What Is a Hair Color Wheel?

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  • Written By: J. Beam
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 19 August 2014
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For anyone who has ever had a botched color job, the chemistry of hair color may seem complicated. While in some aspects it is, the result of a bad color is usually the result of improper application or improper color selection. For proper application, follow manufacturer directions and take your time to avoid mistakes. Color selection is easy when you refer to a hair color wheel, which is essentially the same as any color wheel, and shows the relations between complementary and contrasting colors.

Just as with the color wheel used in art class, the hair color wheel displays primary, secondary, and tertiary colors in a circular format. Colors that sit next to one another on the color wheel are similar, while those opposite one another are contrasting. Though hair color and crayon color are entirely different, the same principles of color apply to both.

Regardless of your natural hair color, your hair pigment is made up of a combination of primary colors. While dark black hair is deeply pigmented with more blue than yellow, and blonde is lightly pigmented with more yellow than blue, the primary colors play an important part of hair coloring. When you are selecting a new hair color that is different from your natural color, you want to choose one with a complementing base. Hair color is typically distinguished by two factors: level and base color. Level implies the lightness or darkness of the pigment, while base color refers to the color or tone.


To choose a hair color base that will complement your natural color, look for a base color that is the same as or directly next to your hair color on the hair color wheel. This helps you select a complementary color within the same shade as your natural hair, but with slightly varying pigmentation. Select a level within a small range of your natural color as well. Hair color ranges from 1 to 10, with 1 being heavily pigmented hair as close to black as possible and 10 being barely pigmented hair, so light as to be whitish-blonde.

The next time you visit the salon for a haircut, ask to see their hair color wheel. Some hair color wheels are very similar in appearance to traditional color wheels, while others are actually rings of artificial hair swatches that encompass the whole range of level and base colors. By using the color wheel to determine your natural hair color, selecting appropriate and complementing colors is easier and it leaves less room for a color disaster. You can even ask for a color consultation, making note of level and base color suggestions to make selecting do-it-yourself hair color easier.


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