If the answer is yes, forget all about hair colour. If the answer is no, or if you are bored with your existing colour, go on to the next stage.
  • Now consider what hair colour would enhance your skin tone. Don’t forget to bear in mind the texture of your hair as well. Is it thin and fine or thick and coarse? Thin hair is usually better with an overall colour, which will need to be retouched every four weeks on average; thick hair suits highlights or lowlights, which don’t need so much attention.
  • Colour is flexible but, generally, very short straight or straightish hair doesn’t suit highlights because they look almost leopard-like; lights are perfect, however, on short wavy or curly hair. All-over colour looks good on practically any style.
  • Now is the time to go on to seek some objective advice about changing the colour. Even if you don’t end up having your colour done by a professional, it is worth consulting several for advice.
  • When choosing a colourist, go for an expert who specialises in colour, not a hairdresser and permer who also colours.
  • Interview several (most will give you a free five-minute consultation, but aim to book in at a time they’re not rushed off their feet); mull over their ideas carefully before deciding.
  • Take along pictures of colours and effects you have in mind; descriptions are notoriously imprecise – what’s red to you may be deep auburn to a colourist.
  • Be honest with the colourist about what you’ve done to your hair previously, e.g. colour, perm, successes, failures.
  • Check how much maintenance their recommendations will need, how much time it will take, and how much it will cost.
  • Also check what happens if you don’t like the new colour. Will the salon tone it down or change it after you have had a few days to get used to your new self? How much will the charge be?
  • Ask to try on wigs and hairpieces, if available. They may not be the right fit or style, but you can see the general effect.
  • Before you leave the consultation, look around at the staff: if you like their hair colours, chances are you’ll like what happens to you; if not, wave them goodbye.


Half the population is grey by about 50, when the production of melanin (the pigment that gives hair its natural colour) stops. Some women look wonderful with grey hair but, if you feel less happy, you can successfully enhance, blend, disguise or cover your grey hair at home.

Up to 20 per cent grey Hide the first grey hairs with a vegetable or semi-permanent colour in the same shade as your natural hair. The result will last for six to eight shampoos, gradually washing out.

Up to 50 per cent grey Cover with a longer-lasting semi-permanent which stays for 12 to 20 shampoos.

Up to 100 per cent grey Replace colour completely with a permanent chemical dye (remember roots will need retouching about every four weeks), which will last two to three months.


Pink skin Choose neutral tones: ash blonde, ash brown or dark brown. Red, blue/red or yellow blonde are usually a total disaster.

Pale white, ivory, creamy The perfect skin for any hair colour. You can choose whatever you like – red, dark, pale – as your skin has no pink in it. Look at Linda Evangelista; she can be ash blonde one day and auburn the next because her skin and her eyes go with anything. Notice she also changes lip and eye colours to complement her hair.

Yellow/sallow Go for dark rich tones with blue notes, such as burgundy or deep auburn, to counteract the sallowness in your skin.

Olive Stay dark – olive skin with dark hair is one of the most perfect combinations. To give interest, you could add a few rich lowlights in any of the red shades from burgundy to chestnut.


Traditionally, dark-haired women like to lighten their hair – but it sometimes happens the other way around. Hollywood actress Winona Ryder is actually bottle brunette. ‘My hair colouring isn’t just blonde, it’s virtually white,’ she reveals. ‘I’ve got dark brown eyes and very pale skin so I look seriously weird unless I dye my hair and my eyebrows black. I also feel much more like a dark-haired person than a blonde. People expect you to be bubbly if you are blonde. I’m quite serious, so I feel this is my natural colour.’












































If your natural hair colour isSo you want to go:


BlackDon’t even try itGlossy black, blue blackDon’t try it

Dark to light brownStreaks: mid golden sunny or strawberry blondeBlack, dark chocolate auburn, dark honeyAuburn to fiery copper

Dark to light blondeWarm shades: honey, copper, wheat, apricot, pale blondeMilky brown, copper, honey, dark chestnutWarmer shades: chestnut to apricot

Blonde to greyPale icy blonde or darker warm coloursPale ash brown, copper brown, beige, milk chocolateDon’t try it

RedHighlights: pale or bleachedChestnut, auburn, dark brownLeave it alone or add blonde