Hair Color Lingo

Beauty, Home & Family
on October 6, 2011

When it comes to coloring your hair, the key to getting the look you want is communication, says Mark Garrison, a New York stylist and regular hair contributor for Ladies Home Journal magazine. Talk to your colorist and show him a photo of the desired result before he starts mixing colors. “To make sure the two of you are speaking the same language,” Garrison says, “it helps to know the lingo.”

Here are some terms to know:

Semi, demi and permanent colors. First, you should know whether you want a semi, demi or permanent hair color, but what’s the difference? A semipermanent color is the least long-lasting, as it contains no ammonia and only a small amount of peroxide. That means it’s the least damaging to your hair, but also that it can only be used to darken hair, Garrison says. Demipermanent colors contain more peroxide but still no ammonia. They last longer than a semi and are good for covering gray, but won’t lighten the hair. Permanent colors, which contain both peroxide and ammonia, will lighten hair as well as provide gray coverage. The color lasts until it grows out. With all hair colors, roots will need touching up every four to six weeks. Glossing or glazing the hair involves adding a clear or colored semipermanent color to the hair briefly to change its tone or add shine without changing the color.

Highlights, lowlights and baliage. As you might expect, highlights are sections of hair where a permanent color is added to lighten the hair. Lowlights are sections where demi or permanent color is added to darken the hair. Since neither highlights nor lowlights usually are added from the scalp, starting instead a centimeter or two from it, roots touch-up is less of an issue, with maintenance required at around three-month intervals. Baliage is the “hand-painting” of highlights, “to emphasize the lines and layers of a hairstyle,” usually done using a brush that looks like a mascara brush and a powdered bleach.

Advanced color techniques. Hair color enhances shapes and defines styles, says Cosmo Easterly, author of How to Create the Perfect Cut, Shape, Color, and Perm for Any Hair Type: Secrets and Techniques from a Master Hair Stylist. Some advanced color techniques described by Easterly in his book include ring coloring, where color is applied only to part of the length of the sections of hair selected to create rings of color around the head. Architectural fading involves mixing several shades of color and applying the darker shades at the nape of the neck, graduating to lighter tones at the front of the head. Pin striping is similar to baliage in that color is painted onto the head freehand, but uses the larger coloring brush in vertical stripes. Panel coloring takes a large block of hair and colors it, as the stylist would do if coloring the whole head. This often is used for creating contrasting bands of color at the back of the hair or on bangs for a bold structural effect.

Whichever color you opt for, Garrison advises using a color care shampoo and conditioner regularly and a color preserver two or three times a month from the outset, because, “Once hair color begins to fade, it's too late to return it to its original shade.”