December 1, 2008

Learnin' the Lovely Hair Color - LEVEL SYSTEM - One More Time

Nothing better than going back to basics

 Killer2773 Hair color theory is a topic we can never cover too much, with all the  experimenting going on by our readers . . . I figure one more trip down the road couldn't hurt. Besides, repetition is the basis of all great education. A great way to continue understanding hair color theory is to understand the difference between Levels and Tones. Levels and Tones are the 2 most important characteristics of color, every single hair color has these 2 attributes - remember that. To confuse things at the beginning some rare companies refer to "Tones" as "Shades"... the more current choice is Tones - so forget 'Shades'. Now, the 2 characteristics of color we will discuss are Levels and Tones and this post is one that should stick with you to make a lot of what you do and choose make sense.
For those who are not clear on what the Level System is - the definition is simple - it refers to the lightness or depth (darkness) of a hair color, be it natural or artificial. Words such as light, medium, dark, palest, darkest, and very light, tell you about a color's level. Level is, very simply , how light or how dark a hair color is. The exact definition is simple -- it is the numerical system of judging color in numbers - one level being a measure of light or dark in the hair. The system assigns a number for measuring dark to light without regard to tonal value.

Renbow Coloriisimo-1 Chart
To be perfectly frank, in this country where we have a system for everything . . . there is no universal measurement of a Level  - - one companies Level chart will vary from another's. I wish the companies could just get it together to agree on a Universal Chart within the USA, they would have nothing to lose from the prospect, I think it would make it easier for clients, stylists, everyone to have a system in place. Maybe - - someday.

They of course would have to be fairly similar . . . because there is only so many ways you can cram in 10 levels of color in 1 chart. In Europe they are putting the finishing touches on a universal system for much of the hair color and cosmetic chemistry industry, it makes me sooooo jealous. Having the system they have in place makes for much safer, easier and correct hair care. Some day we will follow suit, just sad to think it won't be in my lifetime.
Some product lines have 10 Levels, some 11, but now-a-days  most have 12. What happened was.... having Level 1 thru 10 with Level 1 being Black and 10 being Lightest Blond was the almighty Level System. . . they then came up with the High lift Blond category approx. 20 years ago and needed a place to put it in the present "Level System".  Well, that's when the new category of High lift blond's and Level 12's appeared. For some reason that rattled a lot of people,  it has slowly calmed down and it is a widely & well excepted now. 

I think a good thing to remember is that a 'light brown' may look darker in one system and lighter in another.  So don't always think  Level 6 is what you think it is, when you change "lines" . EVERY single line has it own variations, although I will give them all credit for trying to abide by one standard here in the USA. Regardless . . . again - - the lowest is a level 1 which is Black and the highest is Level 10 which is lightest Blond. There is only so many ways you can cram those other 8 levels in there, isn't there ! The biggest trick you get is in the lines I swear by . . . Wella's European lines Koleston perfect and Color Touch. First of all these 2 lines are made to use in conjunction with each other... + They are a solid one level darker than any of the American lines .... BECAUSE  - - - in the Koleston Perfect line they have eliminated "black" and use "darkest Brown" as their Level 1.  So in order for the 2 lines to go together Color Touch follows suit. Please remember that, I point it out to everyone that gets a Color consult . . . there are many advantages to a consult....if you haven't tried one.
Each line ( to confuse things even more) will have different names for each level... one may call Level 6  "Dark Blond" . . . while another may call it "Light Brown" . . . even though its the same color. All of this adds to the problem of trying to understand the Level System finally and completely for you. Levels are precise degrees of lightness or depth, standardized across the manufacturer's tonal groups. All colors of the same level with have the same degree of lightness or depth, whether natural (neutral), ash, gold, red, beige, brown-ash, or any other tone. I think this is a part of the Level System some of you struggle with, and that is mainly because all hair color swatch charts - - concentrate on the "Browns" - - so you can't see it as plainly as you can with the brunette palette.  So many of you ask what . . ." what Level would I be if I am talking Reds ? . . . it works the exact same way. Remember  - - - - its the lightness and darkness of a color  - - - be it Red, Brown, Purple, Brown-Red-Violet, or whatever. Therefore, all colors ( even green, even pink!) can have "Levels". 

