The Color Techniques That Look the Best on Straight Hair, According to Experts

Updated 06/28/19

Ever wish you had your own personal hairstylist at your beck and call, ready to offer their expertise for all your pressing hair dilemmas? We did, too, which is why we’re rebooting our column called Ask a Hairstylist, featuring celebrity hairstylists and colorists who consistently cater to all of our favorite models, actresses, and entertainers. In this series, our hair experts will offer up the next best thing to having a 24/7 hairstylist: seasoned pros who are willing to answer all your burning (not literally) hair questions. Today, I asked celebrity colorists Lorri Goddard, Chad Kenyon, and Cassondra Kaeding a user-submitted question from our private Facebook group, The Beauty Line: What color techniques look best on straight hair? Keep scrolling for their expert input!

1. What do you keep in mind when contemplating color for straight hair?

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"In very general terms, straight hair more blatantly showcases hair color and highlights because we see it as a flat surface—much like the canvas of a painting," Kenyon explains. "On the other hand, curly and wavy hair 'hide' the impact of the color, which makes it appear softer and less obvious."

Kenyon says that the most important thing when choosing a color technique, however, is to address how a client most often wears their hair, regardless of their natural texture. If they love to wear it curly, he'll color it in that natural state, and the same principle goes for a client who always wears their strands pin-straight and smooth.

Additionally, Goddard says having straight hair versus curly will dictate how heavy-handed she is with her color application. She explains that straight hair requires a much finer, light-handed application when applying highlights, and special attention is required for lowlights to help ensure the color doesn't absorb too quickly.

"Take a cue from nature," Goddard iterates. "I love to look at different types of trees and see how contrast and light are reflected in the foliage. I prefer to mimic my highs and lows in color after various types of leaves and the way they catch light and shadow."

2. What color techniques look best on straight hair and why?

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According to Kaeding, selecting a color technique actually has more to do with your desired result than simply the texture of your hair. If you have straight hair, she recommends doing some research on your own and taking a look at the difference between foiled hair and balayage. "Find out what technique you love!" she says. "I urge clients to go in for a consultation, and the colorist will also be able to provide some guidance as to what technique you should choose based on your desired result."

That said, Kenyon does suggest that for straight hair or smoothed-out hair, highlights that are finer and more "woven" with a brighter face frame are generally the most flattering. "A skillful balayage artist can paint lights to be fine, chunky, sun-kissed, ombré, sombre, or my color-melt method," he confirms. "So often, my new clients assume balayage is synonymous with ombré, which isn't true. Unlike ombré, balayage is not a 'look' but rather a technique of hand-painting highlights, usually on the surface of the hair.

Ombré is a look with darker roots and lighter tips which can be achieved with foils, balayage, back-combing, or a mixture of these techniques."

However, if you have straight hair naturally but wear your hair waved or curled, Kenyon suggests asking for an additional dusting of face-framing highlight to make the waves pop. Again, the best color techniques for straight hair really come down to what you love appearance-wise and how you most often style your hair—straight or not!

3. What questions should a client ask prior to a color treatment if they have straight hair?

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As Kenyon explains to me, there are multiple key things to keep in mind when contemplating color and a few questions and processes you should always keep in mind for your colorist or even when you're going about choosing your colorist.

What's their Instagram handle? "Always ask for the colorist's Instagram account so you can study their work and their vibe," instructs Kenyon. "Technique is as important as the vibe between colorist and client."

How many coloring sessions will it take to achieve your desired results? "When you see a photo or hair color you'd like to try out on straight hair, ask your colorist approximately how many sessions it will take to achieve the look and what the maintenance will entail at the salon and later at home," says Kenyon.

What products and treatments are necessary to maintain the strands' color and health? According to both Goddard and Kenyon, prepping and nurturing your hair prior, during, and after color is pretty much just as important as the technique itself. Kenyon points out that being open to product-specific suggestions from your colorist is not to be dismissed. For instance, even if you feel like you may have similar or high-quality products at home, they might not be what's particularly recommended or even compatible with your mane's new hue or hues.

"I love a dramatic change in hair color but it's so important to make sure that you don't sacrifice the health of your hair doing so!" Goddard expresses. She recommends asking for a prepping and protection treatment like Moroccanoil's ChromaTech Prime (which goes on pre-color at the salon) and ChromaTech Post (which goes on after at the salon) to protect and strengthen the hair from the cortex to promote healthy coloring and less damage and breakage in the long term as well. "Smart haircare equals smart and gorgeous color," she notes.

4. What tools and products best complement straight, colored hair?

A Bond-Building Shampoo and Conditioner

Olaplex No. 4 Bond Maintenance Shampoo $28
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Olaplex No. 5 Bond Maintenance Conditioner $28
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Olaplex, which recently expanded, is pretty much legend within the hair-color realm—aka it prevents breakage and essentially fortifies and rebuilds hair before, during, and after a color treatment. Kenyon suggests the following regimen to keep straight, colored strands in tip-top shape. Begin with Olaplex Hair Perfector No. 3 $28 (which he says will strengthen the hair, thus creating a pristine canvas on which to color and style) before following with No. 4 and No. 5 to lock it all in.

A Shine-Inducing Oil

Joico Blonde Life Brilliant Glow Brightening Oil $23
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For incomparable silky smoothness, Kaeding recommends having a stellar hair oil in your styling repertoire post-salon session which she says will gift strands with "a nice sleepy, smooth, and shiny finish." 

(ed note: as someone with straight, super-highlighted hair, I've been infatuated with this crystal clear pick from Joico as of late. Quite literally, it makes your hair sparkle and feel about a billion times healthier. If, you know, any of that appeals to you.)

Davines OI Oil $44
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Additionally, Kenyon loves this dry oil pick from Davines for a sleek, bright, and healthy finish. 

A Body-Enhancing Heat Protectant

Oribe Royal Blowout Heat Styling Spray $69
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Kenyon praises this do-it-all heat-protecting spray for multiple hair perks. "This one from Oribe is great for protecting hair from any heat tools used to create a straight or textured look," he says.

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