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30 Hair Color Terms You Should Know Before Your Next Salon Appointment

Consider this your hair color handbook.
March 02, 2022

Taking a leap when it comes to changing up your hair color can be scary. And this certainly holds true when you’re not well versed in hair color terms, and therefore only have a vague idea about what you’re truly getting yourself into. 

If you’re heading to the salon to undergo a hair transformation, be open with your stylist and don’t be afraid to ask questions. After all, it’s you who should be pleased with the results. 

To help you  head into your appointment prepared with some basic hair color knowledge, we’re sharing 30 popular hair color terms to know before plopping yourself down into the colorist’s chair. From popular hues to highlighting techniques, we’re covering all the bases. 



Babylights are a very fine version of highlights (more on that) that mimic the natural look of hair that was slightly lightened by the sun.  



A hair highlighting technique that was developed by French colorists, balayage involves hand painting strands for a natural-looking, easy-to-maintain color. Since it utilizes a free-hand technique, your colorist can totally customize it to fit your preferences. It’s meant to look natural as it grows out, meaning that it won’t require frequent touch-ups. 


Base Color

Base color is the color that’s applied all over your head as a starting point for your dye job. 



Brone is a shade that blends brown and blonde hair together for a sunkissed look. It’s often achieved through highlighting techniques such as balayage.  



Contrast refers to the shade and depth of your highlights. Think: high-contrast for lighter, more noticeable highlights and low-contrast for more natural-looking swipes of color. 


Cool Tones

This term actually refers to the tonal value of the dye you select. Contrary to warm tones, cool tones lean blue, purple, and green, while cool colors range from platinum and ash browns to plum reds and blueish blacks.



Dimension is the difference between monochromatic hair and a head full of movement brought on by highlights and lowlights. It transforms a uniform hair color to one with varying depth. 


Double Process

Double process hair color is when you sit in the salon chair through not one, but two coloring techniques during one hair appointment to achieve optimal dimension. Example: base color then highlights. 


Expensive Brunette

One of the most popular hair color trends of the year, expensive brunette refers to a natural looking brunette hair color with subtle dimension and a shiny, smooth finish. It’s typically achieved through minimal lowlights or balayage.  



When a colorist paints your hair inside strips of foil which are then folded around the sections of hair to create highlights and lowlights. This is a very common technique used in hair highlighting. 


Full Highlights

Full highlights doesn’t mean that all of your hair is being dyed. Rather, it means that sections of hair will be lightened all through your hair to add dimension, instead of just on the topmost layer. 



A hair glaze is a non-permanent treatment that’s meant to provide luster and shine to the hair. There are clear glazes that simply add luminosity to the hair, and there are colored glazes which add shine and semi-permanent color. Give the L’Oréal Paris EverPure Sulfate-Free Glossing In Shower Acidic Glaze a try for an at-home, in-shower treatment. 


Jewel Toned Hair

Jewel toned hair encompasses an array of bold shades that embody the brilliance of some of the world’s most beautiful gems. Think vibrant ruby, rich emerald and deep sapphire. Give a jewel tone hue a go at home with the L’Oréal Paris Feria Multi-Faceted Shimmering Permanent Hair Color in Cool Amethyst.



Where highlights use blonde or streaks lighter than your base color to brighten up your strands, lowlights darken small sections to add depth and dimension. 


Money Piece

A money piece refers to a section at the front of the hair which is highlighted or colored (typically using the balayage technique) for a high-contrast look. It’s been one of the most popular hair color trends over the last couple of years. 

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



If your hair color is looking dull or shifting in depth or tone from how it looked when it was originally colored, you’re likely experiencing oxidation. This can be the result of environmental elements, using too much heat on your hair or even hard water. If you can't run to the salon for a refresh, a toning gloss, like the L’Oréal Paris Le Color Gloss One Step In-Shower Toning Gloss, will help enhance your hair color and shine. 


Pastel Hair

Pastel hair is defined by hair in light, rainbow shades with minimal saturation to give them a soft look. You can take a pastel color for a test drive at home by trying out the L’Oréal Paris Colorista Hair Makeup Temporary 1-Day Hair Color Spray in Pastel Lavender or Pastel Mint. The color will wash out with shampoo, so you get to see how you like it before committing. 



A process for curly hair that focuses on hand-painting (yes, just like balayage) specific patterns around the bends of each curl to create a dimensional look. 



Easily one of the most time-consuming, maintenance-requiring hair colors, platinum is the lightest shade of blonde. It’s an ultra-light, icy shade that typically leans cool in tone.


Pumpkin Spice Hair

Don’t go looking in your coffee cup for a hint as to what this hair color looks like. Pumpkin spice hair is a more saturated, orange version of traditional strawberry blonde tresses that embody all of fall’s most beautiful colors. 

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Root Smudge

If your root color is growing in and creating a line of demarcation, a root smude is a technique used to blur it. Hair color is applied at the roots and then smudged into the strands to blend the color evenly.  


Single Process 

One and done, meaning you can get your desired hue in just one sitting. It’s likely not the process you want to use if you’re going from brunette hair to blonde. 



Sombré, short for soft ombré, is just what it sounds like — a softer version of the diffused hair color. Created with subtle balayage, it’s done in a toned down way to create a very minimal gradation of color along the hair. 



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 and they can be stripping on hair color. 

If you have color-treated hair, opt for sulfate-free hair care products, like the L’Oréal Paris EverPure Sulfate Free Bond Strengthening Color Care Shampoo and the L’Oréal Paris EverPure Sulfate Free Bond Strengthening Color Care Conditioner. They’re safe on color and work to strengthen the hair and prevent future damage with continued use. 


Tiger’s Eye

Tiger’s eye hair color is meant to replicate the appearance of the ancient tiger eye stone known for healing. This look is created using a combination of highlighting techniques in brown and caramel hues that mimic the palette of the popular stone. 



Tone is essentially the specific adjective that describes a hair color. While there are black, blonde, brunette, and red hair colors, tones break it down even further. Think: soft jet black, platinum blonde, strawberry blonde — you get the idea. 



Think of toner as a topcoat for your hair color. It comes in the form of gloss and glaze, and the semi-permanent composition works to even out the tone of the hair color for roughly four weeks. 



Similar to tiger’s eye, tortoiseshell dye jobs coat strands with a mixture of hues ranging from gold to dark brown to give the appearance of a slightly subtler, natural-looking ombré similar to that seen on a tortoise shell. 


Warm Tones 

Where cool refers to shades of blue, purple, and green, warm tones lean towards yellow, orange, and red.


Next: How the Color Wheel Can Help You When Dyeing Your Hair

Edited by: Alyssa Kaplan, Photo Credit: Chaunte Vaughn

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