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Streaks & Highlights

Published on 28th February 2003

Highlighting cap or foil? Which is best for getting a head full of highlights?

There are 2 main ways to do streaks – using a highlighting cap and using foil. Basically a highlighting cap is a rubber cap you pull over your head. It has holes in it through which you hook and pull strands of hair through. The cap keeps the rest of the hair away from the colour. They’re useful for putting small random streaks throughout your hair. This is good if you’re just bleaching or using a permanent colour but difficult to upkeep (ie retouch the roots and re-apply semi permanent colour). It’s a really easy way to highlight short hair.

With foils individual strands of hair are picked out, foil is inserted below them and the dye is applied to the streaks. The foil is then folded up keeping the dye away from the rest of the hair. This gives the colourist more control but it is also time consuming and working with foils can be difficult.

If you’re starting with dark hair you’ll probably want to lighten the streaks first so that any bright colours like red/blue/purple etc. show up. Also be aware that if you are dyeing dark streaks into light hair that you need to be extra careful and get someone to help you as the dark colour can easily bleed into the lighter parts.

Streaking Cap
First thing you need to do is go buy yourself a streaking cap. You can buy these from beauty supply shops like and also in most places that sell permanent hair dyes. You’ll also need a tint brush, polythene or latex gloves, dye and hair bleach (only if you’re dyeing your hair a brighter or lighter colour). Jerome Russell highlighting kits are available online and contain the streaking cap, bleaching powder, peroxide, gloves and a tint brush complete with hook.

So once you’ve got all that stuff prepare for pain! Pulling hair through those tiny holes is really sore.
Anyway, next thing to do is apply the bleach (or “lightener”), using a tint brush, to the strands you pulled through. Make sure you wear gloves. If the cap was already perforated be careful not to let any bleach get through the holes or you’ll end up with little blonde spots on your hair. Once the bleach has done it’s thing (keep checking every 5 minutes or so) and your hair is light blonde then wash the bleach out. Keep the cap on while you do this.
Allow the streaks to dry a bit and then apply the dye in the same way as the bleach. Allow that to develop and rinse off. Remove the cap and you’re done.

Chunky streaks
Separate out the strands of hair that you want to colour. Tie or clip the rest of your hair out of the way to avoid getting it dyed. Get yourself some long strips of foil and place one under the strand of hair that you are about to work on.
Using the tint brush apply the bleach (if necessary) to the whole length of the strand. Simply bend the foil upwards enclosing the hair and secure with clips if it won’t stay up. Repeat for the other streaks and work quickly. Once the bleach has lightened the hair remove the foil and shampoo out. When your hair is almost dry you can apply the dye. If you have dark hair then you can go ahead and dye the light parts. If your hair is lighter you need to separate out the chunks and apply the dye in the same as you bleached to avoid the dye coming in contact with the non coloured parts. Once the dye has been on long enough rinse out and you’re finished.

Salon Style Highlights
If you want a full head of highlights it’s not as hard as you might imagine. Going through the hair in thin sections use the end of a tint brush or tail comb to weave through a thin slice of hair to pick out thin strands of hair. Place foil below these strands and apply the colour. Fold the foil around the streaks and continue through the hair placing highlights where required. When the colour has processed remove the foil and wash out as normal.

Things to take note of…
Semi-permanent streaks in light hair may bleed.
If you’re using a chemical dye (ie one that you have to mix together) to colour pre-lightened hair then you should reduce the development time by half so as not to damage any bleached parts of your hair further.
If you are using normal kitchen foil ensure that there is no reaction between the foil and the dye you’re using before you use it.

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  • If using a streaking cap avoid letting dye seep through the holes.
  • Bleach can affect some metals so use salon foil.