The Definitive Hair Colouring Dictionary

Did you know that increasing your vocabulary can increase your IQ?

We’re going to raise your colourist IQ through the roof by getting you across the colouring lingo. It’s all a bit easier when we actually understand the words we used. No more winging it!

There’s several terms which describe the characteristics and properties of different hair colours:


Warm Hair Colours refer to colours which have Yellow, Red or Orange undertones that a warm glow to your Hair Colour. Any Hair Colours with Golden, Bronzed, Copper or Red in their name are Warm Hair Colours.


Cool Hair Colours have a blend of Blue and Green undertones that create a matte, sleek Colour finish. Cool Colours are Ash or Beige Colours.

Unwanted Cool or Warm tones can be balanced and eliminated using a colour with opposite tones, eg. If you have Hair that has unwanted Yellow/Brassie Warmth you can eliminate it by Toning your Hair with an Ash Colour to Cool the Warmth down.

Natural or Nude hair colours

Natural Hair Colour refers to either your original hair pigments, otherwise known as virgin hair.  Nude hair refers to colours which look very natural and which have a neutral base with no added reflects or pigments.

Reflect or Undertones

Reflect or undertones  refer to the characteristics within the colour which are visible in the sunlight. They are not visible in neutral colours, but any colour with a decimal point, has added reflect.

General Hair Colour Terms:


Chemical formulated in most hair colours to open up the hair cuticle to allow the colour to penetrate into the cortex of the hair. Unfortunately, ammonia may also damage hair, and due to its smell, it is necessary to use in a well-ventilated area.


Ash or ashy refers to the tone of hair colour that is cool-based with blue, violet or natural/neutral pigments. Ashy tone does not contain any warm, red or golden hues.

Base colour:

The dominant colour of hair, whether natural or coloured, before any colour or highlights are applied.


Refers to unwanted warm (orange and red) tones, usually in lightened or coloured hair.


Refers to the amount of grey that can be covered by hair colour.


Also known as activator, this is an oxidizing agent added to hair colour to “activate” the chemical process that deposits the hair colour into the hair shaft.


Refers to hair colour molecules entering the hair cuticle to create a change in colour or tone.


Lightening sections of hair to add the illusion of depth and dimension.

Level or the Level System:

A universal system used by colourists and hair colour manufacturers to standardize hair colour charts. Level refers to how light or dark a hair colour is—the lower the number, the darker the hair.


Depositing a darker colour into separate strands of hair, creating the illusion of depth.

Maximum Lift:

The amount of lightening possible in different hair colouring techniques and formulas.

Patch Test:

Test usually given in the crux of the elbow or behind the ear to test for sensitivity or allergies.

Permanent Hair Color:

Hair colour mixed with a developer/activator that contains an oxidizing agent that changes the hair structure to deposit colour. Can be used to lighten or darken or change the tone of the hair.


Melanin protein bonds found in the cortex (the middle layer of the hair) that gives hair its colour.


Also known as colour-resistant hair, this refers to hair (usually white hair) that resists penetration of colour and is an indication of the condition of the outer layer of the hair.

Re-growth or Roots:

The new outgrowth of hair from the scalp, noticeable when colouring hair or if colouring gray hair.

Semi-Permanent Color:

Hair color that does not require a developer/activator and only partially penetrates the cuticle and is gradually washed out after each shampoo.

Single-process Hair Colour:

Refers to colouring that colours and or lightens hair in one step.


Form of hair colour application, such as balayage, foil, or single-process.

Temporary Colour:

Non-permanent colour that doesn’t penetrate the cuticle but sits in the outer layers of the hair strand, allowing it to be removed by shampoo.


Refers to the “finish” of a hair colour, indicated by the amount of warmth (orange/red) or coolness (blue/ash) of the hair.


Product applied to coloured or lightened hair to neutralize unwanted tones, or refresh and enhance existing colour.

Touch Up:

The application of hair colour to re-growth, also called a root touch up.

Virgin Hair:

Hair that has never been colour treated.

A little bit of knowledge can go a long way. Get on top of the lingo and your colour and stay in charge. Save time and money and get the colour results you want at home, then walk with your head that little bit higher, with the confidence in your skilled-up, self-reliant gorgeous self.

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