How to Read Hair Color Numbers and Letters

Let’s talk about hair color numbers and letters!

You know how when you look at a box of hair color, and the shade is something like, 6NN, or 8A? Well, did you ever think to yourself, “what do the numbers and letters mean in hair color?

Not only is it interesting, but it’s kinda important for you to know how to read the hair color chart numbers so you can choose the perfect hair color for your needs.

Sound intimidating? Don’t worry… it’s actually quite simple, and the hair color number system is universally used between almost all hair color lines.

This article will teach you exactly what you need to know when trying to decipher the hair color numbers and labels! Read it. Save it. Love it.


πŸ’‘TIP: Save this article to your Hair Color board on Pinterest so you always have it handy when you need it! πŸ‘‡πŸΌπŸ‘‡πŸΌπŸ‘‡πŸΌ

Do you know what the number/letter combination on hair color means? Learn how to read hair color numbers and letters with this easy guide!

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How To Read The Numbers In Hair Color

Hairstylist with book of hair swatches.

Let’s start by talking about the numbering system.

Most hair colors are numbered on a level system between 1 and 10. Level 1 is black, and as the number gets higher, the color gets lighter.

In other words, it has to do with the lightness or darkness of the color.

While some color lines go up to level 12 (for high-lift blondes), the basic numbering system goes to level 10, which is the lightest shade of blonde.

All other numbers represent the hair color shades that fall in between. For instance, level 4 is medium brown, and level 7 is medium blonde.


Hair Color Number Chart

Hair color numbers/level chart system.

Hair Color Letters

Hairstylist showing a client book of hair swatches.

The letter associated with the hair color refers to the base tone used in that particular color.

  • A – Ash
  • B – Blue
  • BV- Blue-Violet
  • C – Cool
  • G – Gold
  • M – Mahogany
  • N – Neutral
  • NA – Neutral Ash
  • NB – Neutral Brown
  • NN – Natural/Neutral (no excess warmth)
  • O – Orange
  • OR – Orange-Red
  • P – Platinum/Purple
  • R – Red
  • RR – Really Red (red without brown)
  • RB – Red-Brown
  • RC – Red-Copper
  • RO – Red-Orange
  • RV – Red-Violet
  • V – Violet
  • VR- Violet-Red
  • W – Warm

A few More Things You Should Know

Hairstylist mixing hair color in a bowl.

It’s important to note that some color lines may use their own unique tones to differentiate themselves from the competition. In other words, they won’t follow this system to a T.

πŸ’‘TIP: You can always check with the manufacturer if you’re unsure.

Or you can usually tell what the base color is by the name of the color. For instance, “light ash blonde” usually translates to a higher-level shade of blonde with blue-based ash tones.

The other important thing you should note is that if the color has double tones, like RV, it means that the first tone is more prominent, and the second is added to complement the first.

For example, RV (red-violet), means that the color has mostly red tones with a bit of violet.


So when you put it all together, 5RV means a level 5 shade of Red-Violet (with more red than violet). 10G means a very light golden blonde.


FAQ

FAQ Icon
What do the numbers mean on hair color?

All hair colors are numbered on a level system between 1 and 10; as the number gets higher, the color gets lighter. For example, level 1 is black, level 5 is medium brown, and level 10 is lightest blonde. All other levels represent the shades that fall in between those colors.

What do the numbers and letters mean in hair color?

The number-letter combinations refer to the levels and tones of the specific hair colors. The number is measured on a scale from 1-10 (1 being black, 10 being lightest blonde). The letter refers to the tone and base pigment of the color. For instance, 7V would mean a level 7 shade of violet.

Are hair color numbers universal?

While most hair color lines follow this scale, some brands stray away from it. Please make sure to check with the brand before making any decisions.


Final Thoughts

Final Thoughts Icon

So there you have it… the basics of hair color. Now that you know how to read hair colors and numbers, do you feel empowered?

You should be… you pretty much just learned a secret language. Plus, you have absolutely no idea how important it is to know what level and base colors you’re working with so you can properly formulate the color.

If you don’t take all this fun stuff into consideration, you could end up with a real hot mess.

But after reading this ultimate guide, I’m confident that you now know exactly how to read hair color numbers… and you’re well on your way to perfect hair!

Until next time,

Hollee

Your Turn: Do you now feel comfortable reading the hair color numbers? Do you have any questions for topics I didn’t address? Drop your thoughts in the comments section below! πŸ‘‡πŸΌπŸ‘‡πŸΌπŸ‘‡πŸΌ


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40 thoughts on “How to Read Hair Color Numbers and Letters”

  1. I have red in my hair from a previous color that has been bleached twice, yet wont compl lifT.would a 9nb cover that up or do i need an ash? Im afraid of ash because i dont want the blonde to go green.

    Reply
    • I’m guessing that a lot of your hair is super blonde, but there are just a few sections that have some red in it right? If that’s the case, you can always use a 9nb on your blonde hair… but then mix it with some ash color before covering the red sections. Does that make sense? It’s kinda a lot of work but that’s why color correction is usually so expensive in the salon. Hope that helps!

      Reply
    • Has your hair been previously dyed before? Or is the dark brown your natural color (meaning it has never been dyed)? That’s important information to know before formulating what color to use.

      Reply
  2. This article is awesome! I have been trying to figure this number system out for years! Now that I have this knowledge I can finally get the right results instead of the brassy red color that my hair seems to love to pieces. Thanks is much for this great tool..

    Reply

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