Haircolor levels and tones: an introduction

What do the numbers of haircolor levels mean? Knowing a few things about how numbers in color work will help you better understand the options presented to you at your professional haircolor salon.

What are color levels and how do I find my color tone?

It all starts with the haircolor levels chart. Here's how to decipher the numbers in color charts:

The first number is the base color and indicates how light or dark the color is. Level 1 haircolor is black, level 2 haircolor is the second darkest black, 3 is brown/black, level 4 haircolor is dark brown, level 5 haircolor is light brown, level 6 haircolor is dark blond, level 7 haircolor is dark blond, level 8 haircolor is medium blond, 9 is light blond and 10 is white/platinum.

How haircolor levels and tones are used together

After choosing the base of your color, your professional haircolorist will look at the second haircolor levels with the number that comes after the period mark. This refers to the tone. See further down for a definition of hair tones .1 is Blue, .2 is Violet, .3 is Gold, .4 is Copper, .5 is Mahogany, .6 is Red, .7 is Mat, .8 is Mocha.

If your haircolor is a level 5 haircolor with a tone of .1, you have cool light brown hair, while a level 8 haircolor with a tone of .6, your hair is medium blond with red tones.

This haircolor levels chart also allows your colorist to neutralize the coloration. So, to avoid a blond haircolor from turning too warm, they could add more .2 - Violet or .1 - Blue to counteract the yellow or orange tones.

What is "haircolor" according to hairstylists?

While we see a simple hairstyle, professional haircolor stylists see so much more! A multitude of shades and tones that they are able to translate into a recipe of haircolor levels. As well as the numbers in color, the terminology used to describe the different elements of haircolor can get confusing, so here's a mini dictionary to help you understand professional haircolor jargon alongside haircolor levels:

Base color: The color applied all over (or just at the roots) before the stylist then gets creative with other colors over the top. 2 haircolor, or even 4 haircolor creations give more dimension to the finished look.

Coverage: This refers to how well the haircolor covers gray or white hairs.
Lowlights/highlights: Lowlights are colors darker than the base tone used to create depth, while highlights are lighter than the base tone and bring radiance to the hair.

Tone: Haircolorists divide tones into warm and cool. Warm tones have a red or orange hues to them, while cool tones have blue, purple or green hues. So brunette haircolor, for example, can be cool (ash brown) or warm (mahogany).

How to find your haircolor level

It's important to speak in haircolor level terms, because color names themselves can be subjective and often differ between brands. The haircolor level chart, however, is universal.
To find out your haircolor level, you can refer to a shade level chart or, to be completely sure, visit a professional haircolor stylist. Their expertise will ensure you are diagnosed with exactly the right level, and from here you can choose the perfect haircolor. Knowing your hair tones will also help you learn what colors suit you best!

Image credits: Getty Images - Prostock-Studio