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Hair Coloring Terms And Techniques: Do You Speak Hair Color?

by , featuring February 14, 2024

hair color techniques

Image by Madison Reed

Babylights, balayage, single process or double...when it comes to hair color, you have seemingly endless looks to love, which means there are seemingly endless names to know. We’re here with a video from Chelsea Smith, Master Colorist, Technical Design & Education Manager, to teach you all the hair color techniques and terminology so you not only look like a pro, but you sound like one, too.

Hair Dye Terms - Basic Definitions and Differences

Need a cheat sheet of these hair color terms? We thought you’d never ask…

What is balayage?
In French, the word balayage means “sweep.” As it relates to hair color, balayage is a hair color technique using a brush or tool to sweep lightener along the surface of the hair to create a soft, natural gradation of highlights.

What is ombré hair color? Sombré hair color?
Ombré is a more drastic, edgier version of balayage with a stark transition from dark to light hair, sometimes with a more marked transition line of demarcation. The term Sombré means soft, sunkissed transition of dark to light, with the ends only 1-2 levels lighter than the base color. Sombré is a seamless transition from roots to ends.

Give it to me straight--what are highlights?
Highlighting hair is the process of isolating sections to create lightness and dimension from the starting base color. Traditionally a lightening agent is used in foil to create this effect, but highlights can also be done with painting lightener on the hair.

What is the difference between the terms highlights and balayage?
Highlights are usually placed with the blonde or lightness beginning close to the scalp, as if it's growing out that way. Balayage, on the other hand, usually starts away from the roots and is more focused towards the mid-lengths and ends of the hair. Balayage creates a soft, natural-looking gradation of highlights.

What are lowlights?
Lowlights are also isolated sections of hair, but instead of lightness they provide depth by using a color that is darker than the base color or all-over color.

What are babylights?
Babylights is a term for a type of highlight. The result is achieved by taking extremely small, thin sections for subtle sun-kissed pieces of brightness.

What is single process color technique versus double process color?
A single process can mean an all-over color or a touch up. Double process is when two processes are done in one service, such as highlights and then toning, or a single process color with a gloss.

What is a hair gloss?
Gloss is a semi-permanent or demi-permanent color used to adjust or correct hair color, or add a boost of vibrancy to color.

What’s the difference between permanent color, demi-permanent color, and semi-permanent color?
Permanent color changes the structure of the hair. Although the color will fade and change over time, it is in the hair until it grows out and is cut off. Demi-permanent color makes a smaller change to the hair structure, and washes out gradually, anywhere from 10-20 shampoos. Semi-permanent color make no structural change to the hair, adding a temporary boost of color to already color-treated hair to balance or intensify tone. Semi-permanent color lasts between 6-8 shampoos.