Using colour to add dimension to curly hair is the perfect way to brighten up darker shades, especially for spring and summer. While highlighting is a classic technique, Curlights is the latest take on it to strategically add pops of lightness for a multidimensional result.
“It’s basically curly-hair balayage,” says Patricia Ajani, artist and colourist at Haus of Rtists in Laval, Que., who specializes in working with all curl types and also serves as an educator for Kevin.Murphy. “It’s the best way to create a more contrasted result or something that’s very tone on tone, depending on what the client is looking for.”
Understanding the Fabric
Some colourists may try using the same highlighting techniques for curly hair as they would for straight hair, but it’s important to note that the results can vary drastically.
“Curly hair and straight hair are very different fabrics,” says Marlo Steenman, a NAHA award- winning colourist based in Edmonton, who is also the artistic director for Artego Canada and creator of Curls Gone Wild, an educational program that focuses on cutting and colouring curly hair. “You have to know the curl type you’re working with because it determines how you’re going to execute your highlights.”
Steenman compares tighter curls to a tweed, which requires a bolder use of colour to ensure it’s not lost in the weaving of the fabric. Conversely, she compares straight hair to silk, which easily shows movement and shine. “I always say the fear [of working with curly hair] really comes from not knowing your curl type; understanding which ‘fabric’ you’re working with makes the process much easier for the stylist,” she says. “There’s a very methodical yet organic approach to working with curly hair. You have to plan it out in the sense of being prepared and knowing the curl type.”
“I’ve always been one to try to push colour onto my curly clients because I feel like it gives a nice pop to curls,” says Elisha Gotha, owner of The Curl Lounge in Toronto, and a DevaCurl certified expert. “Sometimes with a natural base colour or one colour in general, hair can seem muted. Adding different lights makes it multidimensional and gives it another look. The effect really showcases the different textures of the curls.”
All About Application
Your client’s waves (type 2), curls (type 3) or coils (type 4), will influence how much lightener and colour to apply.
ASK CLIENTS TO COME IN FOR THE CONSULTATION (AND APPOINTMENT) WITH THEIR NATURAL CURLS AND ASK HOW THEY WEAR THEIR HAIR ON A DAILY BASIS. THIS WILL HELP DETERMINE THE BEST COURSE OF ACTION FOR THEIR COLOUR
“If the hair is really curly, you’ll likely want to go with a heavier weave and a little lighter if there’s less of a curl,” says Steenman. “Unfortunately, I’ve seen a lot of stylists who don’t know their client’s curl type and go with traditional highlighting, which makes it look like spaghetti noodles are going through the hair. It’s too stripey.”
“I’ll customize the colour depending on how the client wears their hair,” adds Ajani. “If they want something a bit more subtle and deeper at the root, teasing is nice to keep the dimension, along with keeping the ends more solid so it pops more when the hair is curly. Plus, there’s also the versatility of being able to wear it straight. Always section the hair and make sure it’s clean so you can work section by section and not be all over the place.”
AVOID BABYLIGHTS SINCE THE EFFECT OFTEN GETS LOST IN CURLS AND CAN CAUSE THE HAIR TO LOOK TOO FLAT AND DIFFUSED.
Since curly hair is drier and more prone to breakage, working low and slow is key; opting for a 20-volume developer and working at a slower pace.
“People may think that curly hair is the strongest hair, but the tighter the curl is, the more fragile it is,” says Ajani. “Curly hair is naturally more porous, so it will grab colour very easily. If you work with a lightener or developer that’s very strong and work too fast, you can damage the curl pattern.”
AVOID OVER-FOILING THE HAIR OR YOU MAY END UP WITH A SOLID COLOUR RATHER THAN A MULTIDIMENSIONAL RESULT.
“Having curly hair myself, we never go from level one to 10 [in one appointment],” adds Gotha. “In order to maintain the integrity of their hair, clients may need to come in for a second session if they want to be really light blonde of if they had previous colour. This way, we can take it slow and use bonding products to help protect their curls.”
The Curlights trend typically refers to hand- painting in order to achieve a blended transition, but that doesn’t mean a similar look can’t be achieved with foiling.
“I would hand-paint when the client wants to see something very subtle and not too much of a contrast, and when they want to keep a lot of the warmth, like caramels and rich brunettes,” says Ajani. “It’s also great for reviving some pieces that are a little bit dull. If I need more control and lots of lift, foils are my go to.”
WHEN LIGHTENING AND COLOURING CURLY HAIR, STEENMAN SAYS IT’S IMPORTANT TO TAKE A STEP BACK TO LOOK AT IT. “IT’S LIKE A PAINTING; LOOK AT WHERE YOU NEED TO FILL IN SOME OF THOSE GAPS TO SEE A NATURAL TRANSITION.”
“I like to use foils because the work is neater and cleaner, and I find that it processes better than freehand,” adds Gotha. “I like to do a lot of feathering and blending so the grow-out is nicer. It’s a nice transition between your dark and light, and leaving some dark in the hair and between your foils really helps those Curlights pop. When you have a dark base or leave some of the natural colour in, it’s going to make the lights seem lighter, whereas if you colour everything and don’t leave as much dark, it kind of dilutes that light tone and doesn’t give you that curly light that you want.”
Regardless of the technique you decide to use, being honest (and realistic) about the timeframe and cost is critical.
“A lot of clients already think that colouring their hair is damaging because of past experiences they didn’t like or because they lost their curl pattern as
a result of working with a stylist who didn’t know anything about curly hair,” says Gotha. “Always do a strand test and don’t guarantee anything because you really don’t know until you do it.”
“[CURLIGHTS] BRINGS CLIENTS INTO THE SALON MORE OFTEN AND THEY’LL FEEL MORE COMFORTABLE WEARING THEIR NATURAL CURLS WHEN THEY HAVE THAT COLOUR IN THERE.”
— ELISHA GOTHA, OWNER OF THE CURL LOUNGE, TORONTO