Hair Color Theory 101


Source: Anton Starikov |

Hair Color Theory 101

Are you a new hairstylist who wants to learn all about hair color theory? Learning the science behind hair color is a great foundation for any stylist to have because it provides you with the innate knowledge of how the hair will react to certain chemicals and colors.

Hairstylists see different kinds of clients with different hair colors, textures, lengths and styles. One day, you may have a client who wants highlights, and other days you may have a client who wants rainbow hair. Either way, as a stylist, you will be expected to know how to use professional hair color to achieve your clients’ requests.

And understanding how hair color theory works will help prepare you for any color job. So get your salon tools ready. That’s why we created this article! We want to take you back to the basics of hair so that you feel empowered to make the best decisions for yourself and your clients.

How Does Hair Get Its Natural Color?

Whether hair is blonde, brown, gray, red or black, the color comes from melanin pigments within the hair’s cortex, which is right in between the medulla and the cuticle. Melanin actually comes in two different forms — eumelanin and pheomelanin — which have their own set of dominant colors. When these two melanin are blended together, they combine different colors to create the overall natural hair color.

How are they different? Eumelanin contains black and brown pigments while pheomelanin has more red and yellow pigments.

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Can Natural Hair Color Change Over Time?

Yes, there are various factors that play into the color of your natural hair, and they can change over time. Here are some of the things that can cause hair color to change.


  • Weather and Environmental Occurrences – Depending on the environment and climate someone lives in, their hair could change. For example, prolonged sun exposure can potentially lighten hair.
  • Aging – It’s commonly known that as we age, our hair can begin to gray. However, hair color can become darker or lighter throughout life without going gray.
  • Pregnancies – Pregnancy can change a lot for women since their hormones are in flux. Their hair color is not immune to these changes.
  • Changes in Medication – Certain kinds of medication or deficiencies could cause your hair to change color.


Discussing the Different Levels of Hair Color

In the world of hairdressing, hair colors are broken down into numbered levels one through 10. The first five shades represent the darkest and lightest shades of brown and the last five shades represent the darkest and lightest shades of blonde. Through this range, there may be half numbers and room for differentiation.


Are Tone and Color Different?

Yes. The differentiation between colors largely has to do with hair tones and undertones. There are three main tonal colors (cool, neutral and warm) that give each hair color a unique tint. Darker colors like black and brown usually have red tint to them while lighter colors like blonde can have yellow or ash tones.


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Using the Color Wheel to Color Correct Hair

When you understand hair color theory, you will have the ability to properly color correct hair. Color corrections include toning brassiness out of hair, coloring hair darker or lightening hair. It’s safe to say almost every hair color job you encounter will involve color correction.


And you can expect every client to have a different hair color and texture, which is why it’s important to know how to leverage the color wheel to perform a standout color correction. Here is how to do it.


  • Assess the client’s hair color and identify their undertones.
  • Refer to the color wheel to identify the opposite colors of your client’s hair and undertones.
  • Use products with that complementary color to neutralize any harsh tones. For example, if you have a client who has blonde hair with brassy undertones, you can use a purple shampoo to give the client an ashier look and neutralize the brass. If a brunette client wants to minimize warm undertones, you can easily do so with products that contain blue.

Now, you’re an expert on color theory and you should be feeling confident enough to tackle any kind of color correction or hair color challenge. As you begin to take on more clients, you will get the hands-on experience you need to really develop your color theory knowledge.


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