To Illustrate this, visualize a tall building, black at the basement and white at the penthouse, evenly graduating from dark to light, each story a grade lighter than the one beneath it. That's the International Level System, with numbers identifying those grades of dark to light.  If you wash this image with a Tone, such as ASH, then you have a Tonal Series.
Imagine a black & white photograph in your mind . . . .you are only seeing "levels of color" not TONES.   You must just gear your mind to think in "light & dark" . . .  its difficult ... but it can be done, I have faith in you!

Tone refers to the hue of a hair color, be it natural or artificial. The main tones, or hues of hair coloring are neutral, ash, gold, & red - but these have spread so far and wide now  that my favorite line Wella's Koleston Perfect has 23 TONAL CATEGORIES !! I love it! Before they were doing this I was making them up on my own, so now I don't have to do so much mixing. When I do consults I try to really cut down on the amount of colors I recommend, because I think some of you may think I'm nutty. But when I formulate for my own clients I don't think there is ever been a case when I use one color. Its just not in my make-up, I have been a painter and artist since high school, I went to Art college . . . so to me mixing colors is an art and a science. I shoot for colors that are like a child's hair color,  so using just 7B never cuts it for me... I will use a little 7B + a little 7BRV ( Brown-Red-Violet) for depth and some 7N to cover those few grays she has.....that is how I formulate hair color. Using one color is almost against my religion . . although I will say it has become easier to not have to use so many colors with all they are adding to their palette.
Manufacturers usually indicate the tones of their colors with letters: "A" for ASH, "N" for Neutral, and so on, so if you can just get handy at figuring out those, it will make your life easier. they originally tried to make numbers stick to represent the tones. . for instance, .1 means ASH . . . then a Level 6 ASH...would be "6.1". Wella of course, does both. . . so they have numbers and letters if you look at their chart which you can see in the GROUP     
if you would like.

Any color - hair color or not -- can be described, theoretically, in terms of level and tone. If a blanket is blue ( tone) then how light or dark is it ( level)?  Is it very dark blue, like navy . . .Is it nearly black like ink? Is it somewhat deep, but not dark - -medium -- like royal blue? Or is it pale as the pale blue sky . . . these are distinctions in level.
The term tone, is used to describe the warmth or coolness of a color. Reds, oranges, yellows are all warm tones, as are auburn, copper, gold, bronze, or honey. the cool tones are blue, green and violet. Descriptive hair color names in the cool range include ASH, DRAB, SMOKY, or PLATINUM.
If you are having trouble distinguishing between Level and Tone . . give it some time . .it will come to you . . . like all education, its worth learning...stick with it.

Killer Chemist

26 comments on "Learnin' the Lovely Hair Color - LEVEL SYSTEM - One More Time"
  1. Hi Killer Chemist,
    I just want to thank you for your blogt. i just discovered it as I am wanting to go blonde but am worried about maintaining it myself. I feel much happier knowing there is a whole blog I can read and someone I can ask questions too.

  2. OMG!!!! I am soooooo lucky to have found your blog!!! I came upon it by accident and couldn't have been more surprised and excited. I had been going to a colorist from New York that did amazing things with my hair....she swears by her wella color and blondor lighting cream. Everything she did was always a big secret so to find what you are doing here is really a treasure!!! I know that you are offering the world the best of the best in color and sharing secrets top colorist hold dear. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!! I just moved and will no longer be able to see my colorist anymore so you are such a blessing to have found. I am excited about my hair for the first time sense moving and can't wait to get started on being able to color my own hair to the perfection of top colorists :)

  3. Amber Louise,
    There is so much help for going blond, in the archives... I'm of the school where I'm not a big fan of "highlights" . . . I feel they are so dated...if you want to be blonde, I would go for it and go all over blonde.....BUT...............I would also read every single post I have written on Blonding, bleaching,Oil Bleach, every single one so you know exactly what you have in store for you . . . its very possible to do successfully.

