The Secret Language Of Hairstylists

Sometimes it seems like hairstylists have their own secret language to discuss hair situations. What do words like “cuticle” and “demi-permanent” even mean?

Hair color expert Estelle Baumhauer, Color Director at, an online company that provides personalized, custom blended home hair color, shares a quick user-guide to salon speak:

Brassy: when hair with warm undertones is chemically lightened and begins to fade, the color may turn a brass-colored tone.

Cool: a tonal value for blonde, brunette, and red shades. “Cool” colors have blue or violet undertones. Some cool hair colors include platinum blondes, ash browns, and plum reds.

Coverage: how well a hair color covers gray hair. Most demi-permanent color formulations are too transparent to effectively cover gray hair, so it’s best to use a stronger, permanent color. Covering gray also requires a special color formulation in order to avoid flat or unnatural results.

Cuticle: the outer, shingle-like layer of cells that surround and protect the inner layers of the hair strand.

Demi-permanent: demi-permanent hair color deposits color onto the hair without lightening the current pigment at all. It does not lift out any color, but only adds more color on top, whereas permanent color lifts out the current pigment and deposits a new, permanent one.

Developer: an oxidizing agent that is mixed with a hair dye to develop the color molecules and create a change in the hair color during the application.

Double process: a color technique used to achieve dramatic color changes, like going from dark to light hair. First, the hair color is lifted with a lightener. Then a new color is deposited onto the hair for the final result.

Ends: the remaining hair below the roots (not limited to the very ends of the hair).

Gray vs. white: stylists consider gray hair and white hair to be the same. Both refer to hair that has no more color pigment.

Level: the identification number of the lightness or darkness of hair color, with Level 1 being darkest and Level 10 being lightest.

Lift: the chemical process of taking color out of the hair to make it lighter

Lightener: agent used to lift out the current color pigments in the hair in order to make it lighter.

Porosity: a measure of how well hair absorbs color based on the size of its pores. Hair that is very porous will absorb color more readily.

Retouch: applying hair color to just the regrowth, or the roots, instead of all over the head. This can also be called a root touch up.

Roots: the segment of hair near the scalp, where hair grows out. Also called “regrowth.”

Single process: a single color application that changes the overall hair color, without a separate lightening step as in double processing. This works well for boosting natural color and covering gray.

Warm: a tonal value for blonde, brunette, and red shades. “Warm” colors have yellow or red undertones. Some warm hair colors include golden blondes, auburn brunettes, and copper reds.

Now that you know all the salon-speak, get a completely personalized hair color made just for you from eSalon. Visit eSalon  and get 50% off for your first order!