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International Colour Charts for Hairdressing

Here’s our guide to colour charts for hairdressing. Hair tint products always have a code and description. It gives us an idea of how dark it is and what tones are in the finished colour. While many brands use an in-house system, there is also a global numbering system called the International Colour Chart. It is this system we look at in this post.

The International Colour Chart (ICC) is a numerical system used worldwide to classify hair colour. It means that each hair colour has a definition recognised around the globe.

Consequently, the number can be printed on hair colour charts and tubes or boxes of hair dyes. It creates a level playing field for hairdressers worldwide and should make colour selection easier. However, not all brands choose to use it!

How Colour Charts for Hairdressing Work

Each hair colour is given a number, which tells us two things:

  • The depth of the colour – also known as the level or base.
  • If there are any tones in the colour and what they are.

The depth number is usually separated from the tone number by a dividing symbol like a decimal point, a slash or a hyphen. For example, 4.6, 4/6, 4-6 all say the same thing as far as the ICC goes. A 4.6 translates into plain English as “a medium brown base with a warm red tone”.

However, not all hair colour brands use the ICC and just use an in-house numbering system. For instance, letters may represent different tones, like R for red, or M for mahogany and V for violet.

Even if a brand does use the ICC system, the finished colour can vary from product to product. It means that one brand’s number 4.15 could look slightly different on the hair to another brand’s 4.15.

It’s not a perfect system, but the ICC goes a long way to trying to standard how we define hair colouring products.

colour charts for hairdressing
How different brands label the tones in their permanent hair colours. (L): Wella (R): Paul Mitchell Color XG.

How Depth is Numbered

  • Depth is given a whole number from 1 to 10, where 1 is the darkest hair colour (black), and 10 is the lightest (lightest blonde).
  • Some brands also use 11 and 12 on their colouring products to account for the blondest of the blonde. As you can see in the picture below, numbers 1-5 are browns, and 6-10 are blondes.
  • The depth is also known as level or base colour.
  • Depth is classed as a neutral colour.
The 10 levels or depths of hair colour.

How Tone is Numbered

  • The tone number comes after the decimal point.
  • Each tone is given a number from .1 to .9.
  • Products can have up to three tones, though products containing one or two tones are most commonly seen. The number of tones in a product is indicated by how many numbers follow the decimal point. For example, a 4.15 has two tones in it – and a 5.016 has three tones in it.

Primary & Secondary Tones

  • The primary tone is the first number after the decimal point.
  • The secondary tone is the second number (after the decimal point).
  • The primary tone is more dominant and has more influence over the final colour than a secondary tone. Likewise, any third tone used will be less influential over the final colour than the other two tones used.
colour charts for hairdressing
Example showing how one depth, in this case a 5.0, is changed by adding tones. The 5.1 is a cool ash; 5.13 has a nude or cool beige affect; 5.3 has a warm gold tone; 5.34 a primary tone of gold and secondary of copper; and 5.4 has a warm copper tone.

The ICC Numbers for Tones

Not all hair brands follow the ICC numbering system for tones. Therefore, it is important to know how that particular brand labels its tones.

The chart below shows the ICC numbering system for tones.

colour charts for hairdressing
The ICC numbering system for tones.

Other Aspects of Tone Numbering

  • Zero is used in the numbering to indicate how intense a tone is. For example, a 4.06 is a medium brown with just a hint of red, creating a warm coffee colour. On the other hand, a 4.60 is a medium brown with a more definite and obvious red tone to the hair – even more than a 4.6 would have.
  • A double-number tone means a greater intensity and vibrancy of that particular tone. For example, 4.66 means a “vibrant red tone on medium brown hair”.
  • Mahogany (a mix of red and purple) is rarely used on its own and is normally with another tone in hair colour. Also, mahogany is neutral, meaning it is neither warm nor cool. Therefore, the tone it is paired with determines whether the final hair colour is warm or cool. For example, 4.15 is classed as a cool colour, whereas 4.56 would be a warm colour.

Examples of Colour Charts for Hairdressing

Each brand lays out its hair colour charts for hairdressing differently, though they are generally logical. For example, they are often organised into columns or rows with the tonal groups (like mahogany, red or ash) kept together.

Below are some examples of colour charts for hairdressing.

Find Out More

21 thoughts on “International Colour Charts for Hairdressing”

  1. In trying to find out what is the “typical” ratio of color following the . ? Meaning in 7.34 what is the ratio of the 3 and the 4? 75% 3 and 25% 4? 5050?
    Thank you in advance

    1. Hi Phillip – excellent question – and we don’t know the answer! We doubt it is 50:50, as we take the first number after the dot as the main or “primary tone” – the one that gives the warm or cool tone and is visible in the final hair colour. The second number is more minor and less visible in the final hair colour, a mere “hint” of a tone, a subtle change to the main tone. As to the typical ratios, “about 75:25” seems logical when thinking about the results, but that is purely a guess – don’t think we’ve ever seen a ratio mentioned anywhere. If you ever find out, please let us know ?

    1. Hi there – we’re not sure what you’re asking. Natural hair colours include blondes, browns and red. If you mean a product, there are several brands that say they are more natural, but don’t personally know of one called “natural color”.

    2. There is one called Nature Color that you can find, especially, at natural food store though it is now popular elsewhere.

      It uses plant based dyes, but works about the same as others do with it being oxidizing.

  2. I am looking for the replacement of your #10……… it was perfect for me but has been discontinued…… what can I use as a replacement??????

  3. The last time I had my hair coloured at home there was a number 12 on
    the lid of the box, now I can’t find it as I do not remember what it was called.

    1. Redken has a 12 level system called Fusion. However, if you aren’t a licensed stylist you won’t be able to purchase and you should go to a professional anyway. Best wishes

  4. Knew a bit about different color charts but had never heard of the International color chart. Glad to learn something new always. Thanks for sharing

  5. D. Manco, hair colorist

    This is correct as to what is written. In an eBook I wrote in 2009 titled Hair Coloring 101, A Better Way I discuss the ICC, and remind students when I teach that we have no Pantone color system. Unification would be a huge step forward for professional hair color. Thanks for writing.

    1. Please advise…
      Báse: 77/0 lows 6/77 . Toner 10/01 face frame 9/01 back
      Converts to what for Paul Mitchell?

      I moved to Alaska from California. Golden brown hair when I got here and now I have a brown muddy colored hair. I gave the girl the color numbers my CA guy gave me and it obviously didn’t translate well.

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