The Best Way To Achieve Natural-Looking Highlights On Curly Hair

Latest Color Techniques Used By Your Stylist

How To Achieve Natural-Looking Highlights On Curly Hair

22 May 2018
photo of woman with highlights on curly hair

Emily Arata

Senior Editor,

As an employee of L’Oréal, Emily works with celebrity stylists to make finding the right cut, color, or style easier than ever before. She's previously written for Allure, Elite Daily, and First We Feast.

In a dream world, curly-haired women are never left out of the conversation. While women with ringlets are dedicated to their salon professionals and luxury products, it seems as if most of the internet’s ink is spent explaining things to girls with straight hair. When it comes to techniques like highlights on curly hair, nothing but a hyper specific curly guide will do.

To ensure we’re seeing you through the ins and outs of coloring accent pieces on your curl, we tapped Karen Baxter. The Matrix brand ambassador and professional stylist has plenty of experience brightening up the manes of curly girls.

Trust your hair to a curl guru.

As every curly girl knows, your ringlets are only as good as the health of your hair. When it comes to color treatments, you’re dealing with chemicals that can easily damage the structure of the strands—leaving you with weak, limp waves. That’s part of the reason it’s so crucial for you to see a professional instead of trying to create gorgeous color at home.

In order to choose a professional, Baxter recommends making use of the free digital social media profiles that show off an expert’s body of work.

Potential clients should do a little homework on the stylist they choose...They should look up the stylist’s name and work through social media sites—also, read reviews! If you are a client who loves your curls, trust them to someone who has built a reputation on cultivating curly hair.

Karen Baxter

Once you’ve scheduled your appointment, it’s time to focus on the planning the perfect highlights.

The more consultation, the better the end result.

If you’re a salon guest, it’s easy to think of the consultation portion of the appointment as a one-way street. Instead of delivering a stack of photos to your pro and hopping on your phone, take the time to help them understand your texture and lifestyle. From shampoo to styling habits, every detail means a more customized hair color in the end.

“Questions are so important because they tell the story and help give me an idea of what direction I must lead the client to,” Baxter says. “Why do they want highlighting? Are they up for the maintenance that comes with highlighting? What chemical services have they previously had? Are they happy with their current curl pattern?”

While highlighting can add brightness and dimension to curly hair, the color service may also leave clients with hair that feels drier or weaker than normal. According to Baxter, the same principles that you live by for daily curly care apply to color treated curls. From Matrix, she often recommends an in-salon bond protecting system like Bond Ultim8. Used during the lightening service, the three-step system helps to preserve the bonds and integrity of the hair. She’s also a fan of Biolage Color Care Acidic Milk Rinse, an in-salon formula which provides an extra caring step after color service, noticeably softening, smoothing, and rebalancing hair’s pH.

It’s also important to recognize that your hair has limits.

“More than a few levels of lift could be a bad idea if you’re trying to keep the integrity of the current curl pattern,” Baxter explains. “Since the cuticle in curly hair lays much differently than it does in straight hair, it must be handled and treated differently. Hair lightening products such as bleaches can drastically cause the hair’s curl pattern to change.”

Get to painting.

Although most videos of highlighting techniques show stylists patiently painting lightener onto sleek, straight hair, Baxter says that’s far from the only way to make beautiful highlights happen.

“I have only a handful of times had to blow out a client prior to highlighting due to the thickness of her hair and her tight curl pattern,” the pro says, explaining that she often utilizes several color techniques to paint color onto curls.

However, application will depend on how much hair you have, how thick it is, and tightly your curls are wound. One mark of a quality stylist will be their hesitancy to promise you bright blonde highlights—instead, they’ll temper your expectations so the color you actually receive will thrill you.

Support your color.

Every hair guru knows that a salon treatment is only the first step in your hair color (and curl) journey. Between touch-ups, support your newly lightened hair with a color safe formula that leaves your curls looking beautiful. We love Biolage Color Care Shampoo and Conditioner. Formulated with coconut milk and meadowfoam, this duo helps protect color-treated hair, leaving it soft and shiny with lasting color vibrancy.

When it’s time to check back in with your salon pro, don’t be afraid to update him or her on the pros and cons of your highlights. If there’s something you didn’t love—be it color or placement—be honest. Your highlights will get better every time you go back.

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