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11 Best Ways to Be a Brunette or Redhead at 50 and Older

Who says blondes should have all the fun?

Blond isn't the only glam hair color. Brunettes and redheads have plenty of sizzle going for them, too. But here's the secret about age and hair color: Any color you choose to be at 50-plus — from auburn to chocolate brown — should not only delight the eye and cover grays but also give your locks a thicker, healthier look and freshen up your skin tone, too. Hair color is actually your biggest and best cosmetic — so take advantage of it! Here are 11 ways to go brunette or red.

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The chunky layers of tawny brown, toffee, caramel and gold highlights in this brown-blond streaky mix resemble the beautiful tones found in tortoiseshell jewelry. Any shade of brown hair and any skin tone can benefit from this statement color, but only an experienced colorist can create the right blend of colors and contrast for your hair texture and style. Be sure the colors blend well to avoid a striped look, and opt for this only if your hair has enough thickness or texture to show off the blend (fine hair has plenty of other options below).

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Classic medium brown

This neutral hair color has its own elegance and charm and is anything but “mousy.” In fact, lots of lifelong brunettes ease into this mid-tone range for a softer, face-framing color when sun damage, wrinkles and gray hair move in. Think of how flattering medium tones of soft brown eye shadow and neutral nude lip colors are, and you'll get the idea. And here's another bonus: Even a single-process medium brown color can add radiance without a major expense. It's not always about adding highlights.

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Espresso brunette

Some women have made dark brown hair their signature look and don't want to change a thing. But like any color cosmetic, hair color needs a tweak or two to stay contemporary and flattering. A discreet upgrade to a richer shade — such as espresso or chestnut brown — or the addition of tonal lights in the coffee, mocha, hazelnut range — or both — keeps the look but makes a difference. Hair and skin look immediately healthier and more luminous without being obvious. “You look great!” is the only thing you'll hear.

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Woodsy brown

The key to this multitone brown category is that is you can't quite put your finger on the actual shade. Depending on the highlights and lighting you're in, the color can look brond (a mix of brown and blond), “br-red” (a mix of brown and red) or even a mix of brown, red and blond. The burnished effect is similar to the glints found in wood floors and furniture like oak, mahogany, teak, walnut and cherry. More high maintenance than medium brown, woodsy browns look great on any skin tone. The only decision is which one to choose.

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Honey brown

This blondish shade is great for brunettes on the verge of going blond but not ready to commit. It's the lightest brown in the lineup, but many women select it and stay with it because blending in grays is so easy. The color itself can be simple or complex depending on your actual hair color and whether you opt for a single process or decide to layer in some highlights. Honey brown is also a good starting point for blondes returning to a brunette shade. It's going to be a gradual process, and this color lets you evaluate what you really want to do before going too dark.

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Spicy chocolate

Adding warmth to deep brown hair has never been easier or more fun. A pro can add a reddish toner or a few earthy red highlights — in the cinnamon, sienna, terra-cotta range — to perk up dark hair without ever veering into blond territory. The low-contrast streaks break up the solid dark color with just enough contrast to add some dimension, so hair looks thicker. Spicy chocolate is a now-you-see-it, now-you-don't effect that is a good tryout for any brunette considering a jump into auburn. One cautionary note: If brassy tones in brown hair drive you crazy, this is not for you!

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Cocoa ombre melt

An ombre melt is not just for blondes; in fact, it's most effective on long-haired brunettes. Starting with a dark root, the color gradually flows from deep to light, caramel to toffee and butterscotch at the tips. Ask for freehand painted-on balayage highlights for a seamless look. You have the option of going for an allover ombre or just the area around your face for the lowest maintenance. The latter can also brighten the complexion without the upkeep of allover highlights. Decide how much contrast you want from dark to light within the ombre itself. It's a low maintenance way to bump up long brown hair and give it a lush, thick look.

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Raven black

This super-dark brunette color is sometimes a toughie for women over 50, and here's why. Black hair can cast shadows on the face, which in turn may emphasize discolorations like under-eye circles, deep expression lines and wrinkles. It can also make thinning hair look even thinner (just like black pants!). However, if you are blessed with none of the above thanks to good genes and can ignore all these concerns (or are willing to wear makeup to compensate), then go for it! Jet black hair works best on those who have or had naturally dark hair. It's as dramatic and head-turning as bombshell blond on the right woman.

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Fiery ginger

Bright red hair color is on fire among women of all ages, thanks to the redheaded lead in The Queen's Gambit. It's not exactly a born-with-it shade at 50-plus, so let's call it super-enhanced red. Since naturally red hair darkens or fades with age (even if you were a carrot top as a child and teen), by now you certainly need a chemical boost. The color may appear solid, but a good red is a combo of cool and warm tones. It's high maintenance — since red fades more quickly than other salon-created hair colors, requiring DIY boosts with a color-depositing conditioner. Wannabes should try auburn (see next tip) before jumping in!

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For brunettes who are intrigued by ginger but wary of going too bright, this medium-to-deep hybrid combines brown with the warmth of red. Call it copper, terra-cotta or reddish brown, but for brunettes wanting to make a color change that is practically risk-free this is one of the best choices. Go slow and ask your colorist to add a hint of red before building intensity and vibrancy over several salon visits. Even a few auburn streaks can provide a gateway color to quickly rebooting brown hair that feels muddy, boring, faded or flat.

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Cranberry, burgundy and ruby red

These blue-red hair colors are fashion shades and clearly not meant to look natural. However, if you're not shy and have a super-trendy approach toward beauty and fashion, they're an alternative to other red shades. Know that cool reds in the berry and wine range truly look best on those with complexions that have a cool or olive undertone and are clear of sun damage and discolorations. If you have the gutsy attitude and wardrobe to match, one of these reds may be all you need to start over this spring.

Lois Joy Johnson is a beauty and style editor who focuses on women 50 and older. She was the beauty and style editor at Ladies’ Home Journal and a founding editor of More magazine. She has written three books: The Makeup Wakeup, The Wardrobe Wakeup and The Woman's Wakeup.

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