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Hair Color Numbers Explained: How to Find The Perfect Hair Color for You

hair color numbers explained

Trying to figure out what hair color and shade would go best against your natural tone and complexion? Worry not! Whether you’re off to an appointment with your favorite hairstylist or grabbing a box of DIY hair color cream at the drugstore, we’ve got you covered.

See, it all boils down to the hair color numbering system or code, and here’s how to read it:

Base color – Color shade – Color reflection

A great example is the Got2b Creative semi-permanent hair color cream by Schwarzkopf. This one has a 3-number code – 094 – which translates to dark violet with copper reflects. To help you better understand this numbering system, let’s talk about each of these indicators a bit more below.

Base color

The first number refers to the base color or color level, which is essentially how light or dark the hair color is. A higher number denotes a lighter color. For instance, 2 is black or dark brown, 8 is medium blonde, and 11 or 12 is the lightest shade of blonde.

Here’s a complete list of color lifts:

  • 2 – black
  • 3 – darkest brown
  • 4 – dark brown
  • 5 – medium brown
  • 6 – light brown
  • 7 – dark blonde
  • 8 – medium blonde
  • 9 – light blonde
  • 10 – very light blonde
  • 11 – lightest blonde

This numbering system is a universal form of labeling used in the world of professional hairdressing across the globe.

It’s important to note, however, that there might be minute differences in the actual color production depending on the hair color brand you’re using. For example, L’Oreal hair colors often advertise their color creams with gray coverage, like the L’Oreal Paris Excellence.

Color shade and color reflects

In many hair color products, you’ll see a slash, dot, decimal point, or other punctuation after the first number, and then another number after that. This one indicates the color shade, primary tone, or dominant hue of the hair color, and is highly important in achieving a gorgeous color result.

It all sounds quite complicated, but essentially, the color shade determines whether the hair color appears warm or cold. It’s a great help to the hairstylist in making sure that your hair gets the ideal blend of tones so the end result doesn’t look too warm or cold. This can easily be done by neutralizing warm tones like yellow, orange, gold, and red with cold tones like ash, blue, and violet.

The numbering system for the color shade varies across different hair color brands, but you will almost always find warmer tones in the middle – say, numbers 3 to 6 – and the cooler tones at either end of the 0 to 10 number scale. It’s the same numbering system for color reflects, too, which is really just the secondary tone of the hair color cream.

To give you a better idea, here’s the numbering system of L’Oreal:

  • 1 – ash
  • 2 – iridescent
  • 3 – golden
  • 4 – copper
  • 5 – mahogany
  • 6 – red
  • 7 – mat
  • 8 – mocha

Hair color numbering examples

Let’s see if you can read hair color codes now. Say we’ve got a box of color cream that says 7/64. Any idea what this means?

Yup! It’s dark blonde in a shade of red with copper reflects.

Now, here are some actual examples from the most popular hair color brands:

Clairol Nice’n Easy 3 brown black – here, they make it easy for us by simply stating the exact shade in plain letters, “brown black”

Schwarzkopf Simply Color 4.0 – the “4” in this number code translates to “dark brown”, and the “0” means natural or cool ashy tone

John Frieda Precision Foam Color 4N – in this one, you can see that it’s a mixture of numbers of letters. The letters basically do the same thing, so in this case, “4” means dark brown, and “N” translates to “natural”

Clairol Professional TRUE COLOR 7RG – this is similar to the John Frieda, but it’s two letters instead of one. The 7 denotes a somewhat light color of red clay, which is indicated by the “R”, and the G stands for gray coverage

Some things to keep in mind…

As you can see, there are quite a few different ways to label hair color products. But, at the end of the day, they all pretty much mean the same thing!

Just to make sure you’re getting the right product and will be 100% satisfied with the color result of your hair coloring treatment, keep these things in mind when choosing a hair color:

  • A singular number like 5 or 8 means that the hair color is neutral. This is great in calibrating complementary tones, keeping your hair color from being too warm or cold, and ensuring uniform coverage. It’s particularly ideal for non-pigmented hair.
  • Any number code that goes like [number] – dash – zero (ex. 3/0) indicates a natural tone. So, expect a gorgeous, natural looking shade that amazingly reflects the sun rays.
  • If you see a number code with two numbers after the dash or dot, like 6/22, expect a really intense color result.
  • Or, if there are two numbers before the dot, such as 33/0, you can expect superior coverage of gray strands.


hair color number verticalThat’s it, really! Complicated as it may seem, hair color numbering systems are quite easy to understand, so you’re sure to be on your way to finding the perfect hair color for you and achieve the ideal color results that you’ve always dreamed of.

To recap, the first number is the base, lift, or tone. The higher the number, the lighter the color. The second number is the color shade, which goes from natural or ashy to warm then cool. And, the third number is the color reflect, which is a subtle color that shows itself under the beautiful rays of the sun.


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