top of page
  • amandamcgerald

Understanding Hair Color: Why Foils Are a Colorist's Best Friend

Updated: Feb 24

Foiling wrapping hair is a common technique used by colorists to add dimension and depth to a client's hair color. By sectioning off the hair and wrapping it in aluminum foil, stylists can apply different shades of color or lightener to specific sections of the hair easily at their salon station. This allows for precise and controlled color placement, resulting in a beautiful and natural-looking color.  Foiling techniques can also be used to add some fun accent pieces with fun colors and placements.

Highlight, Lowlight, and a little Extra: Foils Explained

Hair stylist applying final foils to a full head for highlights

What Is The Difference Between Highlights and Lowlights?


Highlights involve lightening specific sections of hair to a shade lighter than the natural color. These foils are strategically placed on the top layers, creating a sun-kissed effect. The patterns vary based on hair length and thickness.


Lowlights involve coloring sections of hair in shades darker than the natural color, aiming to enhance depth, dimension, and contrast. Typically placed beneath the top layer, lowlights create a shadowing effect for added richness. This technique is versatile—it can seamlessly blend gray hair, provide a natural appearance by breaking up solid colors, or deliver a bold and vibrant look. Whether aiming for subtlety or drama, lowlights offer a range of possibilities for personalized hair transformations.

Essentially the primary distinction between highlights and lowlights lies in the color choice. Highlights involve lighter sections, contributing to a brighter and more luminous appearance, while lowlights feature darker sections to add depth and contrast. When combined, these techniques create a multi-dimensional effect, enhancing natural beauty and harmonizing with skin tone, eye color, and facial features. A simultaneous application of both highlights and lowlights constitutes a Full Foil service, offering a comprehensive solution for a nuanced and personalized hair transformation.

What is a Full Foil

A Full Foil typically uses between 45 and 100 foils or more, covering every section of the head, including underneath and down to the neck. 

Full Foils cover more due to hair thickness or for a bolder look.

What is a Partial Foil

A Partial Foil focuses on the top of the head and typically uses between 12 and 40 foils, and focus mainly towards the top of the head.

The intensity of highlights ranges from subtle to dramatic, catering to individual preferences.

What Are Accent Foils

Accent foils consist up to 12 foils. They are used by stylists introduce vibrant touches to a client's hair by strategically applying a few foils in key areas, such as around the face. This technique achieves a subtle yet noticeable effect, adding depth and dimension without committing to a full head of highlights or lowlights. 

Accent foils offer a versatile option for experimenting with bold and vibrant colors, allowing customization for each client's desired look—whether a subtle enhancement or a bold statement. Quick and easy, they provide a personalized update to hair color, infusing a touch of personality to the overall look.

Foil Placement and Why It Matters

Foil Placement is crucial for achieving a balanced, comprehensive, and evenly distributed result, whether it's in the context of a Full Foil, where the goal is uniform coverage throughout the entire head, or a Partial Foil, where strategic placement focuses on specific areas for a personalized and targeted effect.

Full Foil Placement

In regards to Full Foil Placement, Some Key Points are:

1. Even Coverage: Proper foil placement ensures that color is applied uniformly across the entire head, which is essential for achieving an even distribution of highlights or lowlights, preventing any areas from being over-processed or under-processed.

2. Natural-Looking Blend: By strategically selecting sections to be highlighted or darkened, stylists can create depth and dimension that seamlessly integrates with the natural hair color.

3. Customization: Foil placement in a full foil allows for customization based on the client's desired outcome.

4. Contrast and Dimension: Full foils provide an opportunity to enhance contrast and dimension in the hair. Thoughtful foil placement can accentuate certain features, frame the face, and create visual interest, contributing to an overall dynamic and eye-catching appearance.

5. Avoiding Overlapping: Proper foil placement helps stylists avoid overlapping, which can lead to uneven color or unwanted banding. Overlapping occurs when previously colored sections are reprocessed, potentially causing damage and an uneven color result.

6. Efficiency: Effective foil placement ensures that the process is efficient and manageable for the stylist. It allows for a systematic approach to color application, making the service more streamlined and effective.

This meticulous approach contributes to a beautiful and harmonious result that aligns with the client's hair color goals.

Partial Foil Placement

Foil placement in a partial foil is about personalization, achieving a natural effect, maintaining balance, and offering efficiency.

Some Key Points are:

1. Focus on Strategic Areas: Foil placement in a partial foil is strategic, focusing on areas that the client wants highlighted or darkened. Common areas include around the face, crown, and the top layers of the hair.

