Hair Color Glossary

Hair Colors

Get Closer to Your Best Hair Color by Understanding These Terms.


Bleach is a chemical agent used to lighten or disperse pigment from the hair shaft in a permanent manner. Bleaching is useful when you want to go from a darker color to a much lighter one by stripping the pigment from the hair strands. Bleaching can be quite harsh on the hair and over-processing must be avoided.

Hair bleaching activator


Bleaching is the actual process where lightening or de-colorization occurs, starting from the largest (darkest) pigments. This is typically known as the “7 stages of bleaching”: black – brown – red-brown – red – orange – yellow – white (in that order).

Hair Bleaching

Bleach Additives

Bleach additives such as OLAPLEX is used to minimise the protein damage that bleach does to your hair. In addition to this, certain products can bond to the protein bonds in hair and protect your hair from further damage.

Olaplex Bleach additive

Clay Lighteners

Clay lighteners are lightening powders that contain organic pigments and allegedly 17 amino acids, silk extracts, olive oil, panthenol and milk, as well as being ammonia free. They are not “clay” at all and are simply promoted as “natural” and better for the condition of the hair. They are effective, but can easily be over-processed and can cause serious damage to the hair shaft if adequate care is not taken.

Hair clay ligtener


A colorist is a professionally trained (usually in an advanced color course) in all aspects of hair coloring and hair chemical science. They have thorough understanding and knowledge of how and why hair color works. A colorist generally does the color consulting and sometimes application work for all salon clients, leaving cutting and styling to other members of the team.

Hair colorist

Color Shade

A hair color shade is a color and numbering system that is used by hair colorists to determine a person’s natural level of neutral color. This system mostly starts at number 1 (black) and finishes at 10 (blonde). This information is very important as color types and/or techniques are dependent on the hair’s initial color shade.

Shades of hair colors


The cortex lies directly underneath the hair cuticle and is spiral-looking in appearance, like a coiled rope. It is here that pigments are found and that natural hair elasticity, i.e. straight, wavy, curly, gets its form. The cortex is also where all permanent chemical coloring takes place, including bleaching, perming, chemical straightening, and where the natural shape of the hair is changed. For example, using hot irons to go from curly to straight or hot rollers to go from straight to curly. These changes last only until the hair becomes wet again.


The medulla is the hollow canal that appears in the very center of the hair shaft. It is not known to serve any specific purpose to the hair’s overall strength or appearance. The almost invisible layer is the most fragile part of the hair.


The cuticle is the outermost structure of the hair, resembling fish scales packed down up to 12 rows deep. The cuticle is the hair’s first defence against all forms of damage that include chemicals, ultra-violet light, styling appliances, styling products etc. A damaged cuticle leaves the hair looking dull and feeling rough, but more importantly, increases the likelihood of extreme damage occurring inside (leading to things such as natural and artificial color fade, split ends and breakage).

Cross section of hair

Demi-Permanent Color

A demi-permanent is a wash-out color that lasts about 20-25 shampoos. Demi-permanents do have low levels of hydrogen peroxide in them to open the cuticle and allow the color inside the hair shaft. This type of color is great for going darker, brighter, adding shine and for hiding and blending small amounts of grey. However, although demi-permanents will not lighten hair like permanent color, caution should taken because with prolonged use color build up in the hair results in the color not washing away, making it permanent in nature and leading to regrowth problems.

Demi permanent color hair application

Hair Color Sprays

Hair color sprays are temporary or wash-out colors that are generally found in aerosol cans and sprayed onto dry hair. They are usually in unconventional fashion colors such as blue, green, red, yellow etc. Also, they are sometimes used by people to mask grey hair, or by some men to make their fine thinning hair appear darker and therefore thicker, and even to color the scalp to disguise hair loss. A word of caution though: keep out of the rain and avoid humid weather or the color will run off the hair and onto your clothing.

Hair colour spray application

Hair Color Sticks

Hair color sticks are temporary colors used when people need a quick fix to touch up exposed roots, or to create highlights of different colors. The stick is similar to mascara, and color is painted directly onto dry hair with a small brush. It’s a somewhat sloppy process and can dry stiff. Watch out for moisture because the color can run off the hair and onto your clothing.

LO'real hair color stick

Hair Color Swatch

A hair color swatch is a small clump of hair that has been colored to a particular shade and reflect (tone) and then placed in a color chart with other swatches so that hair colorists and their clients can visualize hair color changes. Note: the color you see is not necessarily what you get!

