Here is a quick list of the most commonly-used hair color terms used by stylists. They’re not in alphabetical order, they’re grouped into relativity instead. **One important note: If your stylist- any stylist- ever says anything you don’t completely understand, ASK. Stylists are happy to answer questions and should be able to explain thoroughly what their plan is and how they’d like to work with you and your hair. If they don’t seem happy- or able- to do so, you may want to find another stylist. Seriously. (*Note: Color products themselves are not on this list- just terminology.)


  • Level: a measurement of lightness or darkness, typically one through ten, one being black and ten being blonde. This gives stylists a blueprint with which to plan out your service.
  • Shade / Tone: Rather than level, shade or tone is actual color- purple, brown, red, orange. Shades and tones can be light or dark, so it’s important to know what level and shade your hair is to start with, and what level and shade you want your hair to be.
  • Cool: cool tones are without warmth, such as “ash” or champagne. Most people do not wear cool tones, though cool-toned highlights can often look great.
  • Warm: warm tones include warmth such as golden, orange or red tones. Most skin tones are accentuated by at least some warmth, but not all, so talk to your stylist and hold up different hair color swatches to your face to see how different shades make your skin look.
  • Neutral: neutral tones are considered to be in between warm and cool, but because they lack warmth, they can tend to look a bit cool or “ashy” when applied alone. Neutral tones are great at covering grey hair, and work well when mixed with other, more vibrant shades.
  • Copper (or Kopper): copper is a fancy word for orange tones. These aren’t necessarily weirdly-vibrant orange-ness, rather, they’re typically natural redhead tones.
  • Auburn or red-brown: darker natural-looking redhead tones or reddish brown shades.
  • Brassy: a term used for hair that is golden or yellow-looking, especially after a lightening service. Brassiness can be controlled by counteracting the warmth.
  • Red: Fire-engine red tones don’t naturally grow out of anyone’s head. So what this term means depends on how it’s being used. Natural redhead red is either a warmer, more coppery tone or a darker mahogany red-brown. If you’re talking about crayon-red, it’s not a natural hair color, but it can certainly be applied artificially!
  • Contrast: Contrast is how different one area of hair is than another. For example, black hair with blonde highlights is high contrast, while light brown hair with dark blonde highlights is low contrast. Lower contrast looks more natural; higher contrast looks more dramatic.


  • Porosity: this tells the stylist how strongly your hair will “grab” a color, and how damaged it may be. The stylist may need to take an extra step to make sure the color develops evenly, depending on porosity.
  • Dull: dull hair is hair that has little or no shine. Blonde hair tends to be naturally more dull. This can be fixed temporarily with glossing products. There are also chemical gloss products that add shine more long-term, but it is a fact that it’s difficult to keep blonde hair looking sleek and shiny.
  • Overprocessed: Whether it’s before or after your service, if your hair is overprocessed, it means it has been chemically beat down and very damaged. It may look frazzled and “fried,” it may include split ends or matted hair, and it will probably not be able to handle any further chemical services without some major repair and treatments- and time- first.
  • Virgin Hair: hair that has not had chemicals applied to it; it’s in it’s healthiest and purest state


  • Lift: any lightening of hair, going from darker to lighter, even if it’s a small amount
  • Highlighting: adding streaks or chunks of a lighter shade
  • Lowlighting: adding streaks or chunks of a darker shade
  • Tri-Color: Using three colors to give a more natural look to the hair color
  • Filler: a product added prior to the color, either to protect damaged areas of hair, or to prep areas of hair with a balancing shade
  • Toner: a product added after the color, to balance out any outstanding remaining shades.
  • Foil method / color weave: Highlighting/lowlighting method using slices of foil
  • Cap method: Highlighting/lowlighting method using a cap with tiny holes, through which hair is pulled and colored. Tends to focus color on the top of the head, where the sun hits it.
  • Baliage or paint-on: Method of painting color or tint onto the hair by hand. Can be difficult and expensive, but very natural-looking.
  • Depth / Dimension: Naturally, hair has more than one shade in it, giving it a look with depth and dimension. To achieve a more natural look artificially, depth and dimension must be added.
  • Line of demarcation: the point or line of visible regrowth
  • Existing shade or starting shade: The color of the hair as it is; a starting point from which color services may be performed
  • Double process: Any color application that requires two full applications, usually with a shampoo and/or rinse in between and afterward. These services may take longer and may cost more, but should look more natural as well.
  • Grey Coverage: Any service designed to cover grey hairs. (Not all products are capable of doing so.
  • Grey Blending: Any service designed to blend or camouflage grey hairs.