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Pinwheel Hair Color Technique: What Is It And Does Your Hair Need It?

photo of highlights in hair

Twenty years ago, we approached highlights very differently than we do now. They were streaky and often too bright, dramatically changing the look of hair. Today’s accent pieces add the illusion of volume and density to the mane, mimicking natural sun lightening or creating a moody vibe.

While we’re often swept up in the wave of enthusiasm for hand-painted techniques like balayage, there’s one way of getting of getting multidimensional color you may not know about it. The pinwheel hair coloring technique might be named after the beloved toys you remember from childhood, but this strategy is anything but childish.

Jackie Epperson, L’Oreal Professionnel brand ambassador and artist, has the A to Z on everything pinwheel.

What is the pinwheel hair coloring technique?

You may have visions of a stylist applying color to a pinwheel and spinning it to splatter paint your hair, but the technique is slightly less avant-garde than you may be anticipating. To begin, your stylist will section off the hair on the top of your head, creating a half circle from temple to temple.

From there, the process is entirely customizable. Your pro will divide the section into triangular pieces, each of which can be painted with a fresh color. More hair in each section will result in chunky, bold highlights, while thin sections can create a more subtle look.

Because your sections spiral out from a center point, it will be easier for your stylist to find them again when he or she has to touch up your roots. Once your sections are in place, it’s time to get to the color.

What colors benefit from the pinwheel hair color technique?

It’s easy to assume a technique with such a whimsical name can only be used for fantasy shades, but that’s not the case. Epperson recommends the pinwheel for brunettes and blondes, as well so heads of pastel blue and lavender. Once the crown is complete, she continues sectioning all the way down the head—yet another place where the technique is highly customizable.

“You can use the pinwheel alone root to tips, or after applying the base color, use the pinwheel technique to create a multidimensional color look for the mid lengths and ends,” she says.

Lest you think this technique can accomplish anything, Epperson has one very important caveat. Just like blending eyeshadows, it’s important to avoid unwanted muddiness.

“Using two to three colors and staying within two to three levels of each other really works best in my opinion,” she adds. “If you try to try to go too many levels between the colors, it makes it more difficult to create a cohesive, uniformed look on the hair.”

Before you start booking your future hair colors, we’ve gathered some inspiration. Any one of these swirling, brilliant shade combinations is the perfect opportunity for your stylist to utilize the pinwheel hair color technique.

Light Blonde Fantasy

Ever wondered how models and Instagram influencers get such a natural-looking blonde color? You can thank specialty hair color techniques for that flawless finish. Because the base shade and the brightest pieces are only a few levels apart, the resulting look seems like it could grow straight from the scalp.

To achieve this French-inspired blonde, follow Epperson’s advice and make sure your stylist knows you’d like to stick with shades that are relatively close together. No muddiness here!

Aqua Blend

If you only ever try one fantasy hair color combination, make it a stunning aquatic blend of blues, greens, and purples. This jewel-toned mix works because the color has been applied in thin sections. Every time you toss your hair or flip it to one side, the various shades will play off each other in a new way and catch the sun.

For the color newbies out there, fantasy hair color can be an adventure in time investment and maintenance. Make sure your stylist has fully versed you on the ins and outs of maintaining it before you fully commit.

Cinnamon Ginger Swirl

If your stomach is growling just reading the name, we’re doing something right. This nutty copper blend has all the warmth of red with the depth of medium brown. If those fiery leaves on the ground during fall inspire you to try something new, ask your stylist for a blend of ginger and brown shades.

While nearly any color can be tailored to flatter your skin tone, cinnamon shades are particularly beautiful on fair and medium complexions.

Bright Brunette

If there’s one beauty myth we’re making it our personal mission to dispel, it’s that brunette is somehow inherently less attractive than blonde shades. Not so! The trick to creating depth within dark brown tones is using one or two closely related colors to add dimension.

While seasonality isn’t the only thing that should guide your hair color choices, it’s not wrong to ask your stylists to take your bright pieces a little lighter when springtime comes around.

Pastel Mint

Mint has never gotten the same level of attention as pastel blue shades, which is a shame because we think it’s incredibly underrated. Mint can play off both blonde and blue, leaving you with a flattering mix of color that couldn’t be further from the temporary spray color you may have used as a preteen.


Like all pastels, mint will be a little easier to pull off if your hair is naturally light. While it is entirely accessible to brunettes as well, expect a more extended color service while your stylist lifts your base color and applies the mint blend.

Magenta Unicorn

Pink hair has gone through roughly a million transformations since first arriving on the mainstream scene several years ago. This uniquely flattering shade plays nicely with every skin tone—a factor that certainly plays a role in its continued popularity. To make your magenta feel modern for 2018, we love a swirl of lighter and darker pink shades.

A note about pink hair: Be sure you’re following any color service with an at-home routine that includes a color-safe, salon quality shampoo and conditioner system. From the L’Oréal portfolio of products, we love Kérastase Bain Chromatique Shampoo and Fondant Chromatique Conditioner. If you’re not sure whether or not you’d like to invest in full-on pink hair color, try a temporary in-salon color application like Colorful Hair Flash. It washes out after shampoo and shows up on all hair types.

Looking for personalized hair color recommendations? Use our salon locator to book an appointment with a hair stylist near you.

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