Nothing will send you running to the comments section faster than a petty TikTok debate that doesn’t truly matter but is fun to talk about all the same. Right now, the argument du jour is whether dark blonde hair is the same thing as light brown hair. And with over 31 million views on the platform, the topic clearly has people heated.
At first glance, dark blonde and light brown hair does look really similar, so it makes sense why there’s so much confusion over what — if anything — sets the two hair colors apart, says Fae Norris, a hairstylist at Rock Paper Salon in Los Angeles. Like the other great mysteries of the universe, this is one of those things you feel like you just need to figure out, especially when the comments are split 50/50 and no one seems to agree. Think of it as the beauty world equivalent of the blue and black versus white and gold dress debate that shook the internet back in 2015.
Luckily, stylists have a hair color chart, as well as other insider info, that can help answer the question once and for all. “In the hair industry there’s a very specific level system we use to determine blonde versus brunette,” Norris tells Bustle. “It's something that’s not really up for debate, according to the mass majority of color scales. It gives colorists the jumping off point and is something that’s pretty easy for clients to understand.” Ready for the truth? Keep scrolling for what colorists have to say.
Dark Blonde Vs. Light Brown Hair
The official hair color chart ranges from level one, the blackest black, all the way up to level 10, which is the lightest blonde. “Where I’ve seen the most confusion is around level seven,” Norris says. “This is where the towheads fall — those who were lighter blonde as young kids but their hair darkened with age.” If you were born with blonde hair, there’s a good chance it’ll end up as a dirty or ashy blonde, which is level seven.
Level seven is technically blonde and is referred to that way in the industry, but if you typically think of blonde hair as icy platinum, honey, or bleached yellow, Norris says this level of blonde will seem too dark to be blonde. While it may ultimately come down to perspective, level seven is truly and officially on the darker side of blonde, she says.
True brown hair, on the other hand, ranges from rich chocolate to lighter caramel and latte shades. “Levels three and four are the darkest brown, so think coffee, mocha, chocolate, espresso, smoke, walnut, or burnt umber,” Norris says. “Medium to lighter browns are levels five and six, so it’s mushroom brown, brandy, bronze, caramel, milk chocolate, and fawn, to name a few.” Norris puts the light brown hair in question at a level six, meaning it falls into the brunette category.
Hair undertones may also help determine which end of the spectrum a color falls under. Master hairstylist Natalie Palomino says natural light brown hair has more underlying orange pigment than natural dark blonde hair, which appears yellow. This is why TikTok recommends stepping out into the sun. When you’re in the daylight, you can easily see the yellow or orange undertones.
Again, none of this really matters unless you’re dyeing your hair. According to Palomino, hairstylists use the level system when mixing up hair dye. “Underlying pigment is color that is exposed when opening the cuticle,” she says, “so whatever color we choose when formulating has to do with whether we want to control or accentuate that exposed color.”
If you have chocolate-y level six hair with orange undertones, your hair is brown. If you have ashy level seven hair with yellow undertones, you’re a blonde. That said: “It can be a real personal line in the sand for some,” Norris says. To completely remove the debate, she recommends splitting the difference and calling this hair color “bronde” or “blondette.” Done and done.
Natalie Palomino, master hairstylist