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High Contrast Hair: Color Blocking
By Adrienne Rogers, Artistic Director

People often make choices about what to do with their hair based on a variety of different factors. Sometimes, the client is focused on whether their desired hair color is high maintenance or low maintenance. Not everyone can commit to a dedicated coloring schedule. If someone has a busy lifestyle and is constantly on the go, they will likely ask for a hair color technique with easy upkeep that makes them feel good about themselves without a ton of commitment.

Other times, the client might be looking to make a bold, dramatic hair color transformation. Hair color has the power to influence our outlook. Sometimes, we need a new perspective and the feeling of a fresh start when it comes to how we present ourselves to the world. This can be going from blonde to brown, brown to blonde, blonde to red - you get the picture.

High Contrast Hair

Color blocking is a choice that can be made to create a strong statement look, and can be done in many different ways depending on the client’s preference. This technique can be underneath the hair, where you have a dark section that emphasizes a lighter top section to create contrast. It can also be any variation of vivid color pocketed internally to sweep out when the hair moves in different directions. Split dye hair, where hair is parted in the middle, is also an option. This is when one half of the head features a light or vivid color, while the other half is typically a darker hair color. One of the most popular ways to color block is a strong placement on the top that wraps around the face, emphasizing the contrast by adding a light color right in front that pops against a darker color in the back.

High contrast color is a dynamic hair color statement. Done successfully, this color technique creates very clean contrast between the base color and the color blocking. Sectioning is very important during this process because it is necessary to keep the different colors away from each other to avoid them blending together. Use sectioning clips to isolate the hair as you choose where to put the color.

Keep Your Sections Clean

Consider how the client wears their hair, what their hair texture is, where they naturally part their hair, and how it flows within the design. The light portion is only dynamic when measured against the contrasting color. I also believe that the proportions are worth looking at, too. If you take sections that are too small, the balance could seem off or lack impact. On the other hand, sections that are too large could make the piece that is left out look like an afterthought. Once your desired placement is decided, move on to keeping the sectioning clean.

Clean sectioning can be facilitated in many different ways. For my client Christina, I used foil and balayage film to separate the sections. This can also be done with thermal wraps, clear thermal film, highlighting paper, or even a processing cap to isolate the hair. The finished result of this technique is only as good as your ability to isolate each color from one another. Any transfer of a darker color on light hair, or lighter color on dark hair can cause spotty smudges in the hair. The goal is clean, crisp differences of color that are dynamic and strong.

Create A Design Plan

Strategies in design with the proper tools for application and creating color barriers make this look successful when using sound formulation practices to protect hair’s integrity. This is a fantastic technique for someone who’s looking for a bold look without lightening the entire head.

For this application, we chose to create light pieces to frame her face in the front, which contrasts with the darkness in the back. My client had been both a blonde and a brunette in life, so I knew that it would work with her coloring. Making sure that it will flatter the client’s features is always my first step in agreeing to a design plan. If the color choices don’t look good, no amount of perfect application will make it a winner.

It’s also key to have a consistent lightening through the hair strand. If there’s old color in there and it doesn’t want to lift out without completely compromising the hair, you need to find a balance to make the hair tone seem the same. Don’t promise clean white if you’re not sure you can get it. My strategy is always to under promise and over deliver. It’s about making strong contrast, not necessarily creating black hair next to white hair!

Hair Painting & Foiling

When I approached color blocking on Christina, I knew that I would need an extra strong foil for my isolated section. I used the Product Club smooth heavyweight foil for my application because it is the strongest foil and provides fast, clean lift. Monitoring lightener is also important. If during processing I saw unevenness in application or I needed to apply more lightener, I could open the foil without concern of it ripping or tearing because of the heavier weight.

I applied my foils in a pivoting motion to create a first level of barriers from both sides of my section. For painting, I opted to use a feather bristle brush. I love the softness of the feathered bristles, and moving the lightener through the hair with a thorough but gentle approach makes sense to me. One hair painting tip is to move the bristles in a side-to-side motion to ensure I get saturation around the whole strand with less mechanical disruption of the cuticle. Making sure that the hair is fully saturated will give you the best outcome when you’re color blocking. If only the top layer of the hair gets light, you will struggle to get the effect you’re going for because the underneath is not saturated evenly. Check the section after application. Load in more lightener if you think that you need it – the heavyweight foil can take it!

Glazing & Root Shadow

Once I finished my isolated block section, I moved into the base to balance her color. Here I used an ergo brush for my application. This has slightly longer synthetic bristles than a feather bristle brush. It’s also denser and holds a nice amount of color for this type of application. This brush helped me make quick work of this step since I was able to need to dip less into my color bowl and move the color easily through the hair.

When I used my different formulas through the base, I further isolated the hair with balayage film. Once the color processed and I shampooed it with a blue pigmented shampoo, I went in with a mini applicator bottle to shadow her base. The small size of this bottle fits easily into my hand, giving me dexterity and nimbleness in even the most delicate of applications. And because I was using so little of it, it helps me to not over mix and waste color. I finished glazing in the shampoo bowl with another mini bottle to complete this technique.

Hair Color Blocking Before and After

Overall, clean sectioning, proper use and choice of foil, good lightener saturation, and isolation were key to producing this really flattering color blocking effect on Christina. I love the energy this bold look gives her. The contrast gives her a lot of flexibility in how she can wear her hair, and is really versatile. Strategies in design with the proper tools for application and creating color barriers make this look successful when using sound formulation practices to protect hair’s integrity. This is a fantastic technique for someone who’s looking for a bold look without lightening the entire head.

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