Hair Color 101: Everything You Need to Know About Hair Colors and Coloring Techniques

Hair color is the main indicator of woman’s mood and state of mind. Well-cared locks mean everything goes smoothly. Hair color freshness is equally important as hair’s health. You need to update it on a regular basis to stay attractive and feminine. This article is a must-read if you plan hair changes or look for ways to care for already colored locks. We give a full guide to choosing shade according to your skin and hair type, a list of dyeing techniques, advice how to avoid damage and maintain your color, plus talk about dyeing during pregnancy and hair loss. All questions answered!

A Little Trip Into Hair Coloring History

The urge to change the color of our hair is nothing new. Women have been dyeing their hair since the dawn of time. Ancient Egyptians dyed their hair after shaving it from their heads and transforming it into elaborate curled and braided wigs. Ancient humans used saffron, indigo, alfalfa, and henna as temporary color solutions, but there is evidence that Greek and Roman women used permanent hair dye.

After thousands of years of searching for the perfect hair color and often resorting to dangerous chemicals, modern women can thank William Henry Perkin for stumbling across the formula for today’s hair color creations.

Modern hair color began in the mid-1800s when the well-intentioned English chemist was working on creating a medicine for malaria—not to change the color of the hairs on his head. Instead, he created mauve; a never-before-seen color that was more vivid and longer-lasting than any dye known at the time. This happy accident provided the basis to create the beautiful hair color palettes that we see today.

Whether you want to change your look, experiment with trendy colors, cover greys, or brighten up your natural locks, modern hair color gives you the versatility and the convenience to achieve your goal. With a rainbow of hair colors available at your fingertips, the only limit to your look is your imagination.

Keep reading for more information on hair coloring techniques, hair care for color, and much more!

Main Hair Coloring Techniques

Every year (and even season) top hairstylists update trends: new coloring techniques appear, some, on the contrary, become outdated. However, there exist sure-fire options. We’ve rounded up the most popular dyeing techniques, that will probably never go out of trend.

All-Over Hair Color

All-over hair color is sometimes called “single-process” hair color because it involves applying a single shade to your hair.

There are three levels of permanence when it comes to single-process hair color:

  • Permanent: formula contains ammonia and peroxide which chemically change the color of your hair. This chemical change is what makes it “permanent”.
  • Demi-permanent: contains no ammonia, but does contain peroxide to help hair absorb color. Generally washes out in 12 to 24 shampoos.
  • Semi-permanent: contains no ammonia and color is deposited on the surface of the hair, acting more like a stain. Generally washes out in about 6 to 12 shampoos.

Two-Tone Hair Coloring

Two-Tone Hair Coloring

These are all hair coloring techniques that include just 2 shades – a base hair shade and one more for lightening strands, darkening, or enriching with color. In the era of balayage stricktly two-tone dyeing jobs may be hard to find. The majority of stylists like to use 3 and more shades to blend highlights seamlessly into the hair. However, some of them are still present in today’s life.

If you are interested, check the examples of dip-dye hairstyles, and blue and purple hair coloring. Very often stylists choose just 2 colors for the so-called ‘peek-a-boo hair’ too.

However, two-tone colorings are made not only with pastel or bright colors. It can be classic ombre or balayage as well. Read on to find out more details.



In most cases highlights are lighter streaks aimed to enhance natural hair texture and brighten locks. They differ in shades, size, and placement. Many women opt for highlights to naturally transition from a dark base hair color to the lighter one without extreme bleaching. In this case, streaks have to be very thin. If wider sections are lightened, they are called chunky highlights.

Highlights may be placed all over your head, strategically in the front, on the top layer or just on ends. In other words, anywhere your stylist sees a lack of dimension. Basically, there are 2 most popular types of highlights: traditional foiling and free-hand (aka hair painting) techniques. The second variant is super-trendy nowadays and includes your beloved balayage.

Why did we say that highlights are lighter streaks ‘in most cases’? The answer: they may be done in all shades imaginable. Not just super-trendy caramel or light blonde. For example, a lot of women love bold hair colors and experiment with pink, blue and even purple streaks in their hair. One more creative variant girls of all ages go crazy with are silver and white highlights.

Highlighting looks great on long and short locks, works equally perfect for blondes and women with dark and light brown base hair colors.



