The Pros Have Spoken: These Are the 9 Hair-Color Trends to Bookmark in 2021
From boxed hair dye to “banded” roots to the decidedly unintentional DIY “home-bré,” the world of hair color in 2020 quickly spiraled into unchartered territory as salon closures swept the country for the better part of the year. Now, with resolutions on the mind – and yet, still not a damn clue how the impending months will unfold – experts say the biggest color trends you’ll see in 2021 will lean one of two ways: either very low-key or kicked up 10 octaves.
“This has been an exhausting and emotional year for everyone; it has been hard to get into the salon and many people are steering toward a low-maintenance direction,” said celebrity hairstylist Bianca Hillier. “In the past, people were more dedicated to visiting the salon and committing to color that requires frequent upkeep for highlights and bases that demand frequent toners. Right now, with everything that has been going on in the world, color that’s extremely low-maintenance will be the vibe.”
The upside about this approach, she said, is that these easier-to-upkeep hues “tend to have more depth and muted dimension for movement.” The downside: it doesn’t scratch that itch for a big hair transformation that so many people are experiencing. “For those of us getting restless while stuck at home, we want to see a big change,” said Hillier. That’s where the next wave of trends comes in: of brighter blonds, streaks of copper, and bold single-process colors. Another idea? “Pastel colors are a fantastic way to completely change it up without a long-lasting burden.”
No matter which camp you fall under, there are countless hair color ideas to look forward to in 2021. Ahead, we’ve asked a handful of pros to break down each and every one (because haven’t we all done enough guessing this year?).
2021 Hair-Color Trend: Reverse Highlights
This is one you’ve probably seen 10 times over on TikTok, but reverse highlights – or glorified chunky highlights, as some people call them – aren’t going anywhere in 2021. “The reverse highlight has been making a grand appearance,” said Hillier. “This has been quite the trend, a mix between a superchunky lowlight and extremely thick highlight. For extreme contrast, this look has even been featuring the darkened bottom half of the hair from the ears down, not the tips.”
She added that “this is something from the ’90s,” so the key to bringing it from 1991 to 2021 is to take it down a notch, weaving in subtle hits of color that look chunky – but natural. If you’re digging that bolder contrast, opt for fewer strategic streaks smattered across the head; if you want something subtle, choose a hue closer to your base color.
2021 Hair-Color Trend: Buttery Blond
When you hear the word “butter,” maybe you think The Great British Bake Off (and you’re not wrong). But in 2021, it’s also forecasted to be a huge hair-color trend for blondes.
“Soft baby blond is always a mood – something that pops but can be mistaken for natural color,” said Hillier. “This is a great look for those who have a natural blond base – it’s harder to achieve this buttery, creamy type of color on anyone with a natural brunette base. With a natural light canvas to work off of, you are already cutting through several layers of underlying warmth that takes a brunette hours to accomplish. This color grows out nice and easily without much maintenance. You can get away with highlights once or twice a year.”
2021 Hair-Color Trend: Glossy Black
Turns out, glossy black is the new black – especially when it comes to hair color. “This sounds easier than it is since most people think of glossy black as one color, but there are actually multiple tones involved to get the right shine and movement without looking inky and solid,” said celebrity colorist and Matrix expert George Papanikolas. “Hair color comes in 10 levels and half of them are in the dark family, ranging from level one, black, to level five, medium brown. Glossy black incorporates all of these.”
Hillier agreed and added, “Jet black is a vibe, it’s a whole commitment. Cool-tone black gives off an eclectic feel helping any artist get into the groove. Be sure to specify with your colorist what tone you want the hair to shine in the light to nail it exactly.”
The easiest way to achieve this is, when coloring your dark roots, Papanikolas said, have your stylist give you a gloss with a sheer, acidic brunette toner. “Maintain this look at home with a green-based shampoo and hair mask to neutralize unwanted red tones in dark hair.”
2021 Hair-Color Trend: "Bronde" Foliage
This is the picture-perfect, easy-maintenance fall-to-winter hair color. “Bronde foliage is the perfect way to transition out of the dark times of 2020,” said Papanikolas. “You’ll get a gorgeous balance of color by pairing delicate babylights and framing the face and roots with a stronger balayage. This look has a universal appeal since it works for most hair colors within the range of dark black to dark blond. Due to the unpredictable nature that is coming in 2021, this look is great for those who want something low-maintenance and within a budget.”
