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What type of highlights are best for curly hair?

Having beautiful, luminous highlights can really enhance curly hair and make the curls pop. But getting the wrong type of highlights for your curl type and texture can lead to disaster. When highlighting curly hair, it’s important to take the texture, curl pattern, and current color into consideration to determine the best highlighting technique. Here’s an overview of the most popular highlighting options for curly hair and tips on choosing the right one for you.

Traditional Foil Highlights

Foil highlights remain one of the most popular highlighting techniques. Thin slices of hair are isolated using foil sheets, then lightener or color is applied. This allows the stylists to target specific sections of hair for lightening. Here are the pros and cons of traditional foil highlights for curly hair:


  • Allows precise placement of highlights
  • Lightens small sections for a gradual, natural look
  • Foil keeps lightener from touching the rest of the hair


  • Foil sheets can straighten curls
  • Highlight placement is disrupted as curls spring back
  • Can create frizzy hair or flatten natural curl pattern

Traditional foils often work best for wavy hair or loose curl patterns. The sheets help control the hair to allow strategic lightening. But tight coils and curls can unravel when isolated in foils. The highlighting effect may appear stripy or inconsistent after the curls spring back.

Balayage Highlights

Balayage involves painting or sweeping a lightener or hair color onto sections of the hair by hand. This creates softer, more blended highlights without foils. Here’s an overview of balayage for curly hair:


  • Subtle, diffused look blends with curls beautifully
  • No foils, so curls maintain their natural shape
  • Allows stylists to highlight curled sections
  • Provides a sun-kissed look


  • Less precision than foils
  • Requires an experienced colorist
  • Roots can be tricky to keep darker

Balayage is great for providing a soft, dimensional effect on curls. The painted highlights look natural and seem to glow. But balayage can require more maintenance as the highlights grow out. It also takes skill to keep the roots darker.

Ombre Highlights

Ombre highlights feature darker hair at the top that gradually lightens toward the ends. Here is some information on ombre highlights on curly hair:


  • Seamless blend of colors
  • Allows curls to maintain their pattern
  • No need for frequent root touch-ups
  • Fun, modern look


  • Grow-out line may be visible on some curl types
  • May not look natural for tighter curl patterns
  • Requires precise application

Ombre highlights look beautiful on loose curls and waves. The blend of light and dark cascades down the hair for a striking effect. But hair with very tight curls and coils may not flow together enough to carry the ombre look well. The demarcation line between colors can look harsh.

Sombre Highlights

Sombre highlights feature subtle, blended highlights in tones close to your natural hair color. Here are some pros and cons to consider:


  • Understated and natural-looking
  • Minimizes contrast between highlights and base
  • Allows curls to shine through
  • Grow-out is less noticeable


  • Not dramatic enough for some tastes
  • Requires very precise application
  • Roots may need frequent touch-ups

Sombre highlights are excellent for curly hair that you want to enhance subtly. The close-to-natural tones integrate beautifully with curls. But this understated look may not be bold enough for some.

Chunky Highlights

Chunky highlights feature thick slices of hair lightened dramatically lighter than the base color. Here are considerations for chunky highlights on curly hair:


  • Provides high-impact contrast
  • Allows natural curl pattern to remain
  • Longer grow-out time


  • Can look artificial and stripy
  • Dark roots highly visible as grow-out occurs
  • Not suitable for fine, tight curls

Chunky highlights make the most impact on long, loose curls and waves. But curly hair with finer strands can look overpowering and damaged with thick chunky highlights. Placement is also key – improper placement overpowers the curls.

Babylights/Micro Highlights

Babylights involve highlighting ultra-fine strands of hair for a subtle effect. Here is an overview:


  • Sheer, natural-looking highlights
  • Minimal maintenance as highlights grow out
  • Gentle lightening less damaging on curls
  • Great for soft highlight enhancement


  • Not suitable for making dramatic changes
  • Can require several sessions to achieve desired results
  • Easy to overprocess when isolating tiny strands

Babylights are perfect for curly hair types wanting soft, face-framing highlights or an overall sun-kissed glow. Just take care not to overprocess the fragile curl strands.

Brick Highlights

Brick highlights involve lightly dusting the mid-lengths and ends with red and copper tones. Here’s an overview for curly hair:


  • Enhances natural warmth of hair
  • Minimizes visible re-growth
  • Beautiful on warm brunette and blonde curls


  • Can look brassy if undertones aren’t balanced
  • Roots may need swift retouching
  • Effect is very dependent on curl shape and pattern

Brick highlights look beautiful when expertly placed on long, loose curls. But the effect can look messy and unnatural on tightly coiled curls. Careful application is needed to avoid brassiness.

Curly Hair Highlight Placement

Proper placement is crucial for making highlights look beautiful in curly hair. Here are some placement tips:

  • Focus lighter pieces around the face to brighten and frame it
  • Alternate sections of lighter and darker pieces throughout for dimension
  • Ensure highlights are woven throughout curls for a natural effect
  • Avoid harsh lines of demarcation between sections
  • Use lighter hand when applying color near more fragile areas like temples and hairline

Talk through placement ideas with your colorist and evaluate completed highlights on fully air-dried curls to ensure even saturation.

Best Highlight Colors for Curly Hair

Choosing the right hue is also key for making highlights on curly hair look vibrant, natural, and beautiful. Here are top color ideas to consider:

Hair Color Best Highlight Colors
Dark brown hair Caramel, honey, espresso
Medium brown hair Buttery blonde, golden brown, cinnamon
Light brown hair Wheat blonde, strawberry, peach
Dark blonde hair Beige blonde, ivory, honey
Medium blonde hair White gold, pale sand, champagne

Always opt for highlights 2-3 shades lighter than your natural base for best results. Warm gold and caramel tones tend to complement curly hair beautifully.

Maintenance Tips for Highlighted Curly Hair

Touch-ups and maintenance are vital for keeping highlighted curls looking their best. Be prepared to visit your colorist every 6-8 weeks for ideal results. Here are some other maintenance tips:

  • Use a clarifying shampoo weekly to remove product buildup
  • Deep condition hair after each highlighting session
  • Use a purple toning shampoo/mask to control brassiness
  • Sleep on a satin pillowcase to minimize friction
  • Use hydrating, sulfate-free products to add moisture and shine

A little TLC goes a long way in keeping highlighted curls healthy and vibrant!


From balayage to babylights, there are endless options for highlighting curly hair gorgeously. Work with a colorist experienced in cutting and coloring curls. Explain your hair goals, lifestyle, and budget. And invest time into proper maintenance to help your highlights last.

With the right highlights and care, you can enhance and embrace the beautiful dimension of your curly hair. Subtle or striking, highlights let your spirals shine bright!