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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.

💡TIP: Save this article to your Hair Color board on Pinterest so you always have it handy when you need it! 👇🏼👇🏼👇🏼

How to read hair color numbers and letters on the hair color box

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.

💡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 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 Wood Headshot


Hollee is a licensed cosmetologist with over nine years of professional experience in the hair industry. With her unique insight and versatile experience, she’ll help you discover the latest hair trends or even crush your next DIY hair project.

Learn more!

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! 👇🏼👇🏼👇🏼



Sunday 10th of December 2023

What color is 70WN084 on loreal excellence cream. It's located on the back of step 2 in a black square with qr underneath it.


Thursday 6th of April 2023

I am totally a lay women about hairshades but your lecture is wonderful i like it making me happy alot of love 💞

Pattie Johnson

Sunday 18th of December 2022

I lost the box but on the bottle it has 11 N21928A but I don't know what color it is for Revlon color silks

Glenda Escobar

Monday 17th of October 2022

Thank you very much for all this clarification, it is the great secret, now we know what it means, I wear the 7wV, so it is a 7 warm violet? but what is warm, does it mean darker?


Thursday 15th of September 2022

please what does H mean in colour tubes? loreal uses letters and numbers like H5 & like H13... I'm curious to know what H means.