Curly Hair and That Light-Reflecting Look: How Things Change in the Colorist’s Chair

Victoria Moorhouse
Curly Hair


Each hair texture has its own (fairly unique) rider of care requests. Some prefer a wash every other day, while others might only really want to lather up with shampoo once a week. That whole customization complex doesn’t change with hair dye and hair type either. Coloring curly hair requires a different train of thought (and even skills!) than applying some bleach on pin-straight hair.

Moisture balance and the way curly hair reflects light (turns out, this is an area curly hair really shines in!) are two big call-outs, but to get the full picture, we caught up with tendril expert, Shari Harbinger, VP of Education for DevaCurl and DevaChan Colorist and scored some awesome advice.

MORE: 10 Cool Curly Hair Products Under $10

Curly Hair Reflects Light Easily Due to Its Volume
And because of that, Harbinger says that taking a “less is more” approach to application is important. You essentially don’t need as much color to give your hair that reflection—what will give you that perfectly natural-looking dye job, no matter what the color. “Because curly hair is more voluminous, there is a lot more light reflection, especially with the super curly textures, so it’s really easy to see added color. Depending on the effect a client is looking for, the amount of color used for a straight client versus a curly client can vary. Generally speaking, when done correctly, most curly girls need significantly less color to achieve a desired effect, which means less chemicals and healthier hair,” she says.

Foils—that cover a ton of space–wouldn’t be the your best bet because placement strategy is so huge, so colorists at DevaChan use a different approach that will remind you a little of balayage.

“At DevaChan Salon, when we color textured hair, we use a technique called Pintura, where we paint color directly on strands rather than using foils,” says our expert. “This technique allows stylists to choose exactly where they want to place color which in turn affects how the hair captures light. The technique helps create light-reflecting highlights that work to boost hair’s brilliance and dimension. It’s also important to note that Pintura hair painting creates natural dimension, and therefore the regrowth is more forgiving.”

One of the biggest mistakes in this circumstance, though, is when colorists place highlights too close together, which Harbinger says will lose the dimension you were going for from the beginning.

Moisture Needs to Be Thought About
If it’s not, Harbinger says that these coloring or chemical processes can cause frizz and dry out the hair. “With curly hair it’s also important for clients to have hair with a strong moisture foundation before coloring, this really helps to preserve the hair and keep it healthy before and after a color service,” she notes.

The decisions of what kinds of color should be used on the hair should be largely based on the health of the hair, its moisture state, and what chemicals are already on it.

“Also, if a client has chemical relaxers in their hair, the colorist needs to anticipate how the color chemicals will layer and what the best strategy is for preserving the integrity of that hair with the understanding that the hair has already been chemically altered,” says Harbinger who also notes that using less chemicals on fine hair is a great example of this.

To maintain hydration in specifically hair lightening situations, Harbinger pushes for a gentler lightener that needs more time to set “rather than going for a strong chemical with less processing time.”

What type of moisture the hair holds after the appointment has to do with the clients conditioning and washing habits—and the products they use.

“One of DevaCurl’s signature products, No-Poo cleanser, is super moisturizing, and that’s why we recommend it to clients. It not only helps create that crucial moisture foundation, but post color, and with a low ph, it will help rebalance the hair and recover any moisture lost during the color process.”

MORE: Hair Plopping: The New Way to Air-Dry Curls

And the Way Hair Is Naturally
To get the best color placement, getting the lowdown on how the hair behaves when its at its natural state is super important. Based off of that, the colorists can make smarter decisions on hair dye. “Understanding different textures will help create the best desired results. Also, take the time to understand the direction and movement of the curls as well. Work with the pattern, not against it, always cutting first before coloring so that the color will enhance the style,” she says.

The Easiest and the Hardest Looks
If you’re going to a seasoned professional, you shouldn’t have to choose the look you want based off of what is easiest or the most difficult, but it’s always good to keep it in mind. Harbinger says that likely the hardest look for curly hair to take to is ombre. “The texture can sometimes mask the gradient effect. However, if a stylist uses a bit more color and creates a highly emphasized gradient, the effect can still be achieved,” she says.

While ombre certainly isn’t out, the easier styles are seeing some traction a la Instagram this summer, including “natural contrast, highlights, face framing, and dip dye.”