    Just don't go all "color cowboy" on us, which means gets all excited about going blond, not read everything there is on the subject on Killer Strands, and just powering into it - without the proper information and training.

    I have many readers who are very happy with the results and the process - the key is to get all the education I give out, purchase the proper products ( from KillerStrands) and then use THRIVEN to care for it after its done and you will be one happy blondorama!

    Join the Group for more education and access to our underground store if you'd like.


  4. Gorb9,
    Wow, what a nice compliment from some
    one who sounds like she knows her stuff. Yes, we do keep all of our tricks a secret and I feel this is a first as to letting them out of the bag. I'm anxious for you to get reading through the archives and the Group so you will see all the goodies I have revealed . . .

    Can I ask you one thing . . . I'm looking to get my Blog out to more people . . . and seem to be having a hard time breaking into a bigger level...where do you feel you might have found this Blog quicker? I get so many emails like yours, which makes me feel I'm not doing something better as far as getting it to as many people as I could or should. Thanks and be sure to do a lot of reading and research before going all "color cowboy" on us. . .
    EDUCATION is the key here . . .
    EDUCATION is the key.
    Thank you

  5. KC-
    Oh I have stayed awake until 5 am reading ALL of your posts!!! :) They are great and I really do believe if people want to have amazing hair they really do need to learn the basics and look and learn EVERYTHING first before they start on their own hair project.
    Well one thing I found a little confusing when I first found you was that I wasn't quite sure what this was. You have many many many great blogs on hair but no good generic explanation at the home page at the very top that tells people who you are, what you are doing, and how to use the store. (it took me a few posts to figure out that there was a store under google groups i'd never even heard of google groups before) You know something that would always be the first thing people saw on the blog. I know that you have explained through posts what to do but it takes a little digging to find them so i am afraid that people might get confused upon first finding your site and not realize the amazing site they are really at and move on before they can learn and shop.
    Another idea I had was starting a Facebook group!!! There are millions of people on there and I for one spend hours on FB!!!! I have tons of friends that would LOVE your having a group on facebook that just explained your blog and had a link to it that brought them there would really be a way to open you up to a bigger group of people. It would be super fast and easy to make and then people could add their friends to the group and more and more people could find out about you. It wouldn't be another blog like this just kinda like a billboard that advertised what you do on FB. I really think that would be cool and bring you in a huge following. I for one would deff join and add my friends to join. Anyway just a thought :)
    Thanks again for all of your work on the blog it's great!!!! I seriously have read EVERY SINGLE post and they are all so important and entertaining.

  6. Hi KC,

    I want to echo everything gorb9 just said. I haven't read through all the posts yet, but I do keep wanting to find a home page that explains the blog. You've mentioned in a couple of posts that you got sick and thus the blog started. I haven't wanted to ask you about it, cos you probably have so many people asking you, but that sort of information (if it's information which you want to share) plus the information about how you've been sent all the colour corrections, and your experiences in your own saloon, would be really interesting as an intro to the blog.
    Gorb9's idea about starting a facebook goup is fantastic. Just about all of my friends are on it and it would be very easy recommend other people to it.

