How to Highlight & Lowlight Your Hair Like a Professional

Written by kathy mayse
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Foiling is a technique used by most hair care professionals to highlight and lowlight hair. Highlighting is lightening select strands; lowlighting is darkening select strands. Foiling involves sectioning off the hair and applying colour to certain sections of hair that are protected by the foil and folded away to prevent the colour from touching the rest of the hair. Foiling is a little tricky to perform on yourself, so having a helper is recommended.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

Things you need

  • Hair clips
  • Pin-tail comb (short comb with long metal tail used for sectioning and weaving)
  • Foil
  • Scissors
  • Bowl
  • Colour brush
  • Gloves
  • Creme colour (desired colour)
  • Creme developer
  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner

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  1. 1

    Divide your hair into four sections by creating one part that runs from the middle of the forehead to the middle of the nape area and one part that runs horizontally, ear to ear. Hold each section in place using hair clips.

  2. 2

    Tear out a long sheet of foil and cut it into 3-inch strips. Mix equal parts of the creme colour and developer in the mixing bowl. Blend with the colour brush until the colour is smooth and even throughout.

  3. 3

    Section off a 1/2-inch horizontal section of hair. Weave the pintail comb through the section. Grasp the hair on top of the comb with your fingers and allow the hair that was woven under the comb to fall free. Place a strip of foil underneath the hair you are holding. Hold the hair flat down on the foil to hold the foil in place.

  4. 4

    Apply colour to the hair along the length of the foil using the colour brush. Fold the sides of the foil in over the hair, and fold again in half. Clip the foil up and out of the way using a hair clip. Create another 1/2-inch section, and pin it up with the previously foiled section. Weave the next 1/2-inch section, place foil and apply colour. Continue in an alternating pattern, moving from section to section, from the top of the head to the lower hairline.

  5. 5

    Process the hair for 20 minutes after foiling the last section. Check the colour of the first section by removing the foil and eyeballing the result. If you like the colour, continue to the next step. If not, replace the foil and process for an additional five minutes.

  6. 6

    Remove the foils. Rinse, shampoo and condition.

Tips and warnings

  • If you want to add lowlights and highlights at the same time, alternate the lighter and darker colours when placing foils.
  • You can place highlights and lowlights on select sections of hair, on the top layer of the hair only or throughout all sections of the hair depending on the look you want. There is no right or wrong way to place foils. Envision the look you want and place foils accordingly.
  • The colour result will depend primarily on the strength of the developer. For highlights that are three to four shades lighter than the original colour, use 40 volume developer. Highlights that are one to two shades lighter require 30 volume developer. Twenty volume developer is used for grey coverage, and 10 volume developer is used to deposit colour. Depositing colour achieves a lowlighted appearance.
  • Colour does not lift colour. If you want to highlight hair that has been previously coloured, you will need to use a hair lightener instead of colour.
  • If it is taking quite some time to place the foils, the first section might be fully processed before you get to the last section. To stop the colouring process on a section of hair that has reached the desired level, open the foils and wet the hair with a spray bottle.

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