Are you a good candidate for ombre hair? Experts explain what it is, who it looks best on, and how to maintain the color for long-lasting results. 

By Deanna Pai
Updated May 30, 2017
Ada Summer/Getty Images

If there were a popularity contest for hair color techniques, ombré would win by a landslide. There’s a reason that ombré hair—which, by definition, is a gradation of hair color from dark on top to light at the ends—is such a fan-favorite among just about everyone. Not only does it look natural (as though you just spent a summer outdoors, where the sun could temporarily lighten your hair), but it’s also low-maintenance. Since the gradient only begins partly down the lengths of your hair, you don’t have to worry about maintaining your roots.

Still, you’re coloring your hair, which means you should be taking some precautions to keep your strands healthy and strong. Ombré is only relatively easy on hair and, if you want to lighten your hair more than a few shades, it requires the same sort of care and preparation as any other color treatment. Consider this your how-to for getting—and taking care of—ombré hair.

Ada Summer/Getty Images

It’s common knowledge that ombré hair is a natural look. “It’s inspired by nature, as hair gradually gets lighter at the ends from sun exposure,” says Matrix celebrity stylist George Papanikolas. Plus, as we mentioned, the maintenance is minimal (although not totally eliminated). It works best if you have longer hair or a haircut without a ton of layers, since you need the all-around length for color gradation. Still, it works no matter what your original hair color is, because there’s an ombré option for everyone.

Hair color is hair color regardless of its placement on your hair, so ombré hair merits the same sort of care reserved for any other treatment. Papanikolas recommends using a bond protecting system, like Matrix Bond Ultim8, which prevents hair’s chemical bonds from breaking during the color process—and ultimately keeps your hair stronger and soft to the touch. Afterwards, treat hair to a moisturizing hair treatment like R+Co Palm Springs Pre-Shampoo Treatment Mask ($29) once a week to maintain shine.

If you want a more dramatic ombré look, it could mean taking your hair from, say, dark brown to light blonde. In a situation like this, expect a wait time before you get the sunny end result. “When you’re starting from very dark hair, it can take more than one session to get the ends super light,” explains Papanikolas. “It's better to do it in stages over several months, so that you don't over-process your hair.” You’ll still get your color—and your hair will be healthier in the long run.

The most successful ombré looks so natural that people will think the sun—not your colorist—did all the work. Papanikolas broke down the most flattering gradients. For natural blondes, he recommends fading it to a light, baby blonde. It’s a subtle but striking change, and everyone will ask where you went on vacation.

Redheads can absolutely get in on ombré. And, even better, they have a few different options, since red hair comes in a variety of tones. If you have more coppery hair (think Julianne Moore), consider going golden blonde. If it’s on the red side, like Emma Stone, try a muted orange shade.

If you have dark hair, there’s a whole spectrum of shades between your hair and light blonde—meaning you have a wide range to choose from. Still, the most natural-looking colors have some warmth and richness to them. Brunettes with light brown hair should opt for honey blonde, says Papanikolas, while darker brunettes and black-haired women can graduate to warmer caramel.