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Haircolor Guide: Common Terms & Definitions

We get it. With all the hair color trends, terms, phrases, and definitions out there these days, knowing what you want (or need) can feel overwhelming. To help you get the basic lay of the land, we culled through all the best hair colorist guides and compiled a list of the most common terms and definitions.

Haircolor Guide: Common Terms & Definitions
Haircolor Guide: Common Terms & Definitions

Babylights: A very fine version of highlights that mimic the natural look of a child’s hair that’s been kissed by the sun.


Balayage: A hair painting technique that was developed by French colorists. It involves hand painting strands for a natural-looking, easy-to-maintain ‘do. Since it utilizes a free-hand technique balayage can be customized to your lifestyle and ideal maintenance schedule.


Base Color: The term “base color” refers to the color of your hair, whether natural or dyed, before highlights, lowlights or any additional color is applied.


Contrast: Contrast is a value applied to highlights. High-contrast highlights are much lighter than the surrounding hair and provide a dramatic look. Lower contrast highlights result in a more natural look.


Cool Tones: Cool is a tonal value that can apply to blonde, brunette, and red shades. A color is said to have “cool tones” if it tends toward blue, violet or green. Cool colors include platinum blondes, ash browns, and plum reds.


Dimension: Dimension is a function of the range of tones in your hair. A head of hair that is all one color is said to be “flat” or lacking dimension. Your stylist can add dimension to your hair with highlights or lowlights.


Double Process: When you sit in the salon chair through not one, but two coloring techniques within one hair appointment to achieve optimal dimension. Example: base color + highlights.


Express Highlights: Express Highlights are done by applying a small amount of foils or painted-on pieces, usually focused on framing the face.


Foiling: When a colorist paints your hair inside strips of foil which are then folded around the sections of hair to create highlights and lowlights.


Full Highlights: Highlights everywhere! Who would’ve guessed? No, this doesn’t mean that all your hair is being dyed. Rather, it means that sections of hair will be highlighted all through your hair, instead of just on the topmost layer.


Glaze: Glazes involve using a semi-permanent color to enhance, enrich, change, match, tone down or intensify natural or color-treated hair while harmonizing contrast.


Lift: Lift is the chemical process of lightening the color of the hair. Different haircolor formulations have different lifting abilities.


Lowlights: Lowlights are created by using color with foils, caps, or painted on to darken specific pieces and create dimension. Generally low lights will be 2-3 levels darker than your basecolor and slightly warmer. This can be used for a more natural look or create accents within the hair.


Ombré: The low maintenance look that’s the result of the beautiful balayage technique. Since strands are only colored from mid-shaft to ends, you won’t need to worry about growth or touch-ups nearly as often with this look.


Partial Highlights: Typically face-framing or top layer lightening to add the illusion of volume and body.


Pintura: A process that focuses on hand-painting (yes, just like balayage) specific patterns around the bends of each curl to create a one-of-a-kind dimensional look. And you thought your curls alone were eye-catching. Well, this little technique will most definitely rev up the head-turning factor.


Platinum: The blondest of blonde hair. Easily one of the most time-consuming, maintenance-requiring hair shades a girl can choose.


Rebalancing: Rebalancing is the process of bringing the hair back into balance, and can be created with the combination of highlights and lowlights, and/or glazes.


Single Process: One and done, meaning you can get your desired hue in just one sitting.


Sulfate-Free: Easily one of the most need-to-know hair color terms in this guide. Sulfates are detergents found in everything from household cleansers to shampoos.


Texture: Texture, as defined by the diameter of an individual hair strand, is generally described as fine, medium, or coarse. Your stylist will factor in your hair’s texture when determining your best color formulation.


Tone: Tone, in haircoloring, is the term used to describe a specific color—”golden” blonde, “coppery” red, “ash” brown. Colors are divided into warm tones and cool tones.

Warm Tones: Warm is a tonal value that can apply to blonde, brunette, and red shades. A color is said to have “warm tones” if it tends toward yellow, orange or red. Warm colors include golden blondes, auburn brunettes, and coppery.


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