Do you like the idea of changing your hair color but worry that you might damage your curls? Curly hair highlights are a great way to totally transform your entire look without harming your locks.
As long as you visit a colorist who understands curly hair, highlights can really make your curls pop, and there’s a massive range of colors to choose from.
So this guide will tell you all you need to know about the different highlighting techniques and how to choose the right highlights to suit your curls. We’ll also give you some hair color inspiration for your curly hair highlights, tell you how to prep your hair beforehand, and help you keep your highlights looking fresh for longer.
Getting Highlights for Curly Hair: Is it Better than All-Over Hair Color?
However you choose to color your naturally curly hair, the chemicals in hair dyes will have an effect on it. They can make your strands drier and more brittle and can also affect your natural hair texture, making your curly hair less curly.
Instead of covering your entire head of hair with the dye, highlights pick out smaller areas for coloring. And you can generally go longer before your dark roots need touching up, which makes highlights a gentler way to color your hair compared to an all-over color.
And you can minimize damage to your brunette curls by choosing a colorist who is experienced in curly hair highlights and ensuring that your hair is in excellent health before coloring it.
Highlighting Application Methods
Coloring techniques have advanced a great deal in recent years, and the days when highlighter caps were the only option are far behind us, thankfully.
Nowadays, you have several options to choose from, which are much more suitable for curly hair.
Pintura Highlights for Curly Hair
Pintura is a special technique used to highlight curly hair. The name means ‘to paint’ in Spanish, and describes how color is painted by hand from the tips of the hair upwards.
The pintura technique mimics how light naturally falls on dark brown curly hair and gives a natural appearance that accentuates your curls. No heat or foils are involved in the hand painting process, so it’s gentler on your locks.
Curly Hair Balayage
Balayage is one of the most popular coloring techniques and balayage on curly hair creates a very natural look. The name comes from the French word ‘balayer’ meaning to sweep, and it describes a technique where the color is swept along the surface of the hair.
Whether you want a subtle, sun-kissed look with a few golden highlights or a complete change of hair color, balayage is ideal for curly hair. The stylist can paint individual curls to create an effect that highlights the texture and really makes your curls pop.
The foil highlighting technique, also known as foilyage, is a great way to achieve a precise, defined highlighting effect on curly hair.
Your colorist will paint hair color onto your curly locks in a similar way to balayage. But instead of letting the hair air-dry, they’ll wrap each section in foils, which gives a more intense lightening effect.
This technique also gives excellent control over the intensity of the highlights. The more foils the stylist uses, the more intense your final result will be.
How to Choose Highlights for Curly Hair
When you’re choosing curly hair highlights, there are several factors to consider.
Your hair type and texture will be most important, as different curl patterns suit different highlighting techniques. Thick, tight curls need bold slices of highlight if you want them to be clearly seen, but if you have fine hair that falls into loose curls, your colorist may suggest delicate hand-painted highlights placed around your hairline.
It’s a good idea to wash and air-dry your hair the day before your appointment so your colorist can see your natural curl pattern. But avoid applying styling products as these can prevent the color from penetrating the strands.
And be sure to describe your usual styling routine to your stylist, whether that involves air-drying or diffusing your curls, or getting a regular blow-out. This can also affect the technique that your colorist chooses.
Types of Curly Hair Highlights
When it comes to curly highlights, there’s a world of options for curly haired girls to choose from. From bold slices of hair color to delicately painted individual curls and from icy blonde to a rainbow of pastel colors.
To help you make your choice, here’s our pick of hair color ideas for curly hair highlights:
Caramel Highlights Curly Hair
Bring out the rich color of your dark brown hair by adding caramel balayage for a natural, sun-kissed finish. The warm, subtle shade of caramel highlights will add depth and definition to your curls and make your natural hair color pop.
Blonde Highlights on Curly Hair
High contrast highlights in blonde shades will add interest and texture to your locks. Light blonde highlights are an eye-catching option and make your hair look full of volume and bounce.
Golden highlights will give your hair a summer sun glow and accentuate your natural color.
Subtle Blonde Highlights on Curly Hair
If you want a more subtle effect, opt for hand-painted honey blonde balayage highlights to make your hair shine. This rich, warm tone adds lightness to your natural hair and looks stunning against dark brown hair.
Or if you have dark blonde or light brown curly hair, a pretty ash blonde balayage will catch the sun in a subtle way that’s ideal for first-time highlights.
Red Highlights Curly Hair
Dark brown hair and black hair have natural red undertones, so red highlights work really well on dark hair. Red tips look amazing on African American hair and darker skin tones, and the effect fades beautifully for easy maintenance.
Go for a bright red to make darker hair pop, create a warm look with auburn highlights, or use a mix of dark red low lights and strawberry blonde highlights for a multidimensional finish that adds shine, depth and movement.
Copper Highlights in Curly Hair
Copper highlights give a soft, sun-kissed look that almost looks natural and will lift your skin tone with a golden glow as well.
