What Should I Know About Highlighting Hair?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 12 August 2019
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Highlighting hair is a method of lightening the color of some hair, in order to create contrast and dimension. It is usually more difficult to highlight hair at home than it is to simply dye or bleach the hair all over. This is because you need to figure out exactly where to apply color and where not to apply it to create a balanced look. It can be especially challenging to apply colors to the back of your head, where you can’t really see the sections of hair clearly.

Many hairdressers and colorists strongly recommend that if you’re considering highlighting hair, you have a professional do the highlights. This can be pricey though, costing well over $100 US Dollars (USD) in more expensive salons. If you don’t want to pay this price, it makes good sense to have someone help. You and a friend could have a highlighting party and take turns highlighting each other’s hair.

Whether you plan on highlighting hair at home or having a professional do this work, you should consider what colors you want to use. Any color you choose, unless you’re going for an extreme statement, should complement your skin and the hair that is not going to be dyed. If you want subtle contrast, chose a shade that is just a couple of shades lighter than your own hair. For more dramatic looks, you can highlight with much lighter colors. This will not look exactly natural, but it can be fashion forward.


Note that if your hair is very dark and you want blonde highlights, they will be red unless you bleach your hair first. If you’re going to do this at home, follow guidelines for how to bleach hair before putting on highlights. This can be tough on hair and may be best done by a professional.

In professional settings, you’ll note that most people use foils for highlighting hair. These are little pieces of aluminum foil into which each hair selected is placed with hair dye. At home, the foil method can be difficult — you might want to look for highlighting caps instead. These have small holes that you can pull selected parts of hair through in order to keep the dye from touching the hair you don’t want to color.

You can purchase highlighting kits, but even at home, color is usually most easily applied with a brush. You can buy brushes from beauty supply stores and you may want to pick up a bowl for mixing color too. While you can use any box color for highlighting, if you know the color you wish to use, you can also simply buy the color and peroxide you need to mix it at home.

A few good tips for highlighting hair can help:

  • Do a test strip first to see how hair looks in the new color and how your skin responds to dye.
  • Have a friend help so you can evenly apply color to selected sections
  • Use a cap at home to pull out sections of hair
  • Don’t forget to use gloves when handling color mixture
  • Apply color via brush and bowl method

Sometimes even when you follow directions and have help, highlighting hair does not turn out as you hoped. You can try again by applying dye on all the hair, or you may want to seek help with a professional to correct home mistakes. Once you do start color treating your hair, it does become more damaged (especially when you lighten color). You may not want to try again at home if the hair seems particularly porous or vulnerable.


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