There’s no questioning the fact that when it comes to looking effortlessly natural, the French are renowned experts. Their fresh, perfectly imperfect beauty look is coveted by style aficionados the world over, but anyone who’s tried this "unintentional" brand of chic will also know that it’s anything but effortless to emulate. A lot of hard work goes into looking like you’ve genuinely just woken up like that (unless you grew up learning how to appear this way), and this is especially true when it comes to hair.
Tousled waves with grown-out, sun-kissed highlights à la Vanessa Paradis and Léa Seydoux may look like the result of last summer’s vacation to Saint-Tropez, but it’s actually artful highlighting. (Please, no one’s roots naturally look that good). Thus, our ears perked up when we heard about a technique that’s rapidly gathering momentum in Europe and has taken natural highlighting to the next level. Enter palm painting, balayage’s brush-free counterpart. Marcos Veríssimo, senior colorist at Neville Hair and Beauty in London, is a pioneer of the trend.
“Palming is a technique that involves spreading hair color with your hands and only hands (no tools like brushes or combs),” explains Veríssimo. It goes one step further than balayage, as it doesn’t follow any pattern or structure, which helps avoid harsh lines and stripes you often get with highlighting tools. Instead, the color is massaged in freehand to large sections of hair and not too close to the root either. This allows virgin (otherwise known as undyed) hair, particularly around the hairline, to show through; meanwhile, the subtle difference in thickness of the highlights supposedly gives a much gentler and more fluid look.
Choosing A Shade: You can lighten up any hair color (it’s not strictly reserved for blondes). Your stylist will typically go a few shades lighter than your natural color.
Maintenance Level: Low. Having your highlights sculpted around the regrowth means you can go months without having to get it touched up. Even then, the main thing that will have you zipping back to the salon is the shine-and-color fade, as opposed to fear of dark roots.
Goes Great With: Mid-length to long hair. “The reason… is because you’ll be able to see and create more dimensions and flow,” explains Veríssimo. It’s tricky to get the roots and color blend when hair is short; you need length to really play around with tones.
Similar Shades: Balayage, ombre
Price: $180 to $350 depending on whether you want partial or full highlights
Keep scrolling to find out about the palm painting hair-color technique.
Blonde Palm Painting
Sun-kissed blonde waves practically glow in the light. “Palming enables me to achieve great dimension and break all the rules,” explains Veríssimo. Unlike foils when the hair is folded up in isolation, palming allows highlighted strands to sit on hair that hasn’t been colored. The slight payoff mimics a natural, sun-kissed look (because you never come back from vacation with perfect bleached stripes).
Sun-Kissed Chestnut Palm Painting
Like Veríssimo says, palm painting is not for blondes only, as evidenced by these gorgeous chestnut locks tinged with gold.
"When selecting the best shade of highlight with your colorist, it’s important to consider what your natural hair color fades to if you spend a bit of time in the sun," notes MATRIX artistic director Nick Stenson. "Selecting a 'natural-fade' color will allow you to achieve a long wearing color that is complimentary to you."
Rose Gold Palm Painting
Non-natural hair colors can also benefit from a touch of palm painting. This rose gold bob gets a dose of added dimension thanks to the technique.
High Contrast Palm Painting
Light highlights contrast nicely with dark hair. This is a great way to add highlights to brunette strands without creating an overly harsh or unnatural look.
Palm painting is healthier for hair than other highlighting techniques, not only because the low upkeep means you don’t have to get it dyed as often, but also because of the way color takes to hair. “Foil-free hand technique means the hair isn’t overly processed, and the color lifts much slower,” explains Veríssimo.
Gray Palm Painting
Darker gray fades to lighter gray on this chic shoulder-length bob. A smooth texture like this really serves to show off the dimension possible with palm painting. "I wouldn’t recommend it for guests that love to wear their naturally curly or coiled hair because the hair color appearance would change drastically as the hair reverts to its natural state," says Stenson.
Before and After Palm Painting
You can really see how this technique adds visual interest to a mid-length cut on this side-by-side example of a before-and-after palm painting.
White Blonde Palm Painting
This white blonde has a whole lot of depth to it thanks to artful ashy roots.
Deep Brown Palm Painting
Beautiful dark chestnut waves get the palm painting treatment. To keep strands looking nourished and healthy, Stenson recommends using Matrix Total Results Brass Off Shampoo ($20) about once per week "to help control the warmth of the hair and avoid brassy fading with natural looking highlights." He also likes the Biolage Hydrasource Deep Treatment Pack ($16) "for a hair-health boost at home after highlighting services."
Soft Brunette Palm Painting
Highlights don't have to be obvious. This subtle look is super pretty, adding a golden hue to her brunette strands.
Multidimensional Palm Painting
Palm painting can give you hair that goes on for miles. The more length you have, the more room for your colorist to play.
Face Framing Palm Painting
Face-framing highlights bring light to the complexion with a touch of caramel at the tips.
Copper Palm Painting
Red tones come to life with the clever application of seamless highlights that draw the eye.
Colorful Palm Painting
This mesmerizing style features an ashy blonde base with a purple streak framing the face.
Cinnamon Red Palm Painting
We love this bold cinnamon colored bob with shifting tones. It's another standout example of how palm painting can look on blown-out strands.
Palm Painting In Action
See the technique in action with this video from international hair artist Sacha de Carteret.