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Beautiful Highlights - Hair Highlighting Tips


Above & Beyond Vermilion, Ohio Stylist: Rachel Kurth 2008

Tom Carson All rights reserved

Talk to ten hair consumers who are addicted to highlights and you will probably get ten different reasons why each person loves their highlights.

Some of the key reasons why hair highlights are popular include:

1. They create a beautiful and instant contrast on a wide range of hair color bases. 2. When woven around the face, they brighten skin tones. 3. Highlights intertwined throughout bangs will make eyes pop. 4. When placed appropriately, highlights can cover the beginnings of gray, silver or white strands. 5. Highlights give you a taste of a new color without the full head color commitment. 6. The addition of highlights can completely change the profile of an existing style with minimal impact. 7. Highlights can complement certain hair textures. Nothing is more gorgeous that naturally curly tresses hand painted with contrasting spiral highlights. 8. You have the option to go with a full head of highlights or alternate between full and partial head. 9. Hair extensions can be applied to create the appearance of highlights without any color application. 10. When applied correctly, highlights grow out with a minimal root line.

Are there more reasons? Of course, but I have just listed some of the most obvious. I am sure I missed several other key reasons that men, women and teens adore their highlights.

Beautiful Hair Highlight Tips

Above & Beyond Vermilion, Ohio Stylist: Leah Buckholz 2008

Tom Carson All rights reserved

One key factor with highlights is to make sure they look natural. Nothing looks worse then a head full of obvious highlighted stripes. The most natural highlights are irregular in size and width and are spaced at irregular intervals.

A talented hair colorist understands how to blend, weave and interconnect different highlight patterns with the base to create a spectacular finished highlight which allows a lot of the base to radiate through. When it comes to highlights, less is more.

There are different terms in the highlighting world. When in doubt ask your hair colorist to explain all your options. When possible, go to a professional hair colorist rather than just a hairdresser. Why? Hair colorists specifically study the art of applying hair color, highlights and lowlights.

Hair colorists are specialists in the creation of professional hair color results.

Some hair colorists experts will actually first create a new base color and then paint highlights and/or lowlights on top of the new base. Other hair colorists will work with your existing base and apply only highlights in strategic locations around your head.

Whenever possible take several photos of models with highlights that you like. Don't be surprised if your hair colorist cautions you that your photos can be completely copied. This is because everyone has their own unique color base and this will impact the ultimate highlights and lowlights that can be created.

Be willing to work with your hair colorist. You may not get the exact colors you want initially but with some tweaking can achieve shades that you love.


Above & Beyond Vermilion, Ohio Stylist: Kristen Phillips 2008

Tom Carson All rights reserved

Standard highlights involve separating hair into individual sections and placing under a slice of foil. Once a target section of hair is selected, it is painted with bleach or other highlighting product onto the strand with a brush. Once the section of hair is completely covered with bleach or other highlighting product, the foil is folded over the section.

While bleach is the most common highlighting product, some products such as Matrix SoColor will lift and lighten with color rather than bleach. The advantage to a product such as Matrix SoColor or similar is that it is less damaging to hair then bleach. When hair is long, fragile, damaged or virgin, a color like Matrix SoColor will be less damaging overall.

Caps Versus Foils

Although the major of colorists use foils, some old school hairdressers still use caps for some types of highlighting and low lighting. Caps can be appropriate for short of medium length hair but caps can be extremely difficult to use on long, naturally wavy or naturally curly strands. This is because the cap can be very difficult to remove from the hair after the color is washed out.


This is a unique type of highlighting that involves free form "hair painting". Highlights are painted onto the hair without foils. This type of highlighting originated in Europe. In some cases plastic wrap is used to separate the bleached sections form the rest of the hair to avoid bleeding.

Baliage is the most artistic form of highlighting because the hair colorists can clearly see where they are putting the color. It is also the most natural looking but also the least un-predictable since Baliage often can not be duplicated from time to time.


This technique was popular in the nineties and created big fat chunks of highlights that were lightened with one color. Chunking evolved into "piecing" which involves alternating three or more colors into chunky highlights spread out over the entire head. The current goal with chunking is to avoid an over-bleached effect.


Attitudes - A Salon Toledo, Ohio Stylist: Janice Edinger 2008

Tom Carson All rights reserved

Darker contrasting colors are interwoven with the highlights against the base to create depth and movement.

Highlights can be an expensive addiction. To minimize the cost, consider alternating between a full and partial head of highlights. A full head, depending on the geographic location and expertise of the hair colorist can range between $80 and $600. A partial head may range between $60 and $180.

While roots used to be a problem, this is no longer the case and some Hollywood celebrities actually request that their roots be painted a slightly darker color for "root shading". If you wish to cover your roots, use a crooked part to avoid a line of demarcation.

Color Quilts

This technique involves custom designs of highlights and lowlights and creating a type of color quilt which different colors forming blocks or triangular quilt patterns on top of a pre-colored base. The advantage to color quilts is that no two are alike. The disadvantage is that once a quilt pattern grows out, it is difficult to recreate it since all quilts are unique and custom created.

Color Patterns

Not all highlights involve colors in the same shade as the base color. Over the past few years contrasting highlights and lowlights have also become popular. Blondes have embrace pink, purple, blue, green and other bright color highlights. Brunettes have opted for deep reds as highlights.

Color Cascading

Many of the hair color manufacturers invent new techniques for applying radical hair color. Paul Mitchell is a leader with their various hair color patterns. Wella invented what is known as Color Cascading. Wella color experts have designed a technique that involves applying color in various grades and fusing the colors from the roots to the tips. The Wella color cascading technique adds lots of dimension to highlights and lowlights.

Highlighting Tