How to Highlight and Colour Your Hair at Home Using Foils
Hair Tips and Tricks With Foils
In the hairdressing world, foils are commonly used to add highlights to a client's hair. Very few people other than hair artists know the other amazing uses for foils!
In addition to highlighting, you can use foils to do the following:
- dye most of the hair and leave a few bits natural (sort of like the opposite of highlighting)
- protect sections of hair from becoming over-processed
- add in additional streaks that are bleached or coloured
- touch up just the roots of colour that's growing out
The truth is that hairdressing foil is a very versatile tool and can be used for several different tasks to create an array of interesting looks.
First, I'll tell you the right way to apply foils to the head. Then, I'll explain all the different things you can do once the foils are in, and along the way I'll show you some videos to illustrate the process.
Can I Use Aluminum Foil?
Yes, you can use regular aluminum foil for your hair, as long as the dye you're using says it's safe with metal. You could even use waxed paper if you wanted, and of course the stuff you buy at a beauty supply store will work, too, although it may be more expensive.
How to Determine What Thickness to Use
Since foil comes in various strengths and thicknesses, you'll want to consider this, too. The trick is using a material that is tough enough to hold up to the chemicals in the dye and still malleable enough to keep the sections of dyed hair separate. Another way to make sure your foil will hold up is to fold about an inch of the foil down on the end that will touch the roots of the hair. This will make that end doubly strong and will help ensure that the dye will be contained.
How to Cut It
Before you begin, you'll want to cut the foil into strips of manageable size, depending on the length of the hair you're working with. Usually, you'll cut strips that are 4 or 5 inches (10–13 centimeters) wide and 8–12 inches (20–30 cm) long. Because you'll fold the foil up to encase the hair, cut strips that are about twice the length of the hair you're dyeing. For extremely long hair, instead of folding one piece of impossibly long foil, you can use two separate pieces of foil that are each the length of the hair as a kind of foil sandwich.
You can use a piece of foil that is less than double the length of the sectioned hair, but the hair will need to be curled or tucked up inside the foil. Be careful while doing this so as not to bend the hair (and leave a visible crease in the dye).
DIY Tutorial: How to Put Foils in Hair
Before you start with the foil, you should wash and dry your hair and have everything you need ready and on hand.
- a clean head of hair
- barrettes or clips
- the colour or bleach you'll be using (mixed, if applicable)
- a tail comb
- a tinting brush for applying the dye
- strips of foil
Step 1: Section the Hair
Section off the hair that you wish to colour. Dividing that hair into smaller bundles will give you more control over the process. Temporarily secure each section with a hairdressing barrette.
Step 2: Use a Tail Comb to Select Hair to Dye
Use the end of the tail comb to select which pieces you will dye. This requires artfully grabbing chunks of the hair or weaving the end of a tail comb through the hair to select separate sections. For a natural look, large chunks of hair are not recommended; instead, use smaller sections and many separate foils.
- If you're working on a friend's hair, you'll want to start with the sections at the bottom (closer to the neck) and work your way towards the front (forehead).
- If you're doing your own hair, you'll probably start at the sides and work your way up to the top.
Step 3: Place the Foil
Place the sturdy, folded end of the foil under the section of hair you're going to apply the dye to, preferably with the silver side facing up (although the foil can be used either way).
Step 4: Apply the Dye
Apply the hair colourant that you are using, provided that it is safe to use with metal, with a tinting comb. Make sure to thoroughly coat the hair. Use the foil itself as a sort of canvas or table, as it will provide a little support for the strand of hair you are coating.
Step 5: Wrap the Foil
- Make sure the foil is tucked in close to the scalp and covering as much of the roots of the hair as possible to prevent the dye from getting onto other sections of hair.
- To wrap up the foil, begin by taking the end (opposite the roots) and folding it up and over so that the hair is entirely encased in an envelope of foil.
- Do not press too hard when you fold the foil or you will cause colour leakage.
It will take practice to get this perfect! (Remember, for extra long hair, you can use two separate pieces of foil sandwiched together.)
Step 6: Fold the Foil
Now, you can fold the foil so that the ends of the foil-encased hair come up close to the roots. Be careful not to press too hard or you'll have a fold-crease in your dye. If the hair is long, you may wish to gently roll the foil from the bottom upward to the scalp instead of folding.
Don't worry if the foil looks messy at this stage! Practice is required to make a perfectly folded foil.
Step 7: Repeat
Repeat steps one through six until you have foiled all the hair you plan on dyeing. If attempting this on your own hair, especially if your hair is long, you may need the help of a friend the first couple of times.
For how long to leave the dye in, read the instructions on the bottle. Since this whole procedure is quite slow, the sections you begin with will be exposed to the dye longer than the ones you do last. To ensure that all your foils are the same colour after the instructed period of time, you may want to section off all the pieces of hair you want dyed first, then quickly work to dye and wrap them up.
What Else Can You Use Foil For?
However, foils aren't only used for dyeing sections of hair. Here are just a few professional tips and tricks which are extremely handy for DIY, at-home hair colouring sessions.
Foils are most often used if you only want to dye a few bits of your hair. However, if you wish to dye the bulk of your hair and protect a few bits from being processed, foils are also great. You can simply section off the hair you want to keep undyed and wrap each section in foil, using the same procedure described above—only without adding the dye. Then you can proceed to dye the remainder of your loose hair, working carefully around the foils.
2. Bleaching Hair
If parts of your hair are already bleached, but you want to lighten the rest or add more bleached sections, then the exclusion method can also be used. This trick is excellent for protecting hair that has been damaged from over-processing with bleach in order to avoid excessive damage.
If you want to lighten the rest of your hair, the already-bleached parts should be covered and therefore saved from excessive processing. If you choose to bleach already bleach-damaged hair, you may end up with a chemical haircut!
3. Regrowth Applications (Touch-Ups)
Foils are great to use with regrowth applications if you don't wish to dye over your previously dyed hair. This is especially true for highlights as overlapping more bleach on top of your previous highlights will lighten your hair further and lead to a slight 'stripey' effect. You can use the exclusion method for this.
Tips for Root Protection
When excluding hair from a process using foils, you may find it hard to cover the roots with the foil, and this may become a cause for worry. One handy piece of equipment in this case is your conditioner! Using your tinting comb, brush some conditioner onto the roots of your hair to prevent them from being processed. You can also apply it to your eyebrows in case the hair you're dyeing falls in your face!
Would You Use Foils?
What do you think about do-it-yourself home dyeing with foils?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.