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Sure, they both say "brown" on the box, but the addition of the terms "ash" or "golden" make these two shades worlds apart. Generally speaking, hair colors come in two main varieties: cool and warm shades. Cool shades are those hair colors devoid of gold or red; they tend to have violet or blue hues to them. Warm is golden, red or copper-toned hair colors. When choosing a brown hair color, you're going to want to know exactly what an ash or gold color will do for your hair, as well as which one is best suited to your skin tone.
Ash is a term used to indicate that a hair color is a cool color. That means this brown hair color isn't going to surprise you with underlying tones of gold, copper or red. Instead it's going to be more of a flat, smokey brown. The undertones of an ash brown will be a blue-based or green-based color. Don't panic; that's not to say your hair is going to end up looking blue or green (as long as you colored your hair correctly). Instead, it means the blue and green undertones in that ash brown hair dye are going to counteract any golds or reds that may exist in your hair's natural undertones, so they don't show through in the end result. OK, remember where it said "as long as you do it right."? A word of caution here. Never put an ash brown hair color over a blond hair color when going darker. Why? Because this is the instance when you darn well will end up with blue or green hair.
Golden brown is that hair color you see most often resembling a soft, caramel color. As the name suggests, this is a brown hair dye which encourages the undertones of gold to come shining through. Unlike ash brown, golden brown is a warm hair color where the underlying pigment (gold) will be noticeable. Golden-toned brown hair dye is not generally used to counteract ash tones in hair colors, unless you're undertaking some serious color correction gone wrong. In general, most people will choose this color if they want that typical, warm and shiny-looking brunette shade.
Use Ash Brown If...
If you're going to use an ash hair color, best to make sure you have the skin tone for it. The hair color you choose must compliment you skin tone, or you're going to end up looking like the undead. You should use an ash brown hair color if your skin has the underlying tones of blue or pink. The quickest way to tell if you're a "cool" girl is to stand in natural sunlight and look at the color of the veins on the inside of your arm. If they look blue, you're a cool cat.
Use Golden Brown If...
Golden brown hair dye is meant for those with warm skin tones. To determine if your a warm woman, do the vein-color test in the sunlight and look for a green hue. If it's there, you're warm. The warmth of the gold will compliment the natural gold or yellow tones in your skin. By contrast, dying your hair an ash brown--especially if you have any ruddiness (redness) in your face--would only accentuate these tones making your skin look sallow or redder. Not pretty!