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A Beginner's Guide to Hair Color

New to the color game? Top stylist Mark Garrison explains the lingo.
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RYANN COOLEY

Having a bit of that "first time" anxiety? The truth is, having your hair colored for the first time can be nerve-racking. With so many options and variations, how can you end up with the look you want? The key is to communicate with your colorist before he starts mixing the color. Explain — or show him a photo of — the look you're after so he can outline the options for getting there. To make sure the two of you are speaking the same language, it helps to know the lingo. Here, a primer:

Semi-Permanent Semi-permanent color, which contains no ammonia and only a small percentage of peroxide, can only darken hair. Over time, the color fades to a translucent stain, but the roots need to be maintained to avoid a mismatched look. Semi-permanent is the least-damaging hair color process.

Demi-Permanent This type of color is very good for covering gray; it can only darken hair, not lighten it. Roots need to be touched up every 4 to 6 weeks. The formulation contains peroxide, but no ammonia.

Permanent Color Permanent hair color, which consists of both peroxide and ammonia, can make hair darker or a few shades lighter, and provides excellent coverage for gray. The color lasts until hair grows out, and roots need to be touched up every 4 to 6 weeks.

Glossing/Glazing This process involves placing semi-permanent color on the hair for a short period of time to darken hair slightly or to change its tonality (for example, changing an ash blonde to golden brown). Clear glossing/glazing is also available to add shine to hair without altering the color. Gloss or glaze needs to be reapplied every few weeks.

Highlights Highlights, which involve the use of bleach or permanent color to lighten hair, are great for blending grays. The roots need to be touched up every three months.

Lowlights Permanent or demi-permanent color is used to darken sections of over-lightened hair. Lowlights can also be used to blend grays. Roots should be touched up on an as-needed basis — usually at least every three months.

Baliage A lightener (powdered bleach) is hand-painted onto select pieces of hair to emphasize the lines and layers of a hairstyle. The color will grow out, and roots aren't noticeable because the color isn't applied as close to the roots as it is with other color processes.

Base Flash This process involves lightening the base color of light brown or dark blonde hair in order to better spotlight very blonde highlights and avoid a dated, frosted look.

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