What Are the Different Shades of Tan?


Any shade of light brown can be labeled tan. The variations are almost endless since every hue can be broken down into lighter and darker degrees. The best way to consider shades of tan is in situations when we must chose between various shades. For instance, the shades of tan available in hair dyes will not be the same as the shades of tan available in paint colors.

Base Colors

  • Tan is made up of white and each of the three primary colors -- red, blue and yellow -- albeit not in equal proportions. Different hues of tan are achieved by altering the balance of these base colors. Extra blue creates grayish tans, such as taupe and dun. Additional yellow creates golden tans, such as camel, tawny and khaki. More red produces shades like ginger, amber and copper, while extra white results in beige, buff and cream.

Paint Colors

  • Color palettes of paint, whether in physical samples or on the websites of paint manufacturers and retailers, provide an easy comparison between a vast range of tan shades. The hues are grouped according to which base color they lean toward. A single manufacturer may produce hundreds of shades that fall under the broad definition of tan, so the names are creative as well as subjective. There is no set definition of colors like caramel latte or wild mushroom. Only a sample can give an accurate depiction of what that shade means to that manufacturer.

Tanning Lotions

  • Another area in which shades of tan are significant is in self-tanning lotions. While various manufactures may label the shades in different ways, most self-tanning lotions are available in three shades from lightest to darkest, all of which lean toward the orange end of the spectrum, highlighting the red and yellow aspects of tan.

Hair Dyes

  • Shades of hair dye are categorized as either a warm, cool or neutral color. Cool tans will contain slightly more blue tones. Warm tans will have more yellow and perhaps more red as well. Neutral colors contain a balance between the base colors. Most brands of hair dye state on the package whether the shade is warm, cool or neutral. Even though the sample hair colors provided or the pictures on the box may not present an accurate depiction of the how the color will respond to your hair, you can usually achieve a satisfactory result if you choose a shade based on whether your skin tone would be best complemented by warm, cool or neutral.

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