What Hair Color Terms Do You Actually Need to Know?

Victoria Moorhouse
hair color terms story

Photo: ImaxTree

Pumpkin spice, chocolate chip, tortoiseshell. The list of hair coloring terms that we’ve seen pop up this year can go on and on (and on), and honestly, it can get a little confusing. But does having a particularly diverse hair color vocabulary really matter at all? Is it a make-it or break-it in getting the look you really want or is it just getting in the way of the color of your dreams? We went to a few pro colorists to find out.

So most of these terms? Yeah, they’re nothing new.
These aren’t brand new shades magically added to the color wheel. Master colorist at mizu salon new york, Moran Gallagher, tells us that professionals have been doing these techniques for a while—many of them just now have a trendy name. Take the currently popular Pumpkin Spice color, for example. “It’s just reddish hair with some highlighting effects, whether it’s ombre, sombre, foiled, or painted in,” explains Gallagher.

And using them sometimes can cause confusion for even your colorist.
These terms aren’t universal by any means. Celebrity hair colorist Rita Hazan says that they could mean different things depending on where you are and suggests staying away from the buzzwords. “Forget all the terms you know. Most people don’t understand salon lingo, and most salons have their own terminology that they use,” explains Hazan. “From salon to salon it varies a lot. For example, ‘break the base’ means different things to different people. You and your colorist could be interpreting these terms in completely different ways.” And that doesn’t only cause confusion for your colorist—it can make you feel insecure in the salon chair.

To avoid any mistakes, stick to simple terms and bring in photos.
Hazan says to keep it simple using phrases like highlights and lowlights or even just telling the colorist you want your hair lighter or darker. And when all else fails and you feel like you really don’t know how to get the words out, use a picture. “Just in case the colorist doesn’t have an encyclopedia of color names, pictures are best,” notes Gallagher. “There are so many variations of the same trend. When a client wants a big change or trendy color, one of us whips out our phone, we look at pictures, and then we customize it to their hair cut, texture, skin tone, eye color, etc.”

Know the basics.
If you don’t have a pic and have to rely on purely descriptions, you should have a general understanding of the types of hair colors out there. Hazan says to use phrases like chocolate, honey, sun-kissed, buttery, copper, auburn, red and, espresso, or “anything that allows you both to visualize the color in your head.” As long as you have a pic, a great stylist, and confidence in the look you’ve picked, you’re good to go.

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