This color looks amazing on long curly hair or wavy hair, making your locks look bouncier and full of life.
Low lights for Curly Hair
Dark brown low lights add depth to a dark base for a head-turning effect, especially on long curly hair.
Lowlights are created with the same techniques as highlights but use darker shades to add dimension to your dark hair. Your stylist can also mix highlights and lowlights throughout your tresses to really make the color pop.
Dark Curly Hair With Highlights
Balayage highlights look fantastic on black natural curls, creating a subtle and stylish look that’s easy to maintain as the color fades.
Try warm tones of copper or light mahogany for a subtle look, or brighten your dark curls with warm blonde highlights that will bring your curls to life.
Front or Bang Highlights for Curly Hair
If you’re nervous about committing fully to highlights or want a subtle effect, you don’t need to have a full head of highlights.
Partial highlights on your bangs or the front of your hair will give you a new look without totally changing your hair color. This effect looks great if you have long curls with eyebrow-grazing bangs and partial highlights also work brilliantly on a pixie cut with bangs.
Gray Curly Highlights
Silver gray pintura highlights are a great way to embrace the gray hair trend and give a unique look that will make your curls shine.
And if you have naturally gray curls, why not add a bright flash of color and personality to your locks with hot pink or purple highlights.
Pink, Purple, or Blue Curly Hair Highlights
Bright highlights in fashion colors like pink, purple, or blue are guaranteed to turn heads and blend beautifully with dark curly hair.
Techniques like pintura and balayage are less damaging than an all-over color, so curly haired ladies can blend a rainbow of pastel shades for a fun look without ruining their curls.
Preparing for Curly Hair Highlights
Curly hair highlights are one of the best ways to freshen up your look and make your curls pop. But it’s essential to prep your hair carefully to minimize damage and keep your locks looking healthy.
Make sure your locks are in the best possible condition before you treat it by pampering it with deep conditioning treatments and masks in the weeks before your color session.
Fresh hair will give more even results and help your color last longer, so wash your hair the day before your salon appointment using a sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner.
If you use silicone-based products regularly or have hard water at home, remove any buildup with a clarifying shampoo before your salon appointment.
Remember to let your curls air-dry without styling products so your colorist can see your natural curl pattern.
If you wear makeup regularly, wear your usual day-to-day look to your color appointment so that your colorist can match your highlights to your look. And if you don’t wear makeup much, let them know that too so they can choose a color that suits your skin tone.
Maintaining Curly Hair with Highlights
Nothing beats the vibrant look of a fresh color, so after your curly hair has been highlighted, you’ll want to keep it looking fresh for as long as possible.
Wait a few days before washing your hair to allow the cuticle layer to close fully and secure the color in your strands.
Use color-safe, sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner to avoid leaving your color faded and dull.
Minimize washing to keep your curls healthy and your color vibrant. Check out our hair texture guides to discover the best wash day routine for your hair type.
Use silicone-free conditioning treatments, hair masks, and oils to keep your curls luscious and full of life.
Let your tresses air-dry as much as possible, as heated styling tools will quickly fade your color. If you want to blow-dry your curls or use hot styling tools, apply a heat protectant first and use a diffuser on your blow dryer.
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If you still need help making a decision about curly hair highlights, here are some of the questions we get asked most often:
Will Curly Hair Highlights Ruin My Hair?
The chemicals used in highlights can dry and damage any hair type. Curly hair is often dry and can be fragile, so highlights on natural hair will cause more damage than on straight hair types.
Preparing your hair carefully before the color treatment and using high-quality hair products afterward is vital.
Are Highlights or Lowlights Better for Curly Highlighted Hair?
Highlights and lowlights look great on naturally curly brown hair, but highlights tend to be more popular. It really depends on the look you want to achieve and your color preferences.
What Type of Highlights Are Best for Wavy Hair?
Hand-painted balayage and pintura highlights will both work really well on wavy hair, but you could ask for foil highlights if you prefer.
What Color Makes Curly Hair Pop?
The best color for curly hair highlights really depends on your personal choice. Hand-painted caramel highlights will make your curls pop, or for a more eye-catching look, you could accentuate your curls with red highlights!
Do Highlights Look Better on Straight or Curly Hair?
Highlights look gorgeous on straight, wavy, or curly hair. But they really bring out the texture of natural hair and catch the light as it bounces off your ringlets, curls, or coils.
Curly Hair Highlights – Final Thoughts
Highlights for curly hair are an ideal way to update your look without the damage that an all-over color can cause.
Techniques like balayage and pintura can look very natural on curly hair, and there’s a wide range of colors to choose from. So whether you go for a subtle honey blonde balayage or eye-catching copper highlights, you’re sure to find a shade you love.
Highlighted curls are pretty low maintenance, and with just a few simple steps, your highlighted curly hair will look gorgeous for weeks.