Hair Highlights Using Foils

How to use foils for professional results!

Hair highlights using foil is a coloring technique used to isolate sections, preventing different color formulas from mixing together. Using foils is an incredibly versatile method, allowing for unlimited creativity!

Dramatic hair color achieved by color blocking.Because the sections of hair are kept separate, several colors can be applied in one process. And the freedom to choose the size of each highlighted strand makes it possible to create a very high-end looking, multi-tonal hair color.

Learn the secrets to getting professional looking hair highlights on your own. Please note that this is an advanced process best reserved for those with some prior experience coloring hair. If this is your first coloring process, it may not be the best place to start, or at the very least, not on your own. If you need another set of hands, call in a friend for some assistance.

Product recommendations  |  Application methods  |  Technical details


Sectioning and application

  • Tail comb for slicing and weaving sections
  • Duckbill clamps to separate sections
  • Bowls/Brushes
  • Plastic bags

This is a luxury item. You could just as easily use regular household aluminum foil, torn into 5inch wide strips. But if you foil your hair regularly, having pre-cut foils on hand will speed things up.

These pop-up foils are my favorite to use because they make application so much faster and easier than fumbling with strips of foil. If you have short hair, either tear your foils in half to decrease the length (and double your quantity) or buy the shorter foils.


A pair of sturdy re-useable hair coloring gloves will last a long time. They fit the hand much better than the disposable plastic ones that come with kits for hair highlights. And because they fit better, you’ll have more dexterity when applying the color.

That means better results and less frustration. A worthy investment if you do a lot of hair coloring.

Lightening and toning products


A professional level bleach powder, mixed with peroxide developer is your best friend when it comes to lightening. Although any bleach powder will get your hair lighter, they are not all created equal.

This one has blue pigments in it to help counteract the orange hues that are exposed during lightening.

It won’t provide enough toning that you won’t need a separate toner, but it acts as a buffer of sorts, boosting the effectiveness of the bleach so that your toner doesn’t have such strong yellow/orange pigments to contend with and you’ll get better finished results.


A peroxide developer, added to the bleach powder, is going to provide the lift you need for hair highlights.

Use either 10, 20, 30, or 40 Volume peroxide, depending on how much lightening you need. For hair that is already blonde, a 20 Volume will work fine.

For darker, or more resistant hair, up it to 30 or 40 Volume. So long as you’re not using it directly on your scalp. On-scalp bleaching shouldn’t be done with any higher than 20 Volume peroxide.

Peroxide for hair coloring processes is similar to the hydrogen peroxide you use on cuts and such, but it’s buffered for use with hair colors. Rather than liquid, peroxide for hair coloring is usually in a cream form.


Any tone can be added once the hair is pre-lightened. If you’re looking for bright copper or pink or violet sections, bleaching the hair out first will give the lightened sections a vibrancy that cannot be achieved on natural hair.

More on bleaching hair
More on punk hair colors

For the purposes of this article though, we’ll assume you’re trying to achieve a blonde tone. Look for a demi-permanent color formula in a violet or ash tone. Toners should be deposit-only colors with no ammonia and very low peroxide.

Use one of these shades if you’ve lightened your hair to pale yellow, and want to tone it to a light blonde.

Neutral blonde – Cafe Au Lait
Cool/neutral blonde – Platinum Ice
Ash blonde – Chrome

Those with darker hair to begin with will have a harder time getting to the pale yellow stage and may need to use a darker level like Irid. Quartz (8V) to tone out any orange or resistant yellow pigments for a medium blonde highlight color.

NOTE: Be sure to use the developer that is intended for this product. Otherwise you’ll have unpredictable results.

Methods of Foiling Hair

  • Slicing – dissect a tiny sliver of hair, either horizontal, vertical, or diagonal depending on the look you want to achieve. Take into account how the piece will lay when it’s hanging in it’s natural position.
  • Weaving – part off a small section and weave the tail of your comb along the surface, creating either thick or thin strands…better yet, mix it up with some small, medium, and large pieces for variety and a more natural look.
  • Paneling – or color blocking, will showcase a great style and offer variety from day to day…if it’s done right. This is a very dynamic technique where large sections of hair are colored in contrasting or complimentary tones. The panels are generally underneath or at either side of the part so the paneled sections can be either played up or hidden entirely, depending on where the hair is parted. Positioning is critical with this technique, as is choosing the right color combinations.

Are you limited to using just one of these methods?… I’m glad you asked. ;o) Absolutely not! Feel free to mix it up a bit, toss in a few weaved sections with some slices, and perhaps a panel or two for added dramatic flair.

However, having a plan for how and where you’re placing the highlights or lowlights before even mixing the color. Don’t just “wing it”, or you’ll likely end up with a hair color that was obviously done on a whim.

Technical details

Begin with clean dry hair, parted and styled the way you wear it most often. Make sure you’re set-up with everything you’ll need beforehand.

Take a moment to observe your hair… how it moves, where it falls, and which areas you’d like to highlight. Formulate a plan before you start.

  • Clip away the hair in a way that will reveal the piece you’ve chosen to foil. With your tail comb, weave or slice out a section and hold in one hand.
  • Keep your comb in the other hand and grab a piece of foil. Bring the foil to the other hand and lightly hold it (and your section of hair).
  • Slide the tail of the comb up under the foil, near the top, and fold about an inch (2.5cm) of it over the tail of the comb.
  • Now that your foil is secured over the comb, slide the tail of the comb right up under the section of hair. Make sure it’s taut, then lay a hand over the whole thing to hold the hair in place while you load up your brush with the other hand.
  • Keep a good grasp on the section until you’ve applied the color to either just the re-growth of the entire strand (depending).
  • If you’re coloring the re-growth only… Just dab the color onto the hair you’re coloring, then fold the foil up in thirds. If the hair not being foiled is going to be colored, make sure the ends of your highlighted pieces are protected inside the foil. But not touching the color or you’ll get a nasty band across the hair.
  • If you’re coloring the entire strand… Be sure to work the color in adequately. I generally flip the hair over a bit on the foil and apply color to the underside as well. Fold up the foil in thirds, but be sure not to make a strong crease, which’ll squish the hair inside. That’ll create a slight, but still unsightly, banding effect.
  • In every case… To prevent leakage at the root, flip the foil up and, with the tail of your comb, unfold the one inch flap you created when you started the foil. Press it down to the scalp with the tail of your comb, and call that foil DONE!

Whew! Okay…20 or 30 more like that. If you’re looking for an all-over highlighted look. I usually stick with about 15-20 on my fine hair, and they go a long way. Just a few larger panels in the top or underneath can give a fun, bold effect too though.