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How to Highlight and Colour Your Hair at Home Using Foils

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Learn about the many uses of foils for at-home hairstyling, and see some step-by-step instructions for using foil.

Learn about the many uses of foils for at-home hairstyling, and see some step-by-step instructions for using foil.

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:

  • lowlight
  • 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.

Supplies

  • 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.

A tail or rattail comb (second from left) makes it easy to select pieces of hair to dye.

A tail or rattail comb (second from left) makes it easy to select pieces of hair to dye.

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).

Brushing the dye into the hair with a tinting comb. The foil acts almost like a canvas.

Brushing the dye into the hair with a tinting comb. The foil acts almost like a canvas.

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.)

Use the foil to separate the dyed and undyed sections of hair.

Use the foil to separate the dyed and undyed sections of hair.

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.

1. Exclusion

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?

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.

Comments

Demic on August 25, 2019:

Never ever wash your hair before bleaching it. The dirtier your hair is, the more natural oils it'll have in it. When you have oils in your hair it'll make it so the bleach does less damage.

silverstuff182 on July 07, 2018:

Aubrey - I do random pieces from all over my head. I also work fast, which is potentially messy but I found that it isn't necessary to be very careful or exacting with the strips, sections etc. When it's all done it looks great. I DO have short hair. This wouldn't work on long hair. It just takes too much time. What you could do is some sections. Leave the rest alone. Next day continue with remaining sections.

Tina W. on November 29, 2017:

Att: Ashley b.

A great trick i use is mix Dawn dish soap and shampoo. This will strip the color . Use more shampoo and a small amount of Dawn dish soap. If it doesn't work add a little more dish soap. Be careful this will strip the hair.

Ashley b. on May 01, 2017:

Someone please help, no one can give me answers.

I have some very severe and crazy layers. I just got a bad cut. I know this cut looks so bad partially because if how dark my hair is. It's been damaged so bleach is my last resort. Tried to take the dye out with all other methods first. Time for the next step. I bought color zap at Sally's. The dye buildup is mostly on the ends so my plan was to use foils with it to get it on the ends first and then about 5 mins on my whole head but no one can tell me if this is okay. It's a sulfur based remover and i don't plan on mixing the peroxide activator with it. All it says in the directions is not to mix in a metal bowl...but everything says that. I can't afford to damage my hair. Can someone please tell me if I can use foils for this? Thank you so so so much!!

Aubrey on May 04, 2016:

What do I do if the hair is done processing in the back but not done processing in the front? Can I spray it with a water bottle and will that stop it from processing

Amanda on May 03, 2016:

This article is very well put together!! I'm going to try it tonight. I'll post how it went.

Sharon on August 21, 2014:

When using foils , by the time u get to the front the back is processing so what I do if the back and sides are processed I use a higher volume of peroxide on top , or u can rinse the back and sides then foil the top with 20 vol peroxide. Hope that helps

kendra on March 08, 2014:

how long do you leave the foils ?

marla on February 28, 2014:

when i foil hair sometimes the back gets lighter than the top ,i have always startes from the back and worked forward.has anyone else had this problem. only happenes on very thick hair and i am wondering if i should start at the top first

maegan on March 31, 2013:

I'm a hairdresser also and to avoid the foil from bleeding you can use cotton in between foils so that if it does bleed, the cotton will absorb it before the color touches the hair.

stylgrl82 on April 04, 2012:

hi winterhair im a stylest and i think clipins r a better way of thinkin, u can buy hair ready to clip at just about any cosmo shope or beauty land store in ur area or on the web key word clip on hair, That glue takes for ever to get out a can pull some of ur hair to boot! Hope this helps

Jamie on September 25, 2011:

Thanks for the tips! Now i hope i just get it right!

manamadz on August 31, 2011:

Im eight months pregnant and i want to bleach my hair, but i don't want to do my roots. Iv nevee tried using foils before, do you think its the easiest thing to usek

DIYTeenMom on August 25, 2011:

Can you use foil with any home coloring kit, such as Revlon ColorSilk? I'm trying to give my daughter "low lights" and using a cap didn't work because the amount of hair I could pull through wasn't noticeable enough when we finished so I'd like to try foils so I can use larger sections.

Jennifer on July 18, 2011:

@ Heather - sun exposure and can damage you hair if it is colored or not. There are products out there to help with protecting your hair. Try Redken's Color Extend SUN line to help protect your hair.

Heather on July 10, 2011:

got a foil recently to lighten up my hair...does the sun damage hair after having a foil if I do not wear a hat or avoid the sun? My hair stylist says not to worry about the sun after a foil. Thanks

Louise on February 11, 2011:

If your foils are bleeding, then you have put too much product in them.

Research Analyst on July 28, 2010:

Great tips, especially for those who want to do it themselves at home it will be easier to know how to color hair with foils in this hub. Thanks!

chloe on February 27, 2010:

hi do u have any tricks to avoid colour bleeding

natty on February 12, 2010:

my hair hassent gone as light as i want it to how can i get it to go lighter?

Winterhair on December 17, 2009:

I have thought about getting hair extensions and doesn't sound like a very good idea. So i am getting clip on hair extensions. Does anybody know where i can buy them, any good websites selling them and how much they cost>?

Choke Frantic (author) from Newcastle, Australia on December 08, 2009:

VB72 - I always have trouble with this issue myself. Remember - practice always makes perfect! You'll find at most salons for regrowth applications of bleach, a weaker solution is used, with a graduated result. This also helps you to go for longer between salon visits, because there isn't an oobvious line between the lighter and darker hair.

VB72 on December 04, 2009:

How do you bleach just the root of previously bleached foils without going over the bleached portion while also avoiding creating a blunt line of older/newer bleach?

bloodnlatex on November 17, 2009:

Great job. You seem to really know a lot about the whole hair coloring and styling thing, and you laid it all out so that anyone could easily understand the process you were taking them through. That isn't always the easist thing to do. You definitely have a future in writing and in the hair business.

Choke Frantic (author) from Newcastle, Australia on August 22, 2009:

Thanks for your comment, momo. To me, the terms dye and colour are interchangeable.

momo on August 10, 2009:

Very good way of explaining, I still cringe though when I read or hear the word dye instead of colour LOL

Choke Frantic (author) from Newcastle, Australia on May 12, 2009:

I've never even considered writing for a hair dressing magazine! Most of the ones which I buy are published in the UK though, and I don't know of any that are published in Australia. Also, they may not take me seriously since I'm not over 29 =] Thankyou for the compliment and good luck to you too.

Brenda Scully on May 12, 2009:

Not like a hairdresser to give so many secrets of the proffesion away, appreciated, have you written for hair dressing magazines..... your articles are well put together.... good luck for the challenge. x

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