Subtle golden highlights in loose curls enhance a rich chestnut shade.
Subtle golden highlights in loose curls enhance a rich chestnut shade.
View all
Subtle golden highlights in loose curls enhance a rich chestnut shade.
Subtle golden highlights in loose curls enhance a rich chestnut shade.

Understanding your client’s hair texture will lead to a better color service with results tailored to her unique curls.

As the texture revolution seriously takes hold, clients with curls are on the prowl for texture-savvy stylists who can transform their hair sans straightening.

Women seek cuts specifically designed for their curls, and to complement these cuts, they want color tailored to highlight their hair’s natural texture and beauty. Clients know their own unique texture and expect their stylists to feel comfortable and confident in working with it.

“In our multicultural world, clients can have many types of hair textures ranging from waves, curls and kinks,” say Matrix Artistic Directors Brian and Sandra Smith. “You must consider amount of curl, curl pattern, porosity, condition and whether hair has been chemically treated before highlighting textured hair,” say the Smiths.

Are you up to the task of coloring these varieties of texture? Because of the structure of curly hair, achieving good color results can be a challenge. But when used correctly, color can be one of the best tools to create a new look for clients with textured hair.


Curly Cues

1.  Not sure how to handle curls and kinks when it comes to color? Follow these six tips from Matrix Artistic Directors Brian and Sandra Smith for curl-coloring success. Curly hair often appears less shiny and healthy because the cuticle is more raised and the twists and turns of the hair strands only reflect light from the arcs of the curls. Because of this, avoid using flat shades on curly hair, which will result dull color and minimize shine.

2.  Know how to analyze and color texture. Examine the texture, porosity, condition and color possibilities before the color service.

3.  Always rinse and shampoo hair with cool water. This helps close the cuticle and prevent color fading.

4.  Use care when coloring and lightening curly hair due to potential damage to the weaker areas along the strands. It’s a good idea to apply deep conditioner prior to and after coloring curly hair.

5.  Foil highlighting on wavy hair isn’t so different than with straight hair. The techniques are the same, but you must gauge the thickness of the weave for coloring or lightening to be in balance with the wave of the hair. If you use weaves that are too thin, the results get lost in the waves. However, when the weaves are too thick, the results can look streaky and outdated.

6.  To keep hair in tip-top shape and prevent excessive fading, recommend a personal hair care regimen with specific shampoo and conditioners for color-treated hair.

Highlighting How-To

Textured hair is naturally drier and more porous, which may cause color not to process into the anticipated shade.

“Semipermanent is the way to go for curly hair,” says Morgan Willhite, lead stylist and creative director at Ouidad Santa Monica salon. “If you are using permanent color on curly hair the color may come out darker than expected because porous hair absorbs more color.”

The Smiths agree and recommend Matrix’s Color Sync (a demipermanent gloss) to add color and a boost of shine to make curls look healthy.

Color applied to curly hair often looks different than color applied to straight hair, since curly hair diffuses light. Even newly applied color can look drab and dull.

So what’s the solution for clients who want to add highlights or lowlights to their hair?

“A great technique for wavy or curly hair is baliage,” say the Smiths. “The painted-on technique allows the stylist to apply the color/lightener where the natural refl ectivity would be most prominent on the curl and enhance the natural look of the hair.”

For highlighting, the Smiths use Matrix SoColor Permanent Crème Color or V-Light Powdered Lightener to achieve predictable results. The stylists at Ouidad also employ baliage for their curly clients.

In addition to baliage, The Smiths have identified another technique they and Matrix call “Texture Lights” for hair textures ranging from curly to kinky.

To try this technique, first evaluate the client’s hair visually. Then, select ¼-inch to ¾-inch sections from top layers based on texture and density.

“Then twist the section and paint on color or lightener to the outside of the section using a side-brushing technique on selected areas of the twisted hair,” say the Smiths.

“Holding onto the bottom twist, place a long foil underneath and wrap the section in foil. Continue with selected strands and process, lifting two to three levels. If using Matrix V-Light, Color Sync Demi Permanent Color can be applied after lightening process, for tone and shine.”

Foil with Caution

“Foil highlighting on curly hair has the same considerations needed as with wavy hair,” they say.

“Always make sure the strands you pick up are thick enough to be in proportion to the curl and density of the hair,” the Smiths advise. “Done right, the curl in the hair, and the highlights will work together to enhance the overall look.”

They caution against a weave that is too small, as highlights will get lost in the curl. “But if they’re too big, the effect could appear clownish and very dated.”

Special care should also be taken with processing. “If you allow the color to damage the hair—because you used too strong a developer, or overprocessed the lightening formula— the hair could potentially break in areas,” they say.

Baliage Basics
Morgan Willhite, lead stylist and creative director at Ouidad Santa Monica, shares her baliage tips for success:
• Be sure the mixture is thick so it doesn’t drip down the hair.
• Don’t paint with the tip of the brush, paint with the side for natural fading.
• Use a color or lightener that has buffers and use a lower volume if possible.
• Determine the desired shade, and then go half a shade lighter, or even a whole shade, to get the desired result.
• Highlight the sections of curl as they naturally form. If you brush out the hair before you highlight, you will only separate the natural sections more.
• Have clients deep condition or use a protein treatment before they come in, or do it right before coloring at the salon to help with the porous nature of the curls—the color will hold better if you do.
• Advise clients to never use a protein treatment right after highlighting, as it can strip the color.
• Never reprocess the ends. In between treatments, use color glosses and glazes on curly hair. Make sure it is a no-color gloss—it coats and adds a lot of shine, plus it helps control frizz and give the hair a healthy overall look.


Tweaking Your Technique

Because textured hair lives in motion, a full color from roots to ends is not necessary to achieve the highlighted look. In fact, a subtle ombre highlighting, where the lighter color is applied more heavily to the midlengths and ends is better suited for textured tresses.

“Because it looks more natural, clients don’t need touch-ups as often,” says Willhite. “When you don’t touch it up, you don’t over process the ends.”

Avoiding over processing the hair, and thus avoiding drying it out even further, is key for curly hair health and will ensure the client can recreate the salon look without frizz caused from damage.

To become your curly client’s highlighting hero, become an expert in coloring her unique texture. Training classes and online videos are available— talk to your color manufacturer or visit for more information on classes.

“Many stylists don’t know how to baliage or how to do it well—it’s an art,” says Willhite. “You have to get training. There are classes, and videos will help. I’ve been doing it for years and it is definitely an art you have to master.”

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