    In reply to you earlier, I am definitely not a colour cowboy! It took me a long time to build up to doing the bleaching and colouring of all my hair. I started with ribbons and slowly worked up as I worked out how things worked.
    I used to get my hair coloured professionally once every 12-18 months as a special treat and then do the maintenance myself. I haven't done that for over three years now though because the last time I did, I came out so disappointed that I went home and did it all myself (I know I should have spoken up at the time, but I had questioned her while she was doing the hair and been put in my place about what needed to be done so didn't really feel confident in saying at the end that it wasn't what I asked for.)
    I have wanted to do blonde for a couple of years now, but wasn't going to commit until I had found out all I could about it. I am so happy to have found your blog because now I have so much information to absorb, and come the time I'm ready to touch up my blonde, or start experimenting with diferent blondes and ribbons I know I'll have a good grasp on all the theory behind it so it won't be as filled with guesswork as all my other colours.

    I was on a tram once, sitting next to a girl who was obviously training to become a hairdresser and had all her notes out in front of her. I remember looking at her notes and wishing I had a way of accessing that knowledge without actually training to be a hairdresser, and now, here you are. I'm so excited :-)

  7. Gorb9 and Gypsy Amber cat,

    THANK YOU both . . I have been working on all of these things ever since you mentioned them . . from a new design for the overall look ( to help with needing a bit more room) - - by finalizing a new header design.
    I have begun my endeavor into FACEBOOK, wow now there is a whole new world....people from my past have been emailing me daily...
    So slowly here & there. . you will be seeing some of these changes added to the Blog.
    I know it sounds easy to do all that stuff to you that are healthy but being the unhealthy being I have become, I'm not as fast at it as I wish I was.
    I appreciate your suggestions and your points and you are correct. . . .
    We have a contest going on in the "GROUP" if you want to win $150.00 Gift Certificate in relation to this . . .
    but I want you to know I am listening and working on everything...THANK YOU! ! ! ! !


  8. Hi Everyone

    I have also discovered and read EveRY posting and couldn't stop reading until the very last one. I agree with the Facebook idea. I am on FB everyday myself. Also you could consider making say 2 videos, maybe of the lighting process on the dolly and maybe the ribbons (just as an example) and put them on Youtube. Those can then link to your website. I have watched uncountable many hairdressing videos on Youtube and always 'subscribe' to the good ones. People can 'subscribe' to your name too and if you make another videos thay are notified. Just another idea you can consider.

  9. Hi KC
    With regards to this posting. When you say you use 3 colours, do you mean you mix them all together to form a new colour, or do you use the colours on different areas, for the all over colour and 2 more for effects, e.g. ribbons ?

  10. Hi, I wanted to let you know I've recently become a fan of your blog and would like to feature you in the coming few weeks on my own blog. I am also starting a blogroll.
    Just wanted to drop by and let you know!

  11. I just LOVE your post on the level system! So simple and easy to understand. I totally agree that theory repition is important. And the need for a universal level system chart would make life so easier for so many out there! Your blog is very informative in so many ways.

  12. Dear KC,
    THANK YOU!!! It was only until yesterday that I thought I knew, as do most women, about hair colour. However, I must say, and with great humility, that until yesterday I truly knew nothing...and apparently so did (didn't) my hairdressers all those years. I spent almost $300 at a very high end 'famous' salon in Toronto a couple years back and ended up getting the worst so-called hi-lights anyone has ever seen. She honestly didn't know what she was doing. But the worst part is that I didn't know that she didn't know what she was doing...until I found your blog.
    Why are we women kept in the dark? Is it solely for the very few hairstylists who do have this 'secret knowledge' to make a lot of money? The ones for the celebrities? In a way, I was pleased but also angry when I read that there is a level and tone system that the boxed colour manufacturers do not explain at all to the consumer. We just get that silly and useless swatch and photo on the box. If we don't know what the numbers mean then how can we make an informed decision. We know what to put on our skin; why don't we know what to put on our hair? Either way, they think we're stupid, and I don't like that type of selling. It's patronizing and dishonest.
    Now I can order your kits in confidence knowing that my hair will look like a celebrity's.
    Thank you again.