2. Personalized Placement: Each client's hair type, style, and preferences are unique. Foil placement allows the stylist to complement your features and achieve the desired look.

3. Natural-Looking Effect: A well-executed partial foil creates a natural-looking effect by strategically placing foils where the sunlight would naturally hit. This approach enhances the hair's dimension and provides a sun-kissed appearance.

4. Balanced Distribution: While the focus is on specific areas, proper foil placement ensures a balanced distribution of highlights or lowlights. This prevents uneven color and promotes a cohesive and harmonious result.

5. Efficient and Time-Saving: Foil placement is carefully planned to achieve the desired effect while maximizing efficiency, making it a popular choice for those seeking a refreshed look without a significant time commitment.

6. Maintenance and Versatility: Partial foils are versatile and offer easy maintenance. Clients can choose to refresh their look with partial foils more frequently, or they can opt for some accent foils in subsequent visits for a gradual transformation.

7. Adaptability to Hairstyle: Foil placement in a partial foil can be adapted to different hairstyles, allowing for versatility in highlighting specific elements of the haircut or style.

This technique allows clients to enjoy the benefits of hair color without committing to a full head treatment, providing a tailored and versatile approach to highlighting or darkening specific areas of the hair.

Why use Aluminum Foils?

Aluminum foil is commonly used for highlighting in hair coloring processes due to several practical and functional reasons:

1. Conductivity: Aluminum foil is a good conductor of heat, which helps in accelerating the hair color development process. The foil traps heat, allowing the color to penetrate the hair more effectively.

2. Flexibility: Aluminum foil is flexible and can be easily molded to fit the contours of the head, making it an ideal material for wrapping and separating hair sections during the highlighting process.

3. Durability: Foil is durable and can withstand the chemicals present in hair color products without breaking down. This durability ensures that the foil remains intact during the processing time.

4. Reflectivity: The reflective surface of aluminum foil enhances the lightening effect of the hair color. When the foil is wrapped around the hair, it reflects the heat and light back onto the hair, contributing to more even color distribution.

5. Control over Placement: Stylists can have precise control over the placement of color with foil.

6. Easy Monitoring: The transparency of aluminum foil allows hairstylists to easily monitor the color development during the processing time. This is crucial for achieving the desired level of lightening without over-processing.

Hair Color With Foils: Not Just For Highlights

  1. Balayage: Balayage is a hair coloring technique where color is painted onto the hair in a sweeping motion, creating a natural-looking, sun-kissed effect. If or when using foils for balayage, a stylist can create a more precise and controlled environment for the painted color, resulting in a more dramatic effect.

  2. Ombre: Ombre is a hair coloring technique where the hair color gradually fades from dark to light. When using foils for ombre, a stylist can create a more gradual and blended transition between the colors, resulting in a more natural-looking ombre.

  3. Color Correction: Foils are also used in color correction to isolate and treat specific areas of the hair. For example, if a client has uneven color or brassy tones, a stylist can use foils to target and correct these areas without affecting the rest of the hair.

Maintaining Your Color

I cannot emphasize enough that to get the most out of your color, at-home care is essential.

  • Use Color-Safe Products: Choose shampoos, conditioners, and styling products specifically formulated for color-treated hair. These products help preserve color and prevent it from washing out.

  • Wash with Cold Water: Cold water helps seal the hair cuticle, keeping the color molecules locked in. Opt for cooler water temperatures, especially during the final rinse.

  • Wash Hair Less Frequently: Washing hair less frequently helps maintain color by preventing excessive stripping of natural oils. Consider using dry shampoo between washes to keep your hair fresh.

  • Avoid Hot Styling Tools: High heat can accelerate color fading. Use styling tools on lower heat settings, and always apply a heat protectant before styling.

  • Protect Hair from UV Rays: Sun exposure can lead to color fading. Wear hats or use UV-protective sprays to shield your hair from the sun's harmful rays.

  • Deep Conditioning Treatments: Regular deep conditioning treatments help keep hair moisturized and vibrant. Look for treatments specifically designed for color-treated hair.

So as you can see foiling is a versatile and effective technique used by colorists to add dimension and depth to a client's hair color. Whether it's for highlights, lowlights, balayage, ombre, or color correction, foiling allows colorists to create beautiful and natural-looking hair color that is tailored to each client's unique needs and preferences. If you're looking to switch up your hair color, consider trying foils for a personalized and stunning result.  If you are ever curious about what highlights can do for your look, it doesn’t have to be a full overhaul.  Start with a few accent foils and see where it takes you.  We are always happy to help you achieve your aesthetic goals.  Book a consolation and let’s chat.

768 views0 comments


bottom of page