Brown hair is the second most common human hair color, after black hair. It varies from light brown to almost black hair. It is characterized by higher levels of the dark pigment eumelanin and lower levels of the pale pigment pheomelanin. Its strands are thicker than those of fair hair but not as much as those of red hair. People with brown or black hair are often referred to as brunette, which in French is the feminine form of brunet, which is the diminutive of brun (brown, brown-haired or dark-haired).
Brown hair is common among populations in Western world, especially among those from Central Europe, Southern Europe, United States and also some populations in Greater Middle East where it transitions smoothly into black hair. Brown hair is common among Australian Aborigines and Melanesians.
Etymology and grammar
Brunette literally means "little brown-haired girl" or "young brown-haired woman", but, in modern English usage, it has lost the diminutive meaning and usually refers to any brown or black-haired girl or woman, or the associated hair color. Merriam-Webster defines "brunet" as "a person having brown or black hair"—with which they may have "a relatively dark complexion—spelled brunet when used of a boy or man and usually brunette when used of a girl or woman". Although brunet is the masculine version of the popular diminutive form used to describe a little boy or young man with brown hair, the use of brunet is uncommon in English. One is more likely to say of a man or boy, "He has brown hair" or "He is brown-haired", than to say, "He is a brunette" (or brunet). The term brunette is the feminine form of the French word brunet which is a diminutive form of brun meaning "brown/brown-haired", the feminine of which is brune. All of these terms ultimately derive from the Proto-Indo-European root *bhrūn- "brown, grey". The form "brun" (pronounced /ˈbruːn/) is still commonly used in Scotland, particularly in rural areas.
Lighter or darker shades of brown hair may be referred to as "light brunette" or "dark brunette", though in such cases one is generally referring only to the hair color, not using the term as a metaphor for the person; one would be unlikely to say, "She is a light brunette." Rather, one would say, "She has light brown hair."
Brown-haired individuals are present in all of Europe. In northern and part of Central Europe medium to light brown shades are the most common, while darker shades prevail in the rest of the continent, such as the Iberian Peninsula, where it transitions into black hair. Brown hair, mostly medium to light brown shades, are also dominant in Australia, Canada and the United States among descendants of the Northern, Central and Eastern European (British, German, Scandinavian, Polish, and Russian) immigrants.
Similarly to blond hair, brown hair occurs commonly among Australian Aborigine and Melanesian populations.
Brown hair is also predominant in Latin America, mostly dark brown hair among mestizos, mulattoes and immigrants from some regions of Southern Europe and the Middle East, while medium and light brown hair are more common in countries of strong central, northern and insular Iberian, central and northern Italian, Sardinian, Balkan Slav and other European ancestries more to the north. This is specially true about Uruguayans, Argentinians, Chileans, Brazilians and Costa Ricans, as well minorities of mostly European descent in countries such as Paraguay, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Cuba.
The pigment eumelanin gives brown hair its distinctive color. Brown hair has more eumelanin than blond hair but also has much less than black. There are two different types of eumelanin, which are distinguished from each other by their pattern of polymer bonds. The two types are black eumelanin and brown eumelanin. Black eumelanin is the darkest; brown eumelanin is much lighter than black. Black eumelanin is predominant in non-Europeans, while brown eumelanin is mostly present in Europeans, and is rarely found in people of other ethnicities. A small amount of black eumelanin in the absence of other pigments causes grey hair. A small amount of brown eumelanin in the absence of other pigments causes yellow (blond) color hair. Often, natural blond or red hair will darken to a brown color over time. Brown-haired people have medium-thick strands of hair.
Brown-haired people are thought to produce more skin-protecting eumelanin and are associated with having a more even skin tone. The range of skin colors associated with brown hair is vast, ranging from the palest of skin tones to an olive complexion. Brunettes can have dark or light eyes.
Varieties of brown hair
Brown hair comes in a wide variety of shades from the very darkest of brown (almost black) to light brown showing small signs of blondism. Shades of brown hair include:
- deepest brunette: the darkest brown, which can be a very dark chestnut; sometimes appears to be off black at a distance.
- dark brown
- milk chocolate brown
- chestnut brown: medium brunette to dark brown with dark auburn tones.
- russet brown: dark brown with reddish and gold highlights.
- light chestnut brown
- medium brown: standard brunette, comparable to russet brown
- walnut brown: a warmer variant of medium brown, comparable to a light chestnut
- medium golden brown: brown with yellowish tone.
- light golden brown
- light golden reddish brown: a warm light brown with red tones.
- light ash brown: almost blond hair
- lightest brown: light brown that goes mid blonde in the sun
light golden reddish brown
(Afghan Nuristani girl)
(Japanese girl of mixed ancestry)
light golden brown
light ash brown
light chestnut brown
In Western popular culture, a common stereotype is that brunettes are stable, serious, smart and sophisticated. A British study into hair color and the intensity of attraction found that 62 percent of the men participating in the study associated brown-haired women with stability and competence. Brunettes were described as independent and self-sufficient by 67 percent of the men, and as intelligent by 81 percent. According to Allure magazine, in 2005, 76 percent of American women believed that the first female president of the United States would have brown hair.
Anita Loos, the author of the novel and play Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, wrote a sequel entitled But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes. A film of this was made, Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, starring Jane Russell and Jeanne Crain.
Art and fiction
The Lady of Shalott from Lord Tennyson's poem is depicted as a brunette in most paintings. Leonardo da Vinci's most famous painting the Mona Lisa is also brunette. In the French folk song "Au Clair de la Lune", the likable Lubin visits his brunette neighbor at Pierrot's suggestion. In the Irish song "The Star of the County Down" the narrator falls in love with a woman with "nut-brown" hair, called Rose McCann. The Doctor, the eponymous character of Doctor Who, is able to regenerate his body and has had brown hair in seven of his incarnations, including the first three Doctors that have appeared in the revived series.
Rivalry with blondes
In popular culture, brunettes may be portrayed as being in a rivalry or competition with blonde women. The rivalry may take the form of competitive sports or as part of a love triangle in which a blonde and a brunette woman compete for the affections of a man.
- Hair color
- Human skin color
- Black hair