  13. Is it not illegal for you to be selling professional products to consumers for a profit? Education and info is a great thing to have, but seems to me your telling people to do very drastic things to their hair w/o the proper training, and you wont be there to fix the mess. But hey, atleast you made some money. If its about customer knowledge you would be telling them tips on how to buy a product they are legally allowed to. Does wella know your doing this?

    1. I am curious why you are implying some illegality without providing any information to back up your query. How many women and men, every single day, apply hair color to their heads using only a one page instruction sheet contained in a boxed hair color? And who is the legal entity that prevents ordinary citizens from buying beauty products? Please, tell, I'm curious. It is not surgery or practicing medicine. (By the way, if you are going to stand out and present an accusation such as this, how about at least using proper grammar and spelling.This might be petty but your post is annoying enough.)

  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

  15. Dear Anonymous,

    Killer Strands is the FIRST resource for women who have trusted so-called 'professionals' with their hair, and came out looking like poodles with afros after spending $150 or more. Killer Strands was about education and correcting disinformation way before it was about selling reputable products at a fair price. Why should beautiful hair be for the select few who can afford it? Why should hair products that are no different chemically (but superior in quality) than the products sold to consumers at Sally's and drug stores be off-limits?

    The beauty industry thrives on disinformation, vulgar profits and the exploitation of women to keep beauticians with state licenses in business. It is all about the money. Always.

    Consumers have a right to learn about the industry that will profit from their naivete and ignorance. How can we get the look we want if we can't understand the obstacles involved to get there? The industry has promoted the concept that you look at a color on a box or swatch, and that is the color you get. Why? So that more money can be made in correcting the color? Repairing the damage? For you to advocate that women remain clueless about an industry that preys on our ignorance, fears, vanity and pocketbook- you are pathetic and cold-hearted.

    Killer Strands has allowed me to obtain the hair of my dreams, finally, after 20 years of disappointment. Killer Strands has cut my hair maintenance down from approximately $120 monthly to $50. Killer Strands is enlightening, honest, and product prices are more than fair. Doesn't everyone have the right to make a minimal profit for their hard work and effort? Or do you prefer to do so from the misery caused from an industry shrouded in mystery? How many women have suffered from bad color, frizz, over-processing, and emergency hair cuts due to 'professionally licensed' beauticians?

    Knowledge is power.

    Luxiana Anderssen

    1. Well said, Luxiana. I agree completely. Besides, you can buy most of the pro colour brands on ebay anyway! I choose to buy from KC because her knowledge has been invaluable and she deserves to be supported - seeing as she supports us.

      We love you and stand by you, KC.

      Tracy/Marry Poppins from the group.

  16. Sorry if i was rude last night. I was just wanting to know if its legal. Ive been looking at this blog actually for yrs. Forgot about it until i got on the computer at my moms house and saw it under "favorites". I was just a little disappointed bc it seems like most things its turned into trying to sell products instead of inspiration and knowledge. Just my personal opinion, and maybe i came about it the wrong way.To Luxiana, sorry you have had horrible experiances but i still dont think its technically legal, and there should be a difference between the products sold to the public and the products sold to professionals (who invest in education and earn a living this way. ) again, sorry to have spoke my opinion in an offensive way, i actually never comment on stuff, i was just intrigued by how much the blog has changed. Do u still have the photo one? Maybe thats the onr i need to stick to looking at :)

  17. Dear Anonymous,

    L. Anderssen has dealt with all of your questions in her excellent explanation above. I too have finally learned how to achieve healthy and beautiful hair by following the valuable advice on Killer Strands. This is the first blog that actually empowers women, and men too, to achieve hair color success on their own. Before Killer Strands, some of us had only two choices -- supermarket boxed color that will never come out, or our small town's only salon, which had already ruined our hair. I have never gone wrong following the advice on Killer Strands, and I hope this blog and store continue for many years so that I may keep my Hair Color Independence.