Balayage refuses to go anywhere thanks to its versatility and beautiful effect. It differs from highlights because there is no foil or mesh used. Color is swept through small triangle sections of hair by hand, creating natural-looking highlights.

A great benefit to this technique is that your stylist can make your hair as individual as you are with custom-blended colors and precise application to contour and frame your features.

Balayage is also very low-maintenance, making this technique perfect for busy gals. The natural transition from shade to shade makes roots less noticeable when hair grows out.

The only thing balayage can’t do is cover grays — unless you want to blend them into your look. If you have a lot of gray to cover, a full coverage color is your only option. Need just quick touch-ups? Try special root concealers.

Variations of this technique include strobing and smudging.

Check also:

Foil or Mesh Highlights

Foil Technique

Foil highlights are a more precise way to apply color to hair. The use of the foil or mesh allows the stylist to apply different colors at the same time, as well as, provide more even coverage throughout the hair. The application of different colors is great for adding layers of dimension to hair color, and can help create the illusion of volume for fine hair.

This technique can be more high-maintenance than others, however, depending on the number of highlights you apply and the shade you choose. Since the application is done close to the scalp, roots are more visible when hair starts to grow out.



Babylights mimic natural hair by creating very subtle color changes to the base color. They are similar to regular highlights but are spaced closer together and much more delicate in size. The technique is so soft that roots are barely there when color grows out.

Babylights are perfect for any hair color and hair type. They can make your natural shade shine with a subtle, yet powerful, boost. However, be prepared to spend many hours at the salon since the process is so detailed.



Lowlights add depth and dimension to hair color that let the beauty of the natural color shine through. Instead of lightening the hair, lowlights add darker shades to create contrast and let the base color be the start of the show.

Anyone with a beautiful natural base color (except very dark hair) is a good candidate for lowlights. This technique works well for curly or thin, fine locks, as it creates the illusion of volume. Lowlights are very versatile but can make short hair look patchy.



This is another tried-and-true technique that is easy to wear and works on virtually every hair color and type. Ombre means “shaded” in French, and that is the perfect way to describe this popular style. Hair is left darker at the roots, and gradually lightens to the tips. Lighter at the crown and darker at the ends ombre is called “reverse”.

Although the look works best on longer hair, as it gives enough room for the color to gradually melt from the roots to the tips, there are a lot of successful examples of short ombre-ed hair. So if you have a longer pixie or a bob cut, you may try it too.

More ideas:


soft ombre

Sombre is a softer version of ombre. The contrast between roots and tip color is only a shade or two apart, so the color looks more seamlessly blended. Very low-maintenance, this style is easy to care for and requires fewer trips to the salon.



This technique is perfect for short hair. Unlike the ombre or sombre, only the tips of the hair are bleached or lightened by several shades. This look pairs well with short, choppy haircuts. Frosting the ends adds dimension and a bit of interest to the base color.

We could go on and on about the numerous techniques that exist today. For example, rooting, crystalizing, ocean hair, the lived-in look, mermaid hair, and countless others. However, the techniques described above cover the basics of hair coloring and provide a foundation for you to discuss your next hair transformation with your stylist.

Choosing the Right Hair Color to Go with Your Skin

Before you choose a color for your hair, you need to consider which colors best suit your skin tone and complexion undertones. Skin tone is whether your skin is fair, medium, olive or deep, and undertones are what give your skin a warm, cool, or neutral hue.

When trying to figure out your skin undertone, it’s best to use indirect, natural light. Indoor lighting can have warm and cool effects on your skin and skew the results. Ever looked in the mirror in a public washroom and felt a touch green or yellow? That’s because the artificial lights are projecting a greenish hue onto your skin. So, start off by sitting next to a bright window, but not in direct sunlight.

There are a couple of tests to determine what undertones your skin may have:

  • The Vein Test.
  • The easiest way to determine your undertone is to look at the veins in your wrist. Since your veins are so close to the surface of the skin, the contrast highlights the undertones.

  • The Jewelry Test.
  • Depending on your skin tone, you will look better in either gold or silver jewelry. Try on both colors and check to see which looks more natural against your skin.

  • The White or Beige Test.
  • Try on a white and a beige or off-white t-shirt. If you have warm undertones, the white tee makes your skin appear more yellow. If you have cool undertones, the beige tee makes your skin look washed out and grey.