Swatches of different hair colors

Henna Color

Henna is a plant that contains a deep red dye used as a natural form of hair coloring. The active component in henna is lawsone, which binds itself to keratin (human hair protein) and washes away after several months- making it a semi-permanent color. Variations to the deep red color can be found as a result of mixing ingredients from other plants and vegetables, and even synthetic dyes. Sometimes, these synthetic dyes can cause some damage to the hair shaft. You need to be aware of how using henna can cause problems later when trying to perm or perform other chemical procedures on the hair.

Henna color hair application


L’Oreal is the world’s largest cosmetics and beauty company and has its head office in Paris, France. It specializes in hair color amongst other things, but it was actually its invention of permanent hair color that began this mighty empire. In 1907 a French chemist, Eugene Schueller, developed an innovative hair color formula that chemically made hair color permanent. This the beginning of the L’Oreal company which in 2007 was listed as having 63,360 employees and a revenue of 17.06 billion Euros.

L'Oreal brand

Natural Hair Color

Natural hair color is a person’s original hair color; in other words, excluding any artificial colors, highlights, or chemicals that can coat the hair (such as chlorine that makes the hair look green). Your natural hair color does take into account any natural bleaching that is caused by the sun. Natural hair color is an important thing for a colorist to take into consideration as each natural hair color reacts differently to artificial color.

Natural hair colour comparison

Permanent Hair Color

A permanent hair color employs chemicals to artificially change, delete, or counteract the natural pigment in the cortex layer of the hair shaft. This is done when dyes and bleaches are “turned on” by mixing them with an activator (generally peroxide) and sometimes heat, to open the cuticle and then allow the chemical changes to take place. The results are permanent changes that do not revert back to the original, however the roots of the hair grow back unchanged (regrowth).

Permanent hair color application


Peroxide, otherwise known as hydrogen peroxide, is used in many ways in everyday life as a bleaching agent, disinfectant, oxidizer and antiseptic. It’s main use however is in hair color services as a developer or activator. Its primary role is to open the cuticle layer and allow tints or bleach into the cortex so they can then deposit or remove color by breaking disulfide bonds within the hair, releasing sulfur (hence the smell). When peroxide is mixed with hair bleach, the peroxide continues to de-colorize color pigments; but when mixed with tints, its role is to bond the new color molecule inside the hair.

Hair hydrogen peroxide product

Semi-Permanent Hair Color

Semi-permanent hair color is a color formula that deposits itself mainly on the cuticle layer of the hair, but it will also penetrate deeper into the cortex. This type of color cannot lighten hair and is generally used to add depth, change color tone, brighten the hair and camouflage small amounts of grey. The color fades away with each shampoo, meaning it lasts between 6-8 shampoos, and it can be found in various forms including, mousses, gels, crèmes and liquids.

Semi permanent hair colour

Temporary Hair Color

Temporary hair color comes in various forms including rinses, shampoos, gels, mousses and sprays. The color molecules are very large and can only sit on the hair’s cuticle. Therefore, they don’t penetrate into the hair, making the color only last 1 wash. Temporary hair colors are great for a quick, temporary and relatively safe makeover (in any case always consult your stylist first). Just remember they cannot lighten hair, but can only temporarily darken and brighten.

Temporary hair color application


Tinting is the process of mixing artificial color with a developer and applying it to the hair, causing permanent color change. The tint itself is made up of color molecules that go into the cortex and, with a little help from the peroxide activator, redeposits color after de-colorization has occurred. Tinting is a permanent process that requires careful thought and planning from a qualified colorist that understands the boundaries of what is achievable and best for your hair.

Hair colour tints


Balayage is actually an application technique which has now evolved to be described as a final result of the hair. It is described to a hairstyle color with gradual change in a soft and graceful way. Balayage is achieved through freehand painting and no foils are required. Balayage gives the hair a natural highlight on the top of the strands that cascades into full color. Balayage can occur in different shades from blonde to brown, and even different types of hair whether it be curly, straight, long, or short.

Balayage Hairstyle


Hair Foils or Foiling is a hair coloring process that can lighten, brighten or darken hair. Rather than a freehand technique, foiling is a much more controlled process where the stylist will section off hair with a piece of foil. Depending on the type of look you are after, these sections can be done thicker or thinner. Foiling also traps heat much better than open air or plastic film, allowing the product to penetrate deeper into the hair, leading to an even more intense look.