  18. Well said, Anderssen! And for your info, Anonymous, KillerStrands has been helping many women (& men) fix the mess that the beauty industry has caused, what with all that box crap color and sulfate shampoos. I'm in my 40s and ever since I followed this blog closely and using KillerStrands products, my hair looks even better than when I was in my 20s. My friends can't believe that I do my own hair while they spend a small fortune every month at the salon and their hair still look dull and lifeless.


  19. I can tell you are a very new... young... Stylist, hoping to make a good living in this Industry....
    BUT, I lost my ability to.

    I was writing a Blog to leave a tiny legacy, that I helped out a few people for no reason. Turns out this Blog, and these people gave me the strength to fight back to a disease that has NO cure.

    People were having to help me live, now, I can do it myself. Isn't everyone allowed to make a living as the person above so eloquently put?

    I find it odd that someone can tell you........ 'you may not make a living teaching hair color in A CERTAIN WAY'. That seems a little like communism to me...doesn't it?
    Who governs that?
    There is no 'one' person or group who heads up the hair industry. We are an industry of independents, which is 'why' we have no power.
    Think about that.
    I never realized these things, until I got into this particular situation. Then I learned about thousands of women who had nowhere to get their hair colored correctly and by my estimations the numbers are in the millions.

    MILLIONS of women, find themselves in the above situation quoted by "L. Anderssen". MILLIONS ! Personally I don't think that is fair. What if your "mom" was one of them?
    Wouldn't you want her to have this opportunity?

    What if it was YOU ?

    What if you had no access to a decent Salon?
    There are Millions of people who live in small remote towns across every state. They have 1-2 Salons and those have no qualified Colorists. Then what? Box Color? We both know that is just a set-up to send them to the Salon to get it fixed. In our Salon we had a list called "Boxers", and we would rotate the Boxed color disasters between Stylists, one of us would get whomever walked through those doors with orange frizzy destroyed hair at a time.

    One little person with a Blog should make absolutely NO difference in your business or your clientele if you are doing a good job. Do you know how much I wish I was able to stand and do hair? ? ? ?
    I would give A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G ! To just be able to live normally and go back to my clients and my Salon - - I MISS IT SOOOOOOOO MUCH, every single day.

    You, should be investing in Education so you may become the best hair stylist you CAN BE. Try to plan a trip to the Sassoon Academy right here in Santa Monica, Calif. go to the 7 day Advanced Color Week and you will be so good you won't have time to be looking at the computer, and giving me a hard time you will be too busy.
    Every Stylist could be that way. If not that purchase one of their Series on Advanced Color.
    I feel every Stylist should do these things to give you a leg up on the competition.


  20. Your right, i am a stylist. I have been doing hair since i was 17, went to high school only half days my senior yr then worked the rest of the day. I am now 23 and own my own buisness. I was blessed with an incredible teacher as well as a family who could afford and believed in my talent enough to send me to alot of outside education i looked for on my own. Obviously we can all do better but i feel like im doing pretty well. My comments didnt start from you, it started from seeing people that are in a position to access professional products and abuse them (that includes the stylists that fry peoples hair, sometimes double charging them even to fix their mistakes!) My concern was you were using your position to sell people products they did not know how to use, or pick the proper product and application and letting them destroy their hair in the process. But by all the responses it seems like you are actually taking the time to make sure what the individual clients needs, like you would behind the chair. So bravo, i completely eat my words.

  21. The public can buy Professional Hair color directly from Sally's Beauty so your grievance and complaint is irrelevant.

  22. Nope, just checked, they still don't sell professional hair color at Sally's.
    Wella makes 9 lines of hair color:

    - Color Touch
    - Koleston Perfect
    - Blondor
    - MAGMA
    - Color Perfect
    - Midway
    - Illumina
    ...........these are the professional lines and are not available at Salllys

    They also make 3 lines of
    Color Charm
    - Demi
    - Permanent
    - Gloss
    ...................these are sold at sally's for the public

    Just to clarify

    They don't sell professional hair color at Sally's I'm afraid.


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