It happens to the best of us. You’re sitting in the hairdresser’s chair, black Velcro gown and all, wondering what foreign language the stylist is speaking as she rattles off complicated hair coloring terms about a major chemical process your scalp is about to endure. You could just smile and nod (like always) and leave your hair fate to the coloring gods, or you could consult our handy guide to make more informed decisions. Your choice.
Every Hair Coloring Term You Might Need to Know
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What it means: Also called hair painting, this technique is where color is applied freehand to the surface of hair. The color is “hand swept” by the colorist from mid-shaft to ends, which differs from traditional highlights that are applied from the base of the hair.
How it looks: Think more natural-looking highlights that are a bit easier to maintain.
What it means: Similar to balayage, but for curly-haired ladies. This technique also paints color directly to the strands in specific patterns (depending on the desired effect).
How it looks: Since stylists can choose exactly where to place color, the final result adds dimension and light-reflecting qualities specific to each client.
What it means: This look is generally low-maintenance and uses the balayage technique to paint color onto the bottom half of the hair length. (Balayage is the technique; ombré is the look.)
How it looks: Hair is colored darker at the roots (or left alone if naturally dark) and fades to a lighter hue at the ends (or vice versa).
What it means: Also known in the beauty world as "ecaille," colors ranging from gold to chocolate are added and blended through the hair to create a gradual shift from dark to light.
How it looks: The tortoiseshell appearance is a bit softer and more natural-looking than ombré, and begins with a darker root that subtly fades to a warm blonde.
5. HAND-PRESSED COLOR
What it means: Created by NYC-based colorist Chiala Marvici, this technique uses a plate of plexiglass (like an artist’s palette) to transfer multiple layers of color onto the hair. (If you haven’t heard of it yet, don’t worry--it’s going mainstream as we speak.)
How it looks: Multi-dimensional color that appears to change as the hair moves.
6. PARTIAL HIGHLIGHTS
What it means: These highlights are placed around the face, though some stylists place the highlights on the top layers of the hair. Make sure to clarify which area the partial highlights will be applied to.
How it looks: The addition of face-framing color can add volume and body to hair, though may appear dramatic if lower layers are much darker than highlights.
7. FULL HIGHLIGHTS
What it means: Like it sounds, the color is applied to every section of your head, from the nape of your neck to your hairline.
How it looks: The highlight color usually appears in greater contrast to the original hair color and can look quite dramatic if a very light hue is chosen for dark hair. Conversely, they can also appear the most natural--if similar colors are blended together.
8. LOW LIGHTS
What it means: A technique that darkens strands of hair (rather than lightening them).
How it looks: This can add depth to hair, which gives the illusion of more volume, and is often paired with highlights in order to add even more dimension.
What it means: The most common method for applying highlights/lowlights, hair color is painted on strips of foil that are folded and allowed to “process” for a set time.
How it looks: The color will typically appear on the entire strand of hair from root to tip.
10. BASE COLOR
What it means: A color that the stylist applies all over the head, from root to tip. This step usually precedes other colors or highlights.
How it looks: One-dimensional color that looks uniform throughout--until you add other hues on top.
What it means: The measure of a hair dye’s ability to cover gray strands.
How it looks: More coverage means less transparency and fading over time.
12. SINGLE PROCESS
What it means: Color is applied to the entire head in one step by depositing a new base color. This technique is typical of home-dying kits.
How it looks: Single process will not have as much variety as double process (see below) but is useful for covering gray hairs and adding shine.
What it means: When two hair color techniques are applied during the same salon appointment. Typically, this means you first get a base color and then you get highlights.
How it looks: Multi-dimensional color.
What it means: This liquid formula is applied all over and adds shine and semi-permanent color that typically lasts for up to two weeks. Some glazes are clear, which you can think of as a top coat for color. Glosses and glazes can also provide intense conditioning and often help repair damage to hair.
How it looks: Think super-shiny color that fades quickly.
What it means: A semi-permanent color is applied to damp hair to even out any unwanted hues (i.e., “brassiness”).
How it looks: Harmonizing colors are added, but they can fade over time. This is just a temporary fix for reviving color.
What it means: A chemical that helps hair absorb color by filling gaps in the cuticle of the hair.
How it looks: Hair color is more evenly distributed throughout and remains more vibrant for a longer period of time.