25 Hair-Coloring Terms Stylists Want You to Understand

Miscommunication between stylist and client is a common obstacle to perfectly painted hair. As a stylist, I spend a lot of time consulting with my clients before a color service is done. This is one of the most important parts of the service. If the client has any inspiration photos, we discuss exactly what they like about that photo, and I set realistic expectations for that appointment. It is important to know how to communicate with your stylist so that you two are on the same page before the service begins. To help with that communication, here are 25 hair-coloring terms all contemporary stylists want you to know.

25 Terms for Better Communication with Your Colorist

You sit down in your stylist’s chair, excited to have your dream hair. You came prepared with a photo of exactly what you want and are ready for your stylist to execute your vision. Your stylist starts to tell you what they are going to do and it sounds completely foreign, but you assume you are both on the same page, and the service begins. Then, there is the moment you weren’t prepared for: the end result is not what you were hoping for. It all comes down to communication. That photo may speak to you differently than what it technically shows your stylist. It is important to be able to communicate what it is about the photo that you like or about what you like and dislike about your current hair color.

These 25 terms will help you to not only communicate your wants with your stylist, but will also help you to understand what he/she is communicating to you as to what his/her ideas are and what is the plan.

Hair Painting Process

Instagram / @carissa.obrien

  1. Babylights: These are baby-fine highlights, placed back to back with a little hair between to achieve maximum brightness.
  2. Balayage: Balayage is a French word meaning “to sweep”. It is the name of a technique where lightener, or color, is applied to the surface of the hair using sweeping strokes.
  3. Base Color: This term refers to the color starting at the root and ending at another color, highlights, or lowlights begin. It can be either the client’s natural color or dyed.
  4. Contrast: This refers to the shade value of the highlights. A high contrast is where the highlights really stand out, where low contrast leaves the highlights more natural looking.
  5. Cool: Cool tones identify colors with a violet, blue, or green value. Blondes (platinum), brunettes (ash brown), and red (plum) shades can all have a cool tonal value.
  6. Colormelt: A colormelt is a technique where the colors applied blend so flawlessly that it creates a gradient effect where you are unable to determine exactly where each starts and stops. A color melt can be done in several ways such as over highlights to create this blend or can be done with different colors on natural hair.
  7. Coverage: This is the ability of hair color to cover gray hair. Some colors are more translucent and blend with, rather than just cover, gray.
  8. Demarcation Line: The line where your new growth meets with your previously colored or treated hair.
  9. Demi-Permanent Color: A demi-permanent hair color contains no ammonia and uses a low-volume developer to open the cuticle and deposit color. This color will fade with time and is best for gray blending, enhancing or neutralizing natural color, toning and refreshing, and corrective work.
  10. Dimension: This refers to the range of tones throughout your hair. Dimension can be created through the addition of highlights and/or lowlights.
  11. Double Process: This is the term given when two color services are performed in one visit. These services are done back to back, where one service is applied, washed, dried, and then the second process is then completed. For example, a root color is applied to cover grays, and then you get highlights.
  12. Face-Framing Highlights or Balayage: This is when pops of color or highlights are placed around the front to frame the face. This is a good service for in-between partial/full highlighting sessions to give your current color more longevity.
  13. Full Highlights (or Balayage/Hair-Painting): Think full head; this is where highlights or balayage are placed from the nape to the front hairline.
  14. Foilayage: This technique has recently become popular and is where a balayage style placement is placed inside of a foil instead of open air or with plastic wrap. This allows for the hair to lift more and produce a lighter highlight.
  15. Gloss (Toner): This is used to tone, neutralize, or enhance the color of a highlight or natural hair color. When hair is lifted, a raw pigment is revealed. A gloss or toner helps to customize that tone. These do fade with time and washings, so make sure to schedule follow-up glossing services to ensure the tone you want stays in the hair.
  16. Hair Painting: Hair painting and balayage, while similar, are not the same technique. Hair painting not only is when the surface of the section is painted but the bottom side as well. When the bottom side is painted and saturated, you get more brightness at the bottom of the hair all over.
  17. Lift: This refers to how much pigment is removed from the hair when lightened. The more lift you achieve, the lighter the hair will be. The amount of lift achieved is referred to in levels. You will achieve more lift when heat is applied or foils are used. However, your hair may have limitations to how much lift your stylist is able to achieve while keeping the integrity of your hair.
  18. Lowlight: This is where color is placed either in foils or painted on strands to add depth and dimension.
  19. Partial Highlight (or Balayage): This refers to less than half of the head being highlighted. It may apply to highlighting from the crown forward, face-framing highlights, or just several highlights strategically placed throughout the head to add desired dimension.
  20. Permanent Color: This type of color uses an oxidizer and ammonia mixed together with a coloring agent. They provide the most gray coverage and last the longest. If you do not have gray hair, you may want to opt for a demi-permanent because they use less chemicals and are a lower commitment, if you plan on wanting to change your hair color or lighten it in the future.
  21. Root Shadow: This is a technique utilized at the bowl after highlights have been rinsed out. A root shade (either a demi- or semi-permanent color) is placed at the root area to blend the root color with the highlights and/or balayage.
  22. Semi-Permanent: Semi-permanent color contains no peroxide or ammonia, which means it will not penetrate the cuticle and will last only about 4-6 weeks, depending on washing frequency and at-home hair-care products.
  23. Single Process: This is when you receive one service, such as a root touch-up.
  24. Teasy Lights: This is a type of highlighting service where the hair is backcombed and what is left is lightened and placed in a foil. The combination of backcombing and foils allow for a brighter but more diffused highlight.
  25. Warm: These are the opposite of cool tones. They identify colors with yellow, orange, red value.

For inspiration photos or to learn more about color techniques, please follow my hair account @carissa.obrien