Hair Colors for Every Type of Skin Tone and Undertone

Now, when you’ve figured out your skin undertone, it’s time to reaffirm your conclusions and find out what hues will look best on you.

Warm Skin Undertone

  • Your veins look greenish and your skin has yellow and gold undertones.
  • You look good in gold jewelry.
  • Wearing beige complements your warm golden undertones.

Best hair shades for warm undertones:

  • Fair: copper, golden blonde, caramel
  • Medium: bronde
  • Olive: chestnut, cinnamon
  • Deep: violet red or black, honey, caramel

Cool Skin Undertone

  • Your veins look blueish and your skin has pink and blue undertones.
  • You look good in silver jewelry.
  • Wearing white brings out the pink in your skin.

Best hair shades for cool undertones:

  • Fair: icy platinum, baby blonde
  • Medium: sand, wheat, and beige colors
  • Olive: chestnut, cinnamon
  • Deep: inky black, espresso, blue-black

Neutral Skin Undertone

  • If you have “olive” skin, you most likely have a neutral skin undertone.
  • If you have a hard time telling whether your veins are green or blue, you probably have a neutral skin undertone.
  • You can wear either white or beige and either gold or silver, and they look equally good against your skin.

Best hair shades for neutral undertones:

  • Depending on whether you have fair, medium, olive, or deep skin tone, you can experiment with any of the colors in the cool or warm spectrum. Have fun!

We’ve previously discussed the question of hair colors and skin tones here.

Choosing the Right Color and Technique for Your Hair Type

Before you hit the salon, it’s essential to identify your hair type and the most complimentary color technique to go with it.

  • Straight
  • Options are endless for those with straight hair. With a wide variety of coloring techniques available, straight and relaxed hair can usually handle some wild types of hairstyles like tie-dye, mermaid, and rainbow looks. Babylights, sombre, and ombre on straight hair create dimension and movement. Straight hair is perfect for any type of freehanded painting technique.

  • Wavy
  • Hair with a subtle wave can look great with all hair techniques. It’s not too busy for dip dye, ombre, or tie-dyed hair, and has enough dimension to handle even the subtlest of babylights.

  • Curly
  • Curly hair comes alive with highlights and lowlights. Freehand techniques like babylights and balayage allow your stylist to color your unique set of curls precisely and add dimension that works with, not against, your hair type.

Coloring and Hair Loss

There exist a legend that dyeing hair may cause hair loss. Fortunately, it is one of the hair coloring myths. There are many reasons for hair loss in women but coloring hair is not one of them.

The number one reason for hair loss in women is androgenetic alopecia (AGA), also known as hereditary hair loss or female pattern hair loss. Your hair follicles are affected by genetics, hormones, and age throughout your life. They can also be affected by stress, pregnancy, and rapid weight loss.

While coloring your hair does not cause hair loss, it can damage your hair. Over-processing your hair can cause breakage and lead to thinner locks, but only for the short term. The hair fall will be temporary. To stop it give your locks special treatment.

How to Care for Colored Hair

After spending all that money and time at the salon, follow these tips for keeping your color longer:

  • Wash your hair 1 to 3 times a week. Frequent washing fades color faster.
  • Use a dry shampoo in between washes, if necessary.
  • Get a quality shampoo and conditioner that suits your hair type.
  • For blondes and greys, invest in a good purple shampoo to keep brassiness at bay.
  • Use lukewarm water to wash your hair and cool water to rinse. Cool water closes the cuticle to keep the color molecules, nutrients, and moisture sealed in.

How to Minimize Hair Damage After Coloring

Any type of chemical process will take a toll on your hair. Not only do the chemicals from coloring affect your hair, the sun can damage it and degrade your color. Swimming in pools and saltwater can also dry out and damage hair and ruin your color.

Prevention is key to keeping hair healthy and color vibrant. Follow these tips to lessen damage caused by the elements:

  • Condition your hair regularly, use hair masks, and consider applying a leave-in conditioner.
  • Always use a heat protectant before styling.
  • Consider a hair spray with UV protection.
  • Use a silicone-based product on your hair or wet it with fresh water before going into the pool.
  • Use a good quality shampoo and conditioner for color-treated hair.

