The Basics of hair color: Clairol print

The Basics of Hair Color – Understanding Levels & Tones

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Considering home hair color? Learn more about color theory with an explanation of levels and tones, to help you get the shade you want every time.


Level refers to the degree of lightness or darkness of a color. Within each color family, there are light, medium and dark levels. For example: light blonde, medium blonde and dark blonde. While every hair color brand has its own level numbering system, generally black is Level 1 or 2, and lightest blonde is the highest level number.


Tone refers to the “finish” of a shade—its degree of warmth or coolness. Tones are categorized as warm, neutral or cool, and are usually part of the shade description (think terms like “gold” or “ash”). No matter what your level of color, you can choose from a variety of tones to help you achieve your color transformation.

Read the chart below for a description of some common tones.

ASH (Cool) - color which has no red or gold highlights/tones (will minimize red/gold/brassy tones)
NEUTRAL - color which has an equal amount of primary colors (balanced)
BEIGE & CHAMPAGNE - similar to a neutral, but may be more warm or cool, depending on base
GOLD (Warm) - color which adds golden highlights/tones
RED (Warm) - color which adds red highlights/tones