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Hair Color Shades – A Selection Guide

Anthony Anders
Woman with brown and red hair color shades

Congratulations, you have made the big decision to change your hair color – that’s the hard work done, right?

Wrong. Now the job of selecting a shade begins. And let’s face it, if it was as simple as choosing between blonde, brunette, black and red, there wouldn’t be a need for!

When it comes to shades there are literally hundreds if not thousands of possibilities so it is wise to start by narrowing down your options.

Get started by finding your level

A hair color level chart ranging from 1 to 10

To kick things off, let’s start by selecting your level. This is how light or dark you want to go, and obviously a strong determination of whether you become a brunette or a blonde. Level 1 is the darkest and Level 10 is the lightest (however some cosmetic brands go up to Level 12).

As a general guide, Level 1 is black (reserved for the Goth kids) and Level 2 is typically the color found is most Asian/Indonesian hair. Levels 8 through 10 are the very lightest blonde (but remember to allow room for margin as every brand is slightly different). We are not concerned with tonality or shade here, just the lightness or darkness of your color.

Next step, pick your perfect tone

Ok, so you have chosen your level, the next step is to select your tone. This is how you tailor your color to your complexion and your wardrobe.

When it comes to tones you will have three options, cool, neutral or warm. Let’s say for example you have selected Level 4. You now have the choice of Level 4 cool, Level 4 neutral or Level 4 warm. Each of these categories will contain two or three specific shades so you can find the one that is exactly right for you.

The three options when it comes to tone:

A chart of the cool neutral and warm hair color tones

Cool tones have undertones of blues and greens, and are sometimes referred to as ash tones. They can be harder to see in darker levels, but at lighter levels they produce a champagne or icy blonde.
Neutral tones are a balance of warm and cool and do not fall heavily at either side of the line.
Warm tones have reds, oranges and golds as the dominant colors, represented in shades such as chestnut brown at a lower levels and strawberry blonde at the higher levels.

So how do you decide if you are cool, neutral or warm?

One of the best indicators of your perfect tone is your skin complexion and eye color

Check out this article on selecting a color for your skin tone.

An understanding of tones is invaluable when it comes to color correction, for example if your neutral shade becomes ‘brassy’ you can select a shade with cool tones at the same level to balance it out.

There are some tonal selections which might initially seem confusing, for example ‘cool reds’ such as burgundy and merlot shades, these are called secondary pigments and are another means of subtly changing your color.

And Now it’s time to pick your next hair color shade!

Once you have decided on a level, and either a cool, neutral or warm tone, you will have narrowed down your options to two or three shades. Which one you go for is entirely up to you, but hopefully if you have followed these steps the choice should be a little less daunting!

If you’re ready to pick your new shade, check out our Hair Color Chart

Color does not have to be tricky, but a little research will help you to make the best choices. Whether you are coloring your hair at home, or starting negotiations with a professional, an understanding of levels, tones and shades will help you predict the end result prior to placing the product on your precious locks.

Hair Color Shades - A Selection Guide, 4.0 out of 5 based on 31 ratings
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  1. VA:F [1.9.20_1166]
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    What colours are 6 neutral or warm

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    Hi Carol,

    6 is the level of the color, which is the lightness or darkness (and 6 is more or less bang in the middle). When it comes to tone though, you can get both neutral, warm and cool shades at level 6.

    Because it’s a mid-level selection, I would say that there tends to be more neutral shades available at level 6, but there are still plenty of warm shades out there.

    Is there a specific tone you’re going for?

    S x

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    I have been colouring my hair for years with a light golden brown, but would like to go a shade lighter to dark blonde. There was only neutral dark blonde in this brand, no golden and I would like to stay with this brand.

    I have heard there are dangers in changing from warm to cool, you can end up with green hair, but can you change from warm to neutral?

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    Can you tell me which color do i apply on my hair,i have being using light brown but there is some red tone in it and now i want to change my color want to go in light golden blonde please tell me if i use medium ash will it cover my grey and remove red from my hair.

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    I would like to go from golden blonde to champagne blonde..what do you suggest?
    Thank you!

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    [...] unsure which category you fall into, check out the informative “Tone” section of this article¬†(click the tone palette preview to go to the article). Image courtesy of [...]

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    i colored my hair about a month ago, it came out way to dark almost black, when i just wanted a medium brown, im trying to light it up to a light brown, i just bought a 5nw wella and a 5n alfaparf evolution, will that help me to get rid of the dark and get to where i wanted to be? can anybody help me….

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