2021 Hair-Color Trend: Rouge
Last year, after Lady Gaga‘s debut in A Star Is Born copper hair saw a huge spike in popularity across Hollywood. Now, it’s making a comeback – with a twist – and getting its inspiration from another onscreen hit, The Queen’s Gambit.
“This beautiful shade of red is in popular demand after making its appearance in The Queen’s Gambit,” said Karissa Schaudt, colorist at Maxine Salon in Chicago. “Anya Taylor-Joy is the actress who wears this 1960s style mixed with modern day-glam. This sleek and sophisticated color will transform old, outdated shades. It’s a true red, meaning it’s deeper than a copper red, but lighter than auburn. In most cases you’ll achieve this color in one appointment, but you’ll need to keep up on the maintenance with touch-ups every four to six weeks to avoid fading. I suggest keeping this as a single process, as adding highlights would decrease the intensity.”
2021 Hair-Color Trend: Rouge
If you want something slightly lighter, try a toned-down version of rouge that teeters into copper territory. “Copper-ginger is one of the most attention-grabbing colors out there – just look at model Carmen Solomons,” said Papanikolas. “You can’t not see her wild and curly copper hair, which shows that copper hair is not just for those who are fair skinned. This tone can be warmed up for golden skin tones or also cooled down to a more auburn copper.”
2021 Hair-Color Trend: Sand Tropez Blond
Close your eyes and envision yourself on a warm beach in the tropics. Now, take those sandy hues as inspiration for your next color. “Neither ash nor gold, this sandy color is a beautiful blend of both,” said Schaudt. “Mixing highlights and midlights creates this multidimensional shade of warm sand and cool beige tones that are perfect for someone who wants to keep a beach vibe year-round.”
2020 Hair-Color Trend: Fantasy Pastels
For the people out there itching for a major change in the new year (*slowly raises hand*), choosing what Hillier calls a “fantasy” hair color might be just what the doctor ordered. What does that look like, exactly? Purples, blues, pastels, and brights – the bolder, the better.
“Soft pastels will be reoccurring this year as people have been stuck at home bored and ready for a big change that is only temporary,” said Hillier. “Pastel hues can work on almost any blond and will only last for a few weeks if done professionally/properly. Keep in mind, when playing with fantasy color, the fade is rapid, and if you’re wanting a longer-lasting color, you should take it a couple shades darker than desired so it prolongs the inevitable.”
2020 Hair-Color Trend: Fantasy Pastels
One fantasy color that’s especially trendy: blue. “Any shade of blue is hard to accomplish if the hair isn’t previously lightened enough,” said Hillier. “When the hair is a bit too yellow, it will create a greener shade and a bad coloring fade. Ask your colorist to fill the hair for an underlying pigment. Pale skin looks great with blue.”
2021 Hair-Color Trend: Creamy Ribbon Highlights
The prettiest tweak on balayage: ribbon highlights. “This winter, darker bases with a more grown-out, creamy ribboning dimension will definitely be more popular,” said Hillier. “This will give the hair a feeling of depth and dimension but with muted pops of color. Whether these hand-painted highlights are on blond or brunette hair, this will give a low-maintenance, easy feel to them.”
If you’re looking for a bigger color punch, she suggested playing with the contrast between your base and highlight: “High contrast means a high lift and a bit of grit for the heavy, silky hair. This will trace where the layers fall and create even more movement and dimension. This look is low-maintenance on highlights, but will require toning in between sessions to insure proper fluidity with such a dark base.”
2021 Hair-Color Trend: Icy Blond
Another blond hair color trend is “alpine ice,” as Schaudt calls it. “This icy shade is achieved by using foilayage or balayage. It keeps minimal dimension at the base with full saturation of blond through the ends. A toner can help achieve this ash blond, along with frequent use of blue shampoo at home. Toning is important so there’s minimal damage by overlapping lightener.”
No matter which color you choose, Hillier recommended you keep it healthy in between appointments to ensure the least amount of damage. She suggeseds Olaplex treatments, which features a “patented formula which allows for the color molecules to latch inside the hair bonds for an antifade-like treatment.”