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Hair Color Terms to Add to Your Vocabulary

By Chris Jones
Share to PinterestHair Color Terms to Add to Your Vocabulary

If you’re considering adding a little color to your hairstyle, you’re no doubt a little confused by the seemingly endless hair color terms out there. Well, now is as good a time as ever to untangle the mystery behind all those words you always hear your stylist tossing around.

Whether you’re looking to shake things up with a new shade or make a full-blown statement, a little hair color know-how goes a long way in getting exactly the look you want. Who knows, maybe you’ll even pick up some fresh ideas for your next appointment?



What it is: Highlights are simply isolated strands of hair that have been lightened a few shades from your natural color. If you’re happy with your base color but want to add a little brightness and dimension to your ‘do, highlights are the way to go.

Good to know: Your stylist will want to know how much hair to highlight. Here are the options.

  • Partial highlights: Color is only applied to the hair around the face, and only on the top layer of the hair.
  • Full highlights: Color is applied to the entire head, from the hairline to the nape of the neck, including all the layers underneath.
  • Babylights: Delicate highlights are added sparingly to mimic the subtle, sunkissed color seen on children’s hair.

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What it is: The opposite of highlights, this technique involves darkening isolated sections of hair instead of lightening them. Lowlights either match the base color or are darker than it, but they are never lighter.

Good to know: When combined with highlights, lowlights add dimension and depth, creating the illusion of volume. The contrast between the dark and light tones can also add a textural quality to flat, lackluster locks.

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What it is: Hair color is painted directly onto strips of aluminum foil, which are then folded over strands of hair to keep it separate from the rest. The color is allowed to process with the hair in the foils for a certain amount of time, usually without heat, and is then rinsed out.

Good to know: Foiling is the most popular technique for adding highlights or lowlights because it ensures that color appears uniform from the root to the ends.

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Single and double process color

Share to PinterestSingle process color

What it is: Single process color involves depositing a single base color to the entire head of hair in just one step, resulting in a flat but uniform color throughout. Those boxes of hair dye on the shelves at the drugstore give you single process color.

Double process is the same as single process, but with the addition of highlights at the end for a little more dimension.

Good to know: Both double and single process coloring is great for covering grays and boosting shine.



What it is: Also known as gloss or glaze, this post-color, post-shampoo treatment leaves hair intensely conditioned. Not only that, but it can also balance out your color to the desired shade. Toner is often used to help neutralize the brassiness that often occurs with blonde hair, dialing it down from orange back to a cooler hue.

Good to know: This super-shiny, semi-permanent top coat of color fades fast — it only lasts about two weeks.

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What it is: Balayage is a hair coloring technique that was created in the 1970s, but it has gained traction in recent years. Unlike traditional foil highlighting, the stylist paints highlights or swipes of color directly onto the hair by hand. This creates the coveted ombre look, with hair that’s darker at the top and lighter at the bottom.

Good to know: Balayage results in highlights that blend in seamlessly with the base color, which creates a more natural look than foils. And, because your roots are already dark on purpose, you won’t need to get them touched up as often.

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What is is: Pintura, which means “to paint” in Spanish, is basically balayage for curly-haired girls. Hair is hand-painted, but in a way that carefully follows your natural curl pattern.

Good to know: More lightener is applied at the roots than traditional balayage because highlights need to be brighter on curly hair in order to be visible. As a result, tight corkscrew curls are highlighted and accentuated. If you have looser waves, traditional balayage will give you better results.

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Hand-pressed color

What it is: This fresh new coloring technique, the brainchild of New York-based Redken Artist, Chiala Marvici, is currently taking the beauty industry by storm. It involves painting and blending color on sheets of plexiglass — much like an artist palette — and pressing hair into the color by hand, usually with a putty knife.

Good to know: Not only is this hair coloring method less time consuming than traditional techniques, but the options for vibrant shades and patterns are truly limitless.

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What it is: The word ecaille, which means “tortoiseshell” in French, is a hair coloring technique that combines shades of honey blonde, caramel, chestnut brown, and chocolate to create a softened ombre effect — also known as “sombre." The look is often glossy and polished, much like the material it's named after.

Good to know: This low-maintenance style brightens up brown hair without the commitment — and damage — of high contrast highlights.

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Demi-permanent, semi-permanent, and permanent color

What it is: These terms refer to how long your hair color will stay in your hair.

Good to know:

  • Permanent color permanently changes the structure of your hair by opening up the hair shaft with strong chemicals like peroxide or ammonia. While the color does fade over time, it will stay in your hair until you grow it out, or you cut it off — whichever comes first.
  • Demi-permanent color only alters the structure of the hair slightly and is, therefore, less damaging. It will eventually wash out after about 20-25 shampoos.
  • Semi-permanent color is more like a stain — it doesn’t change the structure of the hair at all. It’s more translucent than demi-permanent color and washes out in as few as six washes.

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