Curly Hair: Coloring FAQ's
Curly Hair: Coloring FAQ's
Karen Marie Shelton - Copyright - All rights reserved
Revised Date:  10/07/11

Introduction

Natural curly hair presents many challenges.  When Lara, a Hair Boutique visitor wrote to AskKaren about the problems she was having achieving a good hair color for her naturally curly hair I listened carefully.

Lara explained it didn't seem to matter whether she applied the color at home or if she went to the salon.  It was her opinion that the applied color always looked darker than she hoped for.

She also complained that no matter what she did, she could not seem to achieve the amount of depth or shine she wanted.

Lara's problem wasn't new to me.  One of the most common problems I hear about curly hair is how to deal with adding color, highlights or lowlights.

While Lara has problems with applied color looking too dark and drab, many people with naturally curly hair experience problems with the color fading prematurely. 

Others find that adding color will increase dryness and brittleness of their curly hair

Note:  For more details read Curly Hair & Hair Color - Secrets You Must Know

Basic Composition & Shape Of Curly Hair

In July of 1998 I spent a lot of time on the phone chatting with   world-famous curly hair expert, Ouidad.   During our conversation The Queen of Curl graciously spent a lot of time explaining the basic composition of curly hair.

Ouidad told me that curly hair is "baby fine hair in the shape of a corkscrew. With curly hair, the fish scales stay up all the time."

"The cuticle of curly hair does not stay closed because of its shape. Consequently, the hair, if not treated correctly, easily becomes dry and feather like.  Curly hair is very delicate and more prone to damage from improper treatment because the molecular layer is constantly exposed."

Because the cuticle of curly never completely closes, chemical treatments of any type (color, straightening) can have a major impact on the hair.  If curly hair is already damaged or overly dry, the addition of chemicals in the form of color or highlights will only magnify the hair's damage.

Ouidad explained that "people think that curly, frizzy hair is tough, but it’s really quite fragile. Curly hair requires special care and handling along with special products that nourish the unique structure of the hair.

Coloring Curly Hair

I asked Ouidad why color fades or seems to get lighter in some curly hair. She reminded me "that since the curly hair cuticle never really closes, the actual molecular layer is constantly exposed and this results in both natural and chemically induced hair color fading."

I asked her opinion regarding coloring curly hair. I also inquired what color products she recommends.

Ouidad explained that if a person is willing to first re-link the base of their hair by using a deep treatment every two weeks, they can safely and happily color their hair.

However, she warned that coloring should only be done by a professional with coloring expertise that has knowledge of coloring curly hair.

She told me that use of a deep treatment designed to work with colored and/or curly hair will rebuild the substance of the hair and this will allow the re-linked hair to hold color longer and better.

Avoid Use of Permanent Color

Ouidad strongly advises against the use of permanent color treatments because of their high concentration of chemicals which can damage the hair. Instead, she recommends using only semi-permanent or vegetable colors.

Semi-permanent colors will give hair a richer, more beautiful color and will not fade like permanent colors do. They are less harsh and perform better overall.

Regardless of your hair type, if you do color your hair, it will require special pre-color and post-color care. Ouidad recommends applying a deep conditioning or a similar deep treatment product to your hair 3 days before coloring.

With properly pre-color conditioned hair, the resulting color tones will appear more uniform from root to ends. The healthier your hair before you color, the longer it holds the color and it is less prone to pre-mature brassiness or fading.

Ouidad stressed the importance of developing a beauty regimen that incorporates the application of a deep treatment product before coloring.

She recommends applying a Deep Treatment three days before your hair is colored, then again 2 weeks afterwards to seal and protect. In essence, the deep treatment acts like a filler or toner in the hair shaft.

Avoid Use of Permanent Color

Glamour Magazine's April Hair Days column presented additional information on the challenges of coloring curly hair.  In the April column Glamour interviewed Janette Bower, color director of New York City's Space salon.

Ms. Bower holds similar views to Ouidad on coloring curly hair.  She agrees that color that is applied to curly hair can often look different than color that is applied to hair that is straight.  Since naturally curly hair diffuses light, it may make the newly applied color dark and drab with little or no shine.

Straight hair, on the other hand, has a naturally smooth surface which easily reflects light and therefore picks up the vibrancy and shine of applied color.

Bowers recommends that if you have naturally curly hair that you bypass the permanent color or highlight offerings. 

Bower recommends that you opt for semi permanent gloss, which adds a hint of color and boosts shine which makes curls look healthy.

If you have your heart set on highlights, she suggests that you ask for "large wide ones in tones that are close to your hair's base color to bring out curl texture."

If your heart is set on an allover hue, she recommends that you ask your colorist to apply a tone that is two shades brighter than your goal color.

Summary

Because of the way that curly hair is structured, achieving a good hair color can be a challenge. 

Color that is applied to curly hair can often look different than color that is applied to hair that is straight.  Since naturally curly hair diffuses light, it may make the newly applied color dark and drab with little or no shine.

Straight hair, on the other hand, has a naturally smooth surface which easily reflects light and therefore picks up the vibrancy and shine of applied color.

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Original Publication Date:  4/15/2003 - Revised Publication Date:  10/07/11

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