The Ultimate Hair Color Terms Glossary

I’ve had many clients ask for a dictionary of translations for the world of hair and beauty, especially when talking hair color. Keeping up with hair color terms – especially as trends change – can be daunting, but it can help you best tell your stylist what look you want.

Nothing defines an image like hair color. There was a time that hair color designated status in society. Today, it’s the accessory we all can afford. There are several different color services you could have in a hair salon. Knowing the basic terms and what you’re looking for will help you get closer to your desired color and your ideal image.

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Your stylist should be talking to you in a language that makes sense to you. However, it doesn’t hurt to brush up on some of the industry lingo. Use our hair color terms glossary as your ultimate guide for your next color appointment.

What is Highlighting/ Low lighting?

Highlighting / Low lighting is the placement of color using lighter shades or darker shades than your base color. This is used to accent or diminish areas of the head.

What is Base color?

Base color is like painting a wall. You start with the color you want to see as the backdrop (base). Then your next color in a pattern (accent) over top of the first color (base) to create texture or dimension in the finished look. Your base color is usually referred to as a one-process or base breaker.

What is one process?

One process is the process of color that is one-mix (chemical mixed in bowl or bottle) and is one step that gets you from your original/born with color to your desired shade. One process is when you are using one color to either cover grey, balance color from previous highlighting or color fading, or just get introduced to hair color.

What is Base breaker?

Base breaker is like a one-process, applied to scalp area on your natural color to lighten your natural color just a little. This is done to blend, create less contrast between highlights and natural color, or just to brighten your natural color. With a base breaker, you’re literally breaking up the base color – lightening the hair less than a level, bringing out the natural warmth in the hair. It’s usually used to create a blend between colored hair and natural hair.

What is Balayage?


Balayage is the placement of color or lightener by painting directly on the hair, without foils.

What is Level?

color names

Level – We use scale similar to the international scale of photography, a grey/white scale to determine level, 1 being darkest black and 10 being lightest blonde. This helps us determine where your base level is. For subtle looks, we keep all of the colors within two levels of one another. For extreme looks, we use colors that are three or more levels difference. The further apart your color choices are in level, the greater the contrast.

What is Contrast?

Contrast – When choosing colors, the further apart in level of lightness/ darkness they are, the stronger the contrast. Contrast creates movement on the surface of the hair. The line of demarcation is when you can see the difference between the artificial color and your natural color (basically, when you notice your roots are showing through colored hair). To keep your color low-maintenance, you want to avoid the line of demarcation, which means you’ll want to stay within two levels of your natural color when choosing your base color (and, thus, choose a lower contrasting color).

What is Color saturation?

Color saturation is the amount of coloring the hair has experienced. If the hair is saturated, the color will be hard to remove. If you have colored your hair jet black for eight years and every time pulled color through the ends, the ends are most likely saturated with color. If you then want lighter highlights, it will be difficult to get a natural looking effect due to the amount of dark color on your ends.

What is Filler?

Filler is used during color correction to put color back into the hair that has been removed or is missing. Fillers are warm tones. A filler is similar to a primer. The filler replaces all color needed to get you to your end result. (Leave this one to the pro.)


Nothing will replace the professional who does this work all day long. Find a hair colorist that cares about your look, and it shows in their work.

When discussing hair color changes with your hair colorist, bring pictures of color you like. No matter how much you grasp the terminology, nothing works better to describe what you want as much as a picture.

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