Choosing the Best Shampoo for Colored Hair

Does colored hair really need a special shampoo? Yes – regular shampoos strip away the color molecules causing the color to fade faster. Color-protecting shampoos are formulated to treat the specific needs of colored hair. They contain ingredients to restore and strengthen damaged strands, moisturize, add shine and softness.

Look for a shampoo that cleanses gently without stripping your hair of moisture and natural oils. If the product is taking moisture from your hair, it will be taking color with it. The shampoo should contain UV filters to prevent color fading in the sun, as well as, damage repairing properties, such as essential oils, proteins, and panthenol.

Check out our review of the best shampoos for color-treated hair for more information.

Do You Need a Sulfate-Free Shampoo for Color-Treated Hair?

All shampoos contain a cleansing agent necessary to remove dirt and buildup from hair. This common cleansing ingredient is a sulfate. There is no published scientific evidence to prove that sulfates cause color to fade faster than other detergents used in sulfate-free shampoos.

According to the Food and Drug Administration and the Cosmetic Ingredient Review, sulfates are considered to be safe in small quantities and there is no need to avoid them unless you have very sensitive skin. In that case, sulfates can cause irritation as they strip the hair and scalp of natural oils and moisture.

Sodium lauryl sulfate cleanses well but strips hair of natural oils, protein, and peptides, which can take a toll on hair health. Sodium laureth sulfate is a gentler cleanser, although both may cause allergies.

Sulfates are what give your shampoo that great lather we all love. Sulfate-free shampoos may not lather as well, but rest assured that they are cleansing your hair just as well. Choose what you like more.

What Other Ingredients Should Be Avoided in Shampoos for Color-Treated Hair?

Alcohol dries out your hair. If it’s one of the first four ingredients for your product, steer clear.

Formaldehyde and its releasers, including Quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, polyoxymethylene urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, bromopol and glyoxal. The verdict is still out on formaldehyde, however, in large quantities, it can cause irritations to the skin, eyes, nose, and throat.

Parabens break the hair cuticle, making hair weak, brittle, and dull.

Check out EWG’s Cosmetic Database for more information on ingredients in your favorite products.

Dyeing Your Hair When You’re Pregnant

Luckily, it is just one more myth. You may color your hair while pregnant. Just use techniques that keep hair dye away from the scalp, such as, balayage or ombre. Chemicals from hair dye can be absorbed through the scalp and may cause harm to the fetus. Also, it is recommended not to dye hair until the second trimester. Even ‘natural’ and ammonia-free hair dyes are still substances full of different chemicals. Anyway, consult your doctor before choosing to dye your hair for more information.

Coloring Your Hair at Home

Many women choose to dye their hair at home. Whether for convenience, affordability, or other reasons, there are some things to keep in mind when going the DIY route.

Coloring your hair at home can result in damage, breakage, and unwanted color results.

For example, damaged hair can turn green in the wrong conditions, and a stylist will be able to prevent this unfortunate mistake. Bleaching your hair can cause breakage and burns if not carefully and skillfully applied. Or you may get a yellowish blonde on your head and don’t know how to get rid of it. A professional colorist can determine a color treatment that takes many factors into account that you may not know about.

Home hair coloring can result in ruined clothing, towels, and other porous materials in your bathroom.

At the salon, stylists take precautions to make sure your clothes and personal items are protected from spills and drops. Hair dye on tile floors and toilet seats can be difficult, if not impossible to remove.

There are things that you can do to make your home hair coloring routine run more smoothly.

  • Get all your tools ready and have them close at hand.
  • Buy extra gloves to protect hands and nails.
  • Wear an old button-down shirt to protect from spills.
  • Use a color brush and bowl to apply color like they do at the salon.
  • Apply a thin layer of petroleum jelly around your hairline to make removing stains from skin easier.
  • Keep a cloth nearby to wipe up spills immediately.

For more information about coloring your hair safely at home, check out the articles below.

Let’s conclude. Despite the reason you’ve decided to dye your hair (to refresh your current shade, totally change your image or cover grays, etc.) you have dozens of techniques to choose from. These are solid colorings, highlights, ombre and frosted tips, not to mention creative unusual colors. Especially now since you know how to minimize the harmful effects of chemicals on your locks, how to take care of your new shade after salon and even how to successfully pull off an at-home dye job. All fears have disappeared, right? We wish you marvelous results every time you color your hair! Good luck!