Hair foiling


Highlights are a way to brighten hair by lifting the natural base to create lightness and contrast. The application of highlights uses foils to separate the strands in a specific way to create dimension to the hair. The color is applied root to tip and creates a contrasting effect. This application is perfect for those who want to avoid a full head of color to add lift, shine, and blend.

Hairstyle with highlights


Ombre means “shaded”. This is a hair coloring technique where a darker base of color is gradually lightened at the lengths and end of the hair. The difference between ombre and balayage is that with ombre the color gradient is gradual, whereas balayage is normally a highlighting technique. Ombre is a very popular hair color style because it is extremely easy to maintain. As your hair grows out, the lightened shade is moved gradually downwards, and require little touch up.

Ombre hairstyle

If you’ve enjoyed this article and keen to try out different hair styles, check out ‘20 Hair Colors That Suit Every Complexion‘ where we explore different hair colours that will turn heads.

Images are sourced from Shutterstock.


hair colors

Category: hair colors

Natural human hair colour is melanin, a pigment that the human body produces that makes up a person’s complexion. Everybody has a variation of pigment colors, and it’s these combinations that make up the hair, skin, and eye colors differently for every single person.

Hair color is also an important element in every hair style, and so if a hairstyle is the frame around a person’s face, hair color is the type of frame, the material, texture and color that compliments the picture (a person’ face, eyes, complexion).

Hair color thus further individualizes each person, haircut, style, and look.

Category: hair colors

Artificial hair color can be described as anything foreign that is used, applied, processed on the hair that will either, stain it (Henna), cover the outside (Temporary Color), chemically alter it internally (using chemical reactions between molecules, pigments, ammonia and peroxide, knows as permanent Hair Color).

Category: hair colors

Bleached hair or as it’s better known, lightened hair can be achieved using natural bleaching agents such as vinegar, lemon juice, and even UV light that will lighten pigments inside the hair shaft.

Using Bleach and peroxide to lighten hair is okay when done by a professional, this is where the bleach oxidizes the melanin pigment making it colorless. It’s always the larger darker melanin molecules that oxidise first (dark browns, reds, orange, and finally yellow) and is why untoned bleached hair will always look golden yellow in color.

Category: hair colors

Yes, well almost anybody.

Chemical lightening has improved dramatically in the past 10 years, meaning that people that start off with natural dark hair colours, and where the hair is in good enough condition have a very high chance of their hair colorists turning them into blondes.

Now if your hair is in bad condition, is color processed already, you may not be able to go blonde. You should check with a professional hair colorist first.

Category: hair colors

Light hair can suit anybody, even people with darker, olive skin complexions so long as it’s the correct tone of blonde.

Just as people’s complexions are warm and cool, blonde hair colors need to stay on the same side of the spectrum or the same tone to suit them.

For example, a person with a fair, cool complexion should stay away from warm tones like golden blondes, copper tones, and instead have artic blondes, beiges, and ash blondes.

Category: hair colors

Balayage is a highlighting technique that does not use foils, instead this is where a colorist will hand paint color or bleach directly onto your hair, creating a more natural and blended effect.

Painting hair color directly onto usually dry hair, allows the colorist to add splashes of colour just as an artist would on canvass, seeing where the hair falls naturally, this way being sure to add hair color where it’s needed to compliment a person’s features, or a specific haircut.

Category: hair colors

Ombre hair color technique is where the hair is blended from one color hue to another, usually where the hair will start darker at the roots and then gradually get lighter right to the very ends.

The definition for Ombre is the French word for “color that is shaded or graduated in tone.

One advantage to Ombre hair color is that if your roots are dark, you will not see a regrowth, or need to commit to regular roots touch ups as the Ombre effect already appears as a grown-out hair color.

Category: hair colors

Millions of dollars have been spent in research and development and then advertising alone between all the competing hair color companies, and naturally they will tell you that their hair color is superior to their competitors.

Some will claim their dye has low ammonia, is organic, safe, will cause less damage to your hair and so on.

The truth of the matter is that most hair dyes that you can purchase online or from a store, and that is manufactured by a big reputable brand, is safe and okay to use.

The risks however are that it depends what condition your hair is to begin with, and then what you are hoping to achieve by coloring your hair in the first place?

As a rule

  • Semi-permanent hair colour won’t damage your hair as there is no ammonia, peroxide, or oxidation of your hair pigment molecules. Note that this also means that you can’t lighten your hair.
  • Natural colours such as Henna, Coffee basically stain the hair and the color will wash away over time, however beware, these types of hair colors can cause problems with other color or hairdressing treatments.
  • Reputable permanent hair colour is fine if you are doing a root touch up, covering grey hair, sticking to hair colors that are close to your natural hair color.

My recommendation is to always seek any hair color advice from a professional hair colorist, particularly for anything where going lighter, or using permanent color is concerned.

Category: hair colors

Blonde highlights in hair can be described as small slices, pieces, wefts of blonde hair that interweaves and creates a contrast with your other hair color that is normally darker or brighter.

There are many techniques used to create blonde highlights in hair and some of these include;

  • Foils, where hair is weaved using a tail comb, separated, color applied to the hair on foil, and then left to process without changing the hair colour outside of the wrapped foil.
  • Balayage, where hair color or bleach is painted directly to the hair using a tint brush, usually in slim vertical strips.
  • Streaks and frosting were all the rage 20 years ago, where a plastic or rubber cap is placed over your head, and then using a croquet hook, a small weft of hair is pulled through, and bleached lighter. Once the desired color is achieved, excess color is rinsed away, the cap removed, and the hair now has two colors.
  • Ombre, where bleach is applied in time intervals starting from the ends to the mid lengths.
Category: hair colors

To get purple hair you need to start off with a light base color, if you are a natural blonde then lucky you, otherwise you will first need to bleach your hair as light as possible (for more vibrancy), and then you will need to add the purple hair color dye.

There are a few purple hair colors on the market, but most reputable ones will be very similar in results that will fade and wash away overtime.

Category: hair colors

Red hair color is always fashionable year to year. What you will find however is that hair color companies through their marketing and advertising departments like to push red hair tones more in the fall as a seasonal thing.

Sometimes they will launch a collection of deep mahoganies, chestnuts, and other times they will go with warm reds.

The important thing here is that a red hair color is chosen that will suit your complexion.

Category: hair colors

Platinum blonde hair color has been popular ever since Jean Harlow, one of Hollywood’s biggest move stars back in 1911 made it popular.

There have been periods in the last 110 years where trends saw the tone change slightly to

  • Artic blonde
  • Beige blonde
  • Honey blonde
  • Strawberry blonde
  • Ash blonde

However, Platinum blonde hair remained strong throughout these periods in time, and still today is as popular and as mesmerising as ever.

Category: hair colors

Platinum blonde hair color is blonde, lightened hair that has had all warm, yellow tone pigments removed through hair coloring, bleaching, and toning.

The “term” platinum blonde was apparently invented by Howard Hughes in reference to Jean Harlow as a nickname.

There are two elements important to achieving a great platinum blonde hair color,

  1. The hair must be lightened to a level that oxidises (makes translucent) as much yellow pigment as possible.
  2. The hair then must be toned with a cool shade of color such as silver, ash, pearl, (blue pigments that counteract gold and look PLATINUM)
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There have been many famous platinum blonde females in the past 100 years that have had a variety of talents, contributed to society in many ways, but that all had one thing in common, that is how their platinum blonde hair colour made them stand out from the crowd. Some of these include

  • Jean Harlow
  • Marilyn Monroe
  • Lana Turner
  • Mae West
  • Grace Kelly
  • Jayne Mansfield
  • Brigitte Bardot
  • Goldie Hawn
  • Dolly Parton
  • Madonna
  • Debra Harry
  • Pamela Anderson
  • Lady Gagga
  • Gwen Stefani
  • Reese Witherspoon
  • Kim Kardashian (really bad platinum blonde)
Category: hair colors

Balayage hair color is a technique that will work on anybody with any starting hair color, be it dark brown, red, or blonde hair.

Blonde Balayage is lighter blonde ends that gradually get darker right down to the roots, and so if you are starting off blonde, then you will need to make the ends even lighter and less gold (hair naturally goes gold when it lightens) for the ends to appear blonder.

Category: hair colors

Strawberry blonde hair color is really blonde hair that has some red, a little blue, and not much gold tones through it.

It is extremely rare for people to have strawberry blonde hair naturally as most people have an abundance of gold pigments, and so their hair often appears more copper gold (some people call this strawberry blonde mistakenly).

Strawberry blonde hair color is applied either as a full color to light shade hair, or as a toner where adding a smidgen of blue, gives the red hues a cool appearance, just like strawberries.

Category: hair colors

Brunette hair color is can be considered anything from darkest brown (almost black) through to deep dark and medium browns. Brunette hair color can be warm or cool in tone depending on a person’s natural pigmentation, or the hair dye used.