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Hair colour levels and tones: an introduction

What do the numbers of hair colour levels mean? Knowing a few things about how numbers in colour work will help you better understand the options presented to you at your professional hair colour salon.  

What are colour levels and how do I find my colour tone?

It all starts with the hair colour levels chart. Here’s how to decipher the numbers on colour charts: 

The first number is the base colour and indicates how light or dark the colour is. Level 1 hair colour is black, level 2 hair colour is the second darkest black, 3 is brown/black, level 4 hair colour is dark brown, level 5 hair colour is light brown, level 6 hair colour is dark blond, level 7 hair colour is dark blond, level 8 hair colour is medium blond, 9 is light blond and 10 is white/platinum. 

How hair colour levels and tones are used together

After choosing the base of your colour, your professional hair colourist will look at the second hair colour levels with the number that comes after the period mark. This refers to the tone. See further down for a definition of hair tones .1 is Blue, .2 is Violet, .3 is Gold, .4 is Copper, .5 is Mahogany, .6 is Red, .7 is Mat, .8 is Mocha. 

If your hair colour is a level 5 hair colour with a tone of .1, you have cool light brown hair, while a level 8 hair colour with a tone of .6 is medium blond with red tones. 

This hair colour levels chart also allows your colourist to neutralise the end result. So, to avoid a blond hair colour from turning too warm, they could add more .2 - Violet or .1 - Blue to counteract the yellow or orange tones. 

What is "hair colour" according to hairstylists?

While we see a simple hairstyle, professional hair colour stylists see so much more! A multitude of shades and tones that they are able to translate into a recipe of hair colour levels. As well as the numbers in color, the terminology used to describe the different elements of hair colour can get confusing, so here's a mini dictionary to help you understand professional haircolor jargon alongside hair colour levels:

Base colour: The color applied all over (or just at the roots) before the stylist then gets creative with other colors over the top. 2 haircolor, or even 4 haircolor creations give more dimension to the finished look.

Coverage: This refers to how well the haircolor covers grey or white hairs.
Lowlights/highlights: Lowlights are colors darker than the base tone used to create depth, while highlights are lighter than the base tone and bring radiance to the hair.

Tone: Hair colourists divide tones into warm and cool. Warm tones have a red or orange hues to them, while cool tones have blue, purple or green hues. So brunette haircolor, for example, can be cool (ash brown) or warm (mahogany).

How to find your hair colour level

It's important to speak in hair colour level terms, because colour names themselves can be subjective and often differ between brands. The hair colour level chart, however, is universal.
To find out your hair colour level, you can refer to a shade level chart or, to be completely sure, visit a professional hair colour stylist. Their expertise will ensure you are diagnosed with exactly the right level, and from here you can choose the perfect hair colour. Knowing your hair tones will also help you learn what colours suit you best!

Image credits: Getty Images - Prostock-Studio


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