How to Read Hair Color Numbers + Labels

Did you ever wonder what the hair color numbers and letters (“5GB,” for example) mean on the box of hair color?

It’s actually really quite simple and is almost a universal system used with all hair color lines. This article will teach you exactly how to read the hair color numbers/labels on the box. Let me explain…

Do you know what that letter / number combination on the hair color box means? Learn how to read hair color numbers / labels like a professional!

Hair Color Numbers:

The first part of the hair color number you should know about is the actual number. The number is typically going to be somewhere between 1 and 10 (sometimes up to 12, but I will explain that in a minute).

Think of the “1-10” numbers as a scale from black to platinum blonde. 1 is the darkest black, and 10 is the lightest blonde, and all the other colors are the shades in between.

Do you know what that letter / number combination on the hair color box means? Learn how to read hair color numbers / labels like a professional!

Like I previously mentioned, sometimes particular color lines will have a level 11-12. These are considered to be “high-lift blondes” that are lighter than a level 10 blonde.

So now that you know what the number means, let me tell you about the letter associated with the number….

Hair Color Letters:

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
  • O – Orange
  • OR – Orange-Red
  • P – Platinum (Purple)
  • R – Red
  • RR – Really red (w/ no brown)
  • RB – Red-Brown
  • RC – Red-Copper
  • RO – Red-Orange
  • RV – Red-Violet
  • V – Violet
  • VR- Violet-Red
  • W – Warm

These are pretty much the basics of hair color, although some color lines might make their own unique tones to differentiate themselves from the competition. Usually, the color’s name will give away the base tone (ex: light ash blonde, etc.)

The other important thing you should know is that if it has double tones, like RV, it means that the first tone is the more prominent one, and the second is added to complement the first. For example, RV (red-violet), means that the color has more red tones with some violet.

Do you know what that letter / number combination on the hair color box means? Learn how to read hair color numbers / labels like a professional!

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.

I told you it was simple. To see what some of the undertones look like, check out 10 Different Shades of Red Heads or 10 Different Shades of Blonde Hair.

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Did you already know how to read hair color numbers/labels? Is there anything I left out? I’d love to read your feedback in the comments section below.

14 thoughts on “How to Read Hair Color Numbers + Labels”

  1. Hello,
    I dyed my hair with 5N. Next time I want to add some warmth to it. I looked for 5 nb and couldn’t fine it so I just went with the 5n. What would you suggest? I dyed my hair very dark and would like it to be warmer. I am covering gray roots and also combing through the rest of my hair.

    • I would probably cover the roots with the same color you already have so there is a fresh canvas. To add some warmth, you’ll want to look for warmer colors with something like “RB” in the color number. There are also things you can add to a neutral color to give it more warmth. It really just all depends on how warm you want it. Hope that helps!

  2. Hi and thank you for being willing to explain hair color. I friend buys me hair color. I’ve used Matrix 7A and 8A mixed together for years and love the color of my hair. My friend went to buy me my color again and bought me 7AA instead of 7A and said it will do the same thing and I’ll have the same results. I’m afraid to use it since I don’t understand the hair coloring system and the result might be awful. Can you explain to me if the 7AA will have the same result as with the 7a mixed with 8A? Thank you!

    • It really depends on the hair color line, so I can’t be 100% sure, but I think that 7AA means that it’s ashier than 7A. I would imagine it would be similar.

      You could always try mixing a little bit of it and doing a test-strand to see how it turns out! Hope that helps πŸ™‚

    • Hmmm… that is interesting. Definitely not gold since it’s an ash color… I think maybe that color line uses a non-typical labeling system. Sorry I couldn’t be more help πŸ™


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