What are Chunky Highlights?

J. Beam

Chunky highlights are an alternative to the more traditional, subtle highlights used to color hair. Achieved through a process commonly referred to as chunking, chunky highlights are usually a bold contrast to a person’s natural hair color and are applied to larger strands or chunks of hair. Chunking can make use of various highlighting or lowlighting techniques and is available in a variety of colors.

Hair-coloring kits may be used for color chunking.
Hair-coloring kits may be used for color chunking.

Traditional highlighting effects are achieved by chemically lightening small strands of hair. The techniques used in highlighting can include a frosting cap, foiling, or simply applying color or bleach to the tips of the hair. Chunky highlights are applied in much the same way, but to much larger sections of hair.

You can elect to have chunky highlights applied to your hair with a foil technique.
You can elect to have chunky highlights applied to your hair with a foil technique.

Chunky highlights have become a popular alternative to traditional hair lightening. Chunking can be done all over or only around the face, and any color can be used. Some people prefer to keep the color more natural, with very little contrast to their natural color, and others want a bolder look, with brightly colored or richly contrasting highlights.

There are several home hair-coloring kits intended for color chunking or adding chunky highlights. They come in a variety of natural hair colors, and some are bolder shades of red or gold. The color is applied with a special brush or applicator included in the kit. Even if you’ve colored your own hair at home before, you might need help with chunking. Be sure to follow the directions on the package insert for application, timing, and safety.

If you want professionally applied highlights, you can visit a salon, where a color specialist can help you choose the right color and application technique for the look you want. Hairdressers have caps designed especially for chunking, with large holes to pull random chunks of hair through for color application. You can also elect to have these highlights applied with a foil technique. This simply involves selecting chunks of hair to color, painting the color on the hair, and then wrapping in foil to process.

Adding chunky highlights to your hair can produce a dramatic result that can especially compliment a new haircut or style. If you are timid about color and having difficulty selecting a color you are comfortable with, or if you have no experience with hair color, it is probably best to find a stylist before you proceed on your own. Chunking is a fun look that most people can pull off in some fashion. Ask a stylist for books that show these highlights, or browse images online to get an idea of what sort of look would suit you.

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Discussion Comments


You have to be careful with chunky highlights, because if they are done badly, they can look pretty bad. In my experience, going to a salon is the best, or get a friend to help who has some experience doing highlights.

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