If you search up ‘highlights’ on Google images or Pinterest, you’re met with endless pictures of swishy straight hair – undeniably beautiful, but if you're a curly girl looking for inspiration for your next colour appointment, it leaves you short-changed. It's much easier to show highlights on straight or beach waved hair, but on curls, which don't catch the light in the same way, it's an altogether different scenario.
Highlights on curly hair are a whole different ballgame. Here’s what to ask your stylist for
“When you colour curly or coily hair, you can’t do it in the same way as you colour straight hair because the colour can get lost or ends up in the wrong place once your curls do their thing”, says Nicole Iroh, creative ambassador for hair salon chain Headmasters.
Zoe Irwin, colour trend expert for Wella Professional agrees: "Curly hair has different movement to straight hair; some curls are smaller than others and so colouring curly hair requires different techniques."
Your colourist will need to look at the curl pattern to see where to lighten and contour your curls, she says. Curls don't catch the light in the same way that straight hair does and so it needs an expert eye to add in a natural highlighted look. "Unlike straight hair, where you can get lots of shine, the way that the coils bend means they cannot reflect light, so you need to add this into the hair when colouring."
With straight hair colour often begins at the root, but this is a no-no when it comes to curls. "Placing colour close to the roots on straight hair can help to reflect and enhance shine, whereas on curly hair it can make it look dry," says Gareth Williams, senior commercial colourist at London hair destination Salon 64.
How should you check that your colourist is experienced in curly hair? Ask if they colour freehand. "The best colouring techniques for curly hair is freehand as we can visually check the shape of the curl and pick out areas in which we wish to enhance," adds Gareth.
For those of us with curly hair, no matter the curl type , we need specific colouring techniques to make the most of our ringlets and coils. Here are the curly hair highlight techniques to know ahead of your hair appointment.
To bring out the shape of very curly of coily hair: curl clouding
Curl clouding draws attention to the outline of the hair taking colour through the whole head to emphasise its shape.
“This is my all-time favourite way to enhance the amazing shapes that you get with extremely curly and coily hair,” says Nicole. “It creates a halo effect that allows you to go as subtle or dramatic as you like depending upon your final colour choice”.
To achieve this colour look, your stylist will apply the colour freehand, with the aim to follow the pattern and shape of your hair cut, gently lifting your hair colour with pre-lightener and then toning over to get the final colour result.
For a sunlit look: sunglazed curls
This look recreates how curls appear in sunlight, working different shades from darker to lighter through each coil. Curls can become dry and brittle more easily than straight hair and this technique similar to balayage, protects the condition too.
“For this colouring technique I ask my clients to cleanse and condition their hair and twist it into coils at least two days before I see them, then I can really look at the curl pattern and work with it,” says Zoe
“I like to create a delicate blend of colours for each coil – starting with a darker at root, going to a more medium colour and ending with lighter ends – just like the hair is after being exposed to the sun. For this, I use a French palm painting technique instead of foils. This makes the hair lighten slower and protects it integrity more than you would if using foils. This helps to stop the hair drying out and getting brittle.”
The curly-girl balayage: curl contouring
Another take on balayage for curly hair, this is a great option if you’re new to colour and want to dip a toe in. Colour is applied with the fingers to freshly washed, naturally dried hair, so that the colourist can work with your individual curl patterns for the best result.
By using fingers to apply the lightener, the colourist can twist in individual curls, softening the colour as it goes up towards the root and applying more colour to the mid-lengths and ends of the hair as well as defining specific curls around the face.
“This is a very visual technique,” says Nicole. “Your colourist will pick out individual curls – this can be a subtle effect with just the curls around your face coloured to help brighten your features and give an extra dimension to your curl.”