Learn how to speak “Salon Speak”

The most important part of any salon visit is the consultation. Communication is key, but sometimes it can be difficult if you and your colorist are speaking two different languages. And by different languages, I mean English, and Salon Speak. And by Salon Speak, I mean that mysterious lingo where your colorist tries to explain your color process to you with words like: toners, fillers, demi-permanent, gradient, double-process, monochromatic, warm, cool, brassy, neutral, and you’re not 100% sure what it all means but you nod and smile anyway and secretly pray that you are both on the same page with your hair color. So for the sake of gorgeous hair color and happy salon experiences, let’s take a moment to demystify some of the most commonly thrown around terminology in the professional hair color world.

Warm and Cool:
In hair color, warm colors have a dominance of red, yellow and orange. Cool colors have a dominance of blue, green and violet. Remember that awesome day in elementary school when your art teacher gave you a paper plate with 3 globs of paint: red, yellow and blue and told you to mix them all together? And everybody in the class got a different shade of brown based on the proportions of each primary color used? Well hair color is kind of like that. For brunettes, if there is more red in the mixture, you’ll have a rich chestnut tone. If there is a dominance of yellow, you’ll have more of a caramel-toffee tone. A dominance of blue will result in a cool, smokey brown. Virtually every hair color is a blend of red, yellow and blue. Your colorist’s job is to find the perfect balance of all three to create your desired result.

Brassy vs Warm:
This is one I get asked about a lot. “Brassy” refers to unwanted warm tones (red, orange, yellow) in hair color. “Brassy” is often mistaken for “warmth” or “gold” but it is not the same thing. Often times a brassy result is blamed on “warm colors” or “gold” thus, creating an epic fear of all things warm. Red and gold play an essential role in creating beautiful hair color. Without it, our hair would look dull, sickly, and in extreme cases, even green. In fact, many of the most frequently requested celeb hair colors include flecks of warm, rich color throughout the midhsaft and ends, even if their base is a cool or neurtal-toned color (see images below). For example, Sofia Vergara’s hair depicted below is warm, but it’s not brassy. So the million dollar question is: “What’s the difference between a brassy blonde and a warm blonde?” The answer is simple. Placement. It’s all about where the warmth is placed. Vergara’s warmth is in perfect placement – her midshaft and ends. Her root area is not quite as warm, creating a cool-to-warm effect. In nature, the sun naturally creates this same effect by brightening and adding warm tones to the midhsaft and ends of one’s hair. Natural brunettes get auburn to caramel highlights in the sun. Natural blondes get ribbons of lighter, warmer blonde throughout the midshaft and ends. Nowhere in nature will you see an excess of warmth at the roots and cooler tones on the ends. That’s when “brassy” happens. If you look at Jennifer Aniston’s color shown below, there is a concentration of warm tones at her roots. Her cooler mid-shaft and ends only intensify the unwanted-warmth AKA “brassiness” at the roots. This is not a combo found in nature, so if it looks “wrong” or unnatural to you, it’s because your prehistoric cave-lady instincts are telling you it is. Warmth is essential in creating gorgeous hair color when done with proper application and placement.

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WARM: Sofia Vergara as a warm blonde. No brass, just warm, champagne blonde with darker, cooler roots – a common pattern found in nature. Image via Google.

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BRASSY: Excess warm tones at roots – Something that does not occur in nature, thus making Jennifer Anniston’s locks look “brassy” rather than “warm”. Image via Google.

Toner:
At least a few times per week, I overhear salon guests ask “What does a toner do?”. A toner does a lot of things. In short, a toner is a translucent deposit-only color that generally has conditioning and glossing qualities. I like to describe it as the fine-tuning or finish on a color service, or as a refresher between full color services to keep one’s color vibrant and glossy. It is commonly used for controlling brassy tones, but depending on the custom formula created by your colorist, it can also be used to add vibrancy to reds, add depth to brunettes, and so much more. During corrective color services, an array of different toners may be used to tweak and adjust the color until it’s perfect. Methods of toning hair can vary. Some colorists apply toners while you’re relaxing in the shampoo bowl, and some will apply the toner while you’re sitting at the color bar. Some toners stay on for 5 minutes; some for 30 minutes. Remember that hair design is an art and a toner is simply a tool that may be used in a variety of ways.

Permanent Color:
The name says it all. Or does it? All color, whether permanent, demi/semi-permanent or temporary, eventually fades to a certain degree. The difference is that permanent color permanently alters the natural pigments in the hair even after much of the artificial pigment has faded. That is why sometimes red tones begin to appear about 4-6 weeks after a color service. The ammonia content in permanent color breaks down our hair’s natural pigment, then deposits synthetic pigment to create the desired result. As the synthetic pigments slowly fade, we are able to see what’s left of our natural pigment. Out of the three primary colors that make up our hair color (red, yellow and blue), blue is the easiest to break down, thus leaving your hair’s underlying pigment rather warm, and if you’re not careful, brassy. Reasons for using permanent color include maximum grey coverage, going lighter in color, or creating warmth and richness. Users should know that permanent hair color tends to create a stronger line of demarcation during the grow out period than a semi/demi-permanent or temporary color and requires more maintenance to keep visible regrowth at bay.

Semi/Demi-Permanent, and Temporary Colors:
Just like how “Not all permanent colors are permanent”, not all temporary colors are temporary. Yes, I know – hair color is freakin’ confusing like that, and so as a professional, I’m telling you things that a box will not tell you. A demi-permanent color may not deliver the 100% opaque grey-coverage that its permanent counterpart can, but it’s perfect for “grey-blending”, a more subtle approach to masking unwanted greys. Demi-permanent color creates very minimal change in the hair’s natural pigment, thus leaving a very minimal (if any) line of demarcation as it grows out. This means less maintenance than permanent color. A demi is translucent in comparison to an opaque permanent color, resulting in a more natural and dimensional finish. Semi-permanent and “temporary” colors are deposit only. They do not alter the natural pigments in the hair at all. Grey coverage is very minimal and generally, semi and temporary colors are used as glazes to refresh previously colored ends, or used as a toner. On healthy, darker hair, a temporary color can gradually fade away, leaving almost no evidence that it was ever there, which means zero maintenance for the noncommittal. However with continued use and color overlap, or on porous, fine, or blonde hair, a “temporary” color can very well become permanent so be sure to address any of these concerns with your colorist and follow his or her professional advice.

Levels 1-10
The Level System is a universal guide to how light or dark a color is. Levels generally range from 1-10; 1 being jet black and 10 being platinum blonde. Levels 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 create everything in between and can even be mixed to create half levels (i.e.: Level 8.5 strawberry blonde). The more levels you are planning to jump, the more work it’ll take to get you there. For example, a natural level 8 blonde will take much less work getting to a level 10 platinum than a level 3 dark brunette going for the same level 10 platinum result.

Highlights and Lowlights:
In short, highlights and lowlights add dimension to hair color. Highlights are accents of color that are lighter than the base color and creates volume, lift and draws attention to certain areas of the face depending on placement. Lowlights are accents of color that are the same level or darker than the base color and creates depth. Lighter colors tend to pop, expand, and emphasize, and darker colors recede, create depth and shadows. The combinations of both light and dark are endless and can create a multitude of looks.

All of these listed above are simply general guidelines for color terminology. When in doubt, don’t be afraid to ask your colorist for guidance!

Wishing fabulous hair days for all,
Emily Chen