As a curly girl, my main objective is to protect my curls by any means possible. We all try to find a routine that works best for our kinks, curls and coils—then buy the best products for our various hair types (and practice rituals recommended by stylists to keep our natural hair healthy and moisturized). While there are so many universal truths about keeping natural hair healthy, there’s also always something new to learn. That said, experimenting can feel... terrifying.
My entire natural journey has been filled with rules and advice regarding damage. I’ve heard sleeping without a silk bonnet at night can lead to hair breakage (this is true). I’ve heard protective styling helps maintain the health and progress of your hair before and after transitioning (this is also true). But, what about color? How bad can it really be for natural hair?
Lately, I’ve been obsessed with the idea of pintura highlights. With the weather changing, it seems fitting to add a splash of color to a beautiful head of curls. The large elephant in the room, though, is that I'm not sure what it'll do to the health of my curls. To find out, I talked to Jamice Brice, a stylist and pro educator at Amika, to give me the whole truth. Plus, Brice offers pre- and post-color tips for natural hair.
What Are Pintura Highlights?
According to DevaCurl, the salon in which this technique was born over 20 years ago, pintura highlights offer a "controlled way to color your curls"—as colorists apply hair color directly to the hair without the use of foil (much like balayage). In fact, the word “pintura” actually means “painting” in Spanish. It helps add dimension and light to the hair and was created specifically for curly hair textures.
To set the record straight, it’s true that coloring natural hair can lead to damage (i.e. dryness and breakage). “Damage can occur on any hair type when applying color, but it's far more likely to occur when basic hair maintenance rules aren’t followed—especially if your hair is naturally dry or has previous damage from heat or chemical services,” Brice explains. But, coloring your hair is less harmful with proper maintenance and preparation. This means, making sure your curls are healthy and hydrated to protect them from potential damage.
The Pre-Color Preparation
Curly hair constantly needs moisture, especially before a coloring service. “My advice to curly girls who are considering getting color is moisturize, moisturize, moisturize,” laments Brice. Before booking an appointment with colorist, stock up on deep conditioners, like DevaCurl’s Melt Into Moisture or Amika’s Soul Food Nourishing Mask and use them at least once a week. If you’re on the fence, don’t panic. With proper maintenance, your curls will survive and will continue to thrive.
The Techniques and Coloring Process
Before making your appointment, research various color services and find which one is best for your hair type and desired style. It might be helpful to have a consultation with your stylist first to get their advice as well "Pintura and balayage are both freehand painting techniques. The major difference between the two techniques is pintura is an 'open air' technique, while balayage is usually achieved using foils, mesh, cotton, or plastic. Pintura is specific to curlier textures while balayage can be done on any hair type," Brice explains. Both techniques can be performed with a lightener (which is best paired with a bond-builder to minimize damage) but can also be achieved using less harsh color systems like demi- or semi-permanent color, as well as ammonia-free color. The bottom line? Do your research, talk to your colorist, and make sure they're using a bond-builder during the process.
The Post-Coloring Maintenance
This is the step that will make or break your hair—literally. Along with deep conditioning, avoid products that may be drying like those with alcohol or sulfates. But there's nuance to that. Remember: cetyl alcohol is derived from plants like palm or coconut oils and is not harmful to your hair. Research the ingredients in your favorite products to make sure they're not going to mess with your curls (i.e. cause further dryness and breakage). DevaCurl recently launched a cleanser specifically created for cleansing recently-colored curls without leaving brassy undertones. In addition, be mindful of your heat styling habits. “Steer clear of straightening your hair and applying excessive heat after a coloring service,” advises Brice.
Gavazzoni Dias MF. Hair cosmetics: an overview. Int J Trichology. 2015 Jan-Mar;7(1):2-15. doi: 10.4103/0974-7753.153450.