How to Get and Maintain Balayage for Natural Hair

by Bianca Lambert


From a young age, I was told all the things my “nappy” hair couldn’t do. As I got older, I heard, “you can’t wear it natural because it’s unprofessional.” Oh, and, “you definitely can’t color it because 4C hair is too dry and too difficult for color processing.” (The 4C hair type is usually more fragile than its curly counterparts and has more shrinkage than any other curl. Our tight zig-zag pattern tends to be on the drier side and requires a lot of moisture to prevent the hair from snapping.)

But when I sat down and spoke to Natarsha Scott of Pasadena-based salon Thairapy, she put those myths to rest. Here are the top balayage for natural hair tips to maintain a healthy, colorful, coily mane.

What Is Balayage Hair?

Balayage—which in French means “to paint”—is a hand-painting highlighting technique that usually doesn’t require foil. Thus, balayage creates natural highlights without harsh lines. “The more natural the color, the longer you can go without a touch-up—usually four to six months. The service can take up to six hours, so be prepared,” Natarsha explains.

Can You Lighten Type 4 Hair?

Yes, as long as the hair artist understands curly hair. Coloring will vary from person to person, depending on what they’ve done to their hair in the past. It’s important to let the colorist know if you’ve previously colored your hair, whether professionally or at home with box color. (Box hair color can complicate things because it’s hard to say what ingredients are in them.) So Natarsha recommends a strand test pre-service, where the hair stylist “deposits a lighter color to the test strand(s) to make sure it’ll lift. Again, it goes case by case, person by person.”

Why Balayage Hair Color Is Ideal For Natural Hair

Since body temperature already heats up chemicals on the head, Natarsha doesn’t use foils. The additional heat can cause more stress to curly hair, she explains, which is why balayage is her preferred method to highlight natural hair.

When coloring curly hair, Natarsha’s motto is “low and slow. By using a low developer and slowing down the process, you can achieve your ideal color without damaging the hair.”

Pre-Appointment To-Dos

Natarsha recommends washing your hair 24 to 48 hours before coming in. “If your hair is coated with products, it can prevent the color from lifting.” Also, she adds, “I like for clients to come in with the same style in which they usually wear their hair—no buns or hats.” Her goal is to enable clients to recreate what she does in the chair at their own homes.

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How to Care For balayage Hair Post-Appointment

“For best results, wash your balayage hair once weekly or every other week, depending on how your scalp feels,” Natarsha advises. “Additionally, massage your scalp under running water, and condition and detangle your hair every three to four days. Doing so more often can potentially cause damage.”

What are the best Products for Color-Treated, Natural Hair?

“A lot of the products geared toward curly hair aren’t actually good for it. Products should have at least 40 percent water as their main ingredient. The rest of the water-based moisture should come from the water when washing and conditioning,” Natarsha explains.

One of her favorite lines for curly hair is Innersense, an organic hair care brand that has a zero out of 10 rating on Think Dirty. (The Think Dirty app is an independent resource that allows you to discover the ingredients of everyday products.) “Product recommendations will vary from client to client based on their hair’s condition. However, I often recommend Innersence’s Color Awakening Hairbath, Color Radiance Daily Conditioner, Sweet Spirit Leave-In Conditioner, and the Hydrating Hair Masque for color-treated hair.”

At the end of our chat, I asked Natarsha for one last piece of advice she’d give to curly-haired gals looking to add some color. “Take it slow and embrace the warmth. Those icy, pastel colors you see are usually wigs and aren’t good for maintaining healthy natural hair.”

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