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How the Temperature of Light Affects Coloring

When I first became a hairstylist, I was working at a mall-based salon. Pretty quickly, I realized the light in the salon, which I used do determine color, was very different from natural light outside. This caused hair to look unnatural outside and in the non-salon world. Guests generally hated their hair in the bathroom, because it looked too red with the incandescent lights and too flat because with fluorescent bulbs. Instead of correcting, I frequently blamed the lighting when the color looked bad.

As far as I knew, the only types of lights were fluorescent and incandescent. Fluorescent is cool, and incandescent is warm. But the world found a replacement for the once standard, energy, hungry incandescent and mercury-filled fluorescents: LED. LED lights give us all-new options, including knowing what temperature your light is.

Have you ever thought about what temperature your salon’s lights are? Or how that temperature compares to the lighting outside the salon? What is the temperature of light?

Here are some things I got from Wikipedia, “Color temperature is a characteristic of visible light that has important applications in lighting, photography, videography, publishing, manufacturing, astrophysics, horticulture, and other fields… Color temperature is conventionally expressed in kelvins, using the symbol K, a unit of measure for absolute temperature.”

“Color temperatures over 5000 K are called "cool colors" (bluish white), while lower color temperatures (2700–3000 K) are called "warm colors" (yellowish white through red).”

I know it seems backwards, but warm color light does have a lower Kelvin temperature. See the chart that shows temperature and the sources of light that produces that light.

It is much cheaper to control the temperature of light than it was a few years ago. Most LED lights today offer way more than just warm, cool and soft light options. Now the temperature of the light is visible on every package of bulbs. Lights are available in almost any size, design, socket and a choice of color temperature.

LED bulbs come in options as low as 1900K and as high as 6000K. Indoor lighting is generally 2700K -3600K. Higher-temperature lights (above 5000K) are used for more utilitarian and institutional lighting, like garages and public spaces. I’ve found that 3600K is a great average for the salon and stations, and I like to throw in some 5000K bulbs for utility rooms—over sinks where I wash color tools in If you want to have some fun, you can get a Kelvin meter to see what temperature the light is at your chairs during different times of the day. Or you can always hire professionals, who have the knowledge and tools to help get your lighting right, if you don’t want to do it yourself.

-by Patrick McIvor

[Chart courtesy of Wikipedia]