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International Colour Charts for Hairdressing

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Here’s our guide to colour charts for hairdressing. Hair tints have a code and description to give us an idea of how dark it is and what tones are in the finished colour. While many brands use their own in-house system, there is also a global numbering system called the International Colour Chart. This uses set numbers to convey what the depth of the colour is and what tones (if any) are in the colour.

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

Consequently, this can be used on hair colour charts and tubes or boxes of hair dyes. This creates a level playing field for hairdressers worldwide. Whether or not they choose to use it is another thing.

How It Works

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

  • The depth (also called level or base) of the colour;
  • If there are any tones in the colour.
 

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 go. A 4.6 translates into English as “a medium brown base with a warm red tone”.

However, not all hair colour brands use the ICC and simply use their own in-house numbering system. For instance, letters may be used to represent the 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. This 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.

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, numbers 1-5 are browns and 6-10 are blondes.

The depth is also known as “level” or “base colour“. Whatever term you use, it is a neutral colour, neither warm nor cool.

The 10 levels or depths of hair colour.

How Tone is Numbered

The tone number comes after the decimal point and each tone is given a number from .1 to .9.

Products can have up to three tones in it, though one and two tones are most commonly seen. This 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, and the second number is the secondary tone.

The primary tone is more dominate 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.

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

The ICC numbering system for tones is not followed by all hair tint brands. Therefore, it is important to know how that particular brand labels its tones.

ICC Number Tone Actual Colour Cool or Warm
.0 (no tone) (no tone) Neutral
.1 Blue Ash Blue Cool
.2 Mauve Ash Violet Cool
.3 Gold Yellow Warm
.4 Copper Orange Warm
.5 Mahogany Violet Red Neutral
.6 Red Red Warm
.7 Khaki Green Cool
.8 Pearl Ash Cool
.9 Soft Ash Cool
.0x Cool
.x0 Depends on primary tone

Other Aspects of Tone Numbering

Zero is used 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 medium brown with a more definite and obvious red tone to the hair – even more than a 4.6 would have.

Double tone means a greater intensity and vibrancy of that particular tone. For example, a 4.66 means a really vibrant red tone on medium brown hair.

Mahogany (a mix of red and purple) is normally used with another tone in hair colour, rather than just on its own. Mahogany is neutral, meaning is neither warm nor cool. Therefore, the tone that it is paired with determines whether the final hair colour is warm or cool. For example, a 4.15 is a cool colour, whereas a 4.56 would be a warm colour.

Hair Colour Chart Examples

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

Below are some examples of hair colour charts to see how they are laid out and how the ICC is used.

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18 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 blonde, browns, white, 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. 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.

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