Hair Lingo: Professional Hair Color Terms and Definitions
What’s the difference between sombré and ombré? What does rose gold hair look like? What does balayage really mean? If you love hair color, and love talking about hair color, it’s helpful to learn the language. That way you can speak to your hairstylist like a native—and the likelihood of getting the hair color you really want goes waaaay up. To help you out, the pros at Matrix have compiled the definitions of 41 of the most often-used hair color terms. Refer to these and you’ll always know just what to say to your hair colorist!
An alkali agent that aids in the deposit of hair color molecules into the hair.
A very fine version of highlights that mimic the natural look of a child’s hair that’s been kissed by the sun.
Balayage is French for "to sweep." Hair painting or balayage is the process of sweeping hair color, lightener or toner downwards in soft strokes directly on the surface of the desired section with a freehand application. This method is used to create dimension with a natural, soft look.
The hair color that is applied at the root area or all over before a dimensional/creative color technique is done.
Bleach or Lightener
Powder, gel, cream or oil lighteners mixed with developer raise the hair cuticle and then penetrate the hair to disperse color molecules, which lightens/decolorizes the hair.
A trend for brunettes who wish to lighten their hair without taking it all the way to blonde. It's a soft tone between blonde and brown.
A slightly golden or yellow shade of blonde.
The brunette version of rose gold hair. Typically a dark brown base color that’s enhanced with a pink balayage technique.
A method of highlighting the hair in which the highlights are very thick and not blended.
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 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.
Coverage is a measure of a hair color’s ability to cover gray. Some hair color formulations are too transparent to effectively cover gray.
A deposit-only hair color formula that provides zero lift. It does not alter the natural hair color, but developer is required.
Hydrogen peroxide, when mixed with an alkali, oxidizes hair color, allowing the mixture to penetrate the hair.
A function of the range of tones in the hair. Hair that is all one color is said to be “flat” or lacking dimension. A stylist adds dimension to hair color with highlights or lowlights.
Two hair color services are performed during one salon visit. Generally the first color service is performed and then the hair is washed and dried, then the second is performed. It might include lightening the hair then applying a toner, or applying permanent color followed by a glaze.
A modern version of ombre, which showcases a more natural progression between tones to create depth, as opposed to the line between colors seen in the ombre trend. It’s best for dark blonde or brunette clients with medium or long hair.
Hair color or lightener is applied to hair that is placed on strips of foil. The foil is then folded around the sections of hair to create highlights and lowlights.
A marriage of the painterly technique of balayage with the vibrant color payoff of foil highlights.
Highlights are applied to sections of hair throughout the head, instead of on just the topmost layer.
A semi-permanent color is used to enhance, enrich, change, match, tone down or intensify natural or color-treated hair while harmonizing contrast.
Select strands are isolated and treated with hair color or lightener to make them lighter than the base/natural color. Highlights can add dimension by contrasting with the rest of the hair and are created with foils, a cap or special combs or brushes used for “painting on” the color.
Bright, bold hues that embody the brilliance of some of the world’s most beautiful gems.
The chemical process of lightening the color of the hair. Different hair color formulations have different lifting abilities.
Color is applied with foils, caps, or painted on to darken specific pieces and create dimension. Generally lowlights will be 2-3 levels darker than the base color and slightly warmer. They can be used to create a more natural look or to create accents within the hair.
The ombré look is darkest at the roots and lightest from the mid-length to the tips. The highlights/color begin further down the strand, which makes it less obvious as your hair grows.
The chemical reaction caused by mixing hair color and developer together. Oxidation lifts the cuticle, allowing the hair color to work inside the hair shaft.
Softened, lightened hues of colors such as red, purple, green, orange, yellow, or blue. Pastel tones can be colorants or toning shades, and are best achieved when applied to very pale blonde hair to create, for example, pink, lavender or mint green tones.
Permanent hair color
Permanent hair color interacts with the natural pigment of the hair, changing the hair’s structure. The dyes in permanent hair color are actually tiny colorless molecules. With the help of ammonia, they penetrate the hair cuticle, and when combined with hydrogen peroxide they create a chemical reaction called oxidation. Via oxidation, permanent hair color molecules become complex and embed themselves in the structure of the hair fiber. The result is hair color that withstands multiple shampoos.
The process of restoring hair color balance via the combination of highlights and lowlights, and/or glazes.
Rose Gold Hair
One of the trendiest hair colors of the past few seasons, inspired by the popular metal. Also seen in jewelry, laptop cases, fashion and home goods.
These formulas can cover gray without lift, but shampoo away in five to ten shampoos. No developer is required. The shade that comes out of the bottle or tube is the resulting hair color.
Color is applied to the entire head in one step by depositing a new base color. Single process will not have as much variety as double process but is useful for covering gray hair and adding shine.
Soft ombré. Sombré involves a gradient shift in hair color, generally starting dark at the roots and gradually becoming lighter towards the tips. What distinguishes this technique from ombré is its subtlety. A color contrast is present, but the effect is much less dramatic than that of ombré.
A warm, reddish blonde hue.
Temporary Hair Color
Hair color that only lasts shampoo to shampoo.
The term used to distinguish a color as warm, cool or neutral. For example, ”golden” blonde, “coppery” red, “ash” brown.
A demi- or semi-permanent color formula applied to damp hair to blend and even out unwanted hues (i.e., brassiness,) especially after a double process hair color.
Colors ranging from gold to chocolate are added and blended through the hair to create a gradual shift from dark to light. The tortoiseshell technique is a bit softer and more natural-looking than ombré, and begins with a darker root that subtly fades to a warm blonde.
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 copper.
So, are you ready for a copper red base hair color with strawberry blonde foil highlights? Yeah, now you know exactly what that means!