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Dear Color Crew: What Color Is My Hair, Really?

by Madison Reed September 16, 2020

What color is my hair? Shades

Image by Madison Reed

Dear Color Crew,
This might sound a little embarrassing, but if you asked me what my natural hair color is—or if I came across the question on a hair color quiz, for instance—I wouldn’t know where to begin. I’ve been coloring my hair for so many years, and I don’t know if “real hair color” refers to the hair color I had when I was a child, or if it means the color my hair would be if I stopped dyeing it tomorrow. Help! I’m also not 100% clear on what a “level” is...and for that matter, what my level is. And once I know the answer to that, how do I figure out what level I want it to be? So many questions.
We love this question because it’s so relatable. If you’ve been coloring your hair for as long as some of us have, who knows what your “real” hair color is now? And if you started coloring your hair in your teens or twenties, could your natural color have changed? We’ve got a trick for figuring out what your current natural hair color is...but first, let’s talk hair color levels.
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Hair color levels - all you need to know

The level system of hair color is a universal system used by colorists, cosmetologists, and hair color manufacturers to standardize hair color charts. Your level simply refers to how light or dark your hair color is—the lower the number, the darker the hair. Our permanent hair colors range from level 2–10, with 2 being our darkest black and 10 being our lightest “natural” blonde. (We also carry three level 11 high lift shades, which are not “natural” levels and are not recommended for gray coverage.)
When we’re talking about hair color, speaking in terms of levels can help clarify things, because levels are a kind of universal language everyone refers to, regardless of what hair color shades are called or how they are described. “Medium brown hair” means different things to different people, but a level is the same (or similar enough) across the board. This is why it’s so important to know what hair color level you have now, and what hair color level you want after coloring, so you can find the shade of hair color that checks all the boxes for you.
What color is my hair? Shades
Find permanent hair color for:
brown hair
blonde hair
red hair
black hair

What level is my hair?

Knowing your current natural hair color level is the best way to help determine the best shade of hair color to use to get the results you want. Here’s how you can figure out what level of hair color you currently have:
1.Choose a section of your hair and hold it up, extended outwards away from the rest of your hair. (Hair always looks darker when it's layered on top of the rest of your hair and no light can come through the section.) For best results, make sure you are standing in natural light.
2.The section you’ve chosen should be from the farthest part of the crown you can closely examine. Your hair is always lightest around the front of your hairline, where it is finer and gets the most sun exposure. If you use the roots right along your hairline as your guide, you’ll probably come away thinking your hair is lighter than it actually is (which could result in your hair color coming out darker than you expect or want).
3.Take a very good look at the shade of hair growing out from your roots, close to your head. If what you're seeing is mostly gray, look for the color in between the grays. Tons of people think “natural hair color” refers to what color they were born with, or what color their hair was in early childhood, but our hair tends to change color as we age. Often, our hair gets darker when we get older. So, while you might remember having had lighter hair as a kid, you want to know what color your hair is right now, so you can choose the shade that will give you the results you’re looking for.

4.Now take a look at the hair color chart on this page. Which shade best matches your current natural hair color? That’s the one you want!

5.If you’re looking to go lighter or darker, that’s another story. Our hair color lifts 1–2 levels lighter—for example, if you’re a natural level 4, the lightest you will be able to take your hair is a level 2.
6.Going darker? Though it’s always easier to take your color darker, we recommend doing so in steps and only going one shade darker at a time (for the health of your hair). If your color isn’t dark enough, you can always go a shade darker next time!

7.Important to note: permanent hair color cannot lighten hair that has already been color-treated. So, if you most recently colored your hair with a level 5 shade, applying a level 6 shade on top of it will not lighten your color at all.

What color is my hair? Conclusions

Following the steps above you can determine the color of your hair. If you aren't sure, visit a Hair Color Bar to have a free hair color consultation with a licensed colorist. Once you have your hair color, you can find the perfect matching shade, or change it up!
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Not near a Hair Color Bar? If you have any questions or need one-on-one, person to person help determining your level or choosing a color give us a call at (866) 817-0814 or schedule a free video consultation with a licensed hair colorist. Got another “hair level” question? Hit us up in the comments below. 
Looking for a new hair colorist? Read our article, How Do I Find a Good Hair Colorist? to help you on this journey.
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