Hair Colors: 10 Terms You Need to Know

Bookmark this glossary for your next appointment.

Yes, it’s true, your colorist doesn’t expect you to walk into their salon knowing every hair term in the book. However, it never hurts to brush up on some terminology to explain what you want when it comes to trying out new hair colors. These days, a screenshot of your favorite hair colors found on Instagram is not enough. Not only would your colorist be impressed that you can somewhat speak their language, it also makes their job easier knowing exactly what their client wants.

You don’t really need to go deep and give yourself an at-home vocabulary quiz to learn intense hair coloring terms like double-process, lift, single-process and balance (although that would be pretty impressive). All you need are the basic hair color terms and trends which we’re breaking down for you below:

picking hair colors
Brush up on your knowlege of hair colors to help your stylist give you the results you want.

1. Babylights

A super fine highlighting technique used to soften and add dimension to the hair while mimicking the natural looking sun-kissed highlights most babies have when they’re young.

2. Base

Before applying colors or highlights to achieve the look you want. Stylists often applies an alternative hair color as a coating first.

3. Balayage

A hair color technique that involves “sweeping” or “painting” color onto the hair by hand which creates a natural looking finish.


A term that’s helpful to know if you’re in the market for covering gray hair; it determines the hair colors ability to cover grays.

5. Highlights

Strands of hair that are lightened one or two shades lighter than the natural color of your hair.

6. Lowlights

Thin strands of hair are darkened one or two shades darker than the rest of your hair. This technique is mostly used to create depth and volume to the hair.

7. Ombré

Using the balayage technique, colorists sweep or paint color onto the bottom section of the hair length.

8. Sombré

A fancy way of saying “subtle ombré“. This look is created by mixing darker and lighter tones to create a less dramatic look like the ombré.

9. Toner

A formula used to soften and blend highlights, balance out the tone or enhance the overall look of the color. Bed Head By TIGI Dumb Blonde Toning Protection Spray is a great toning spray to use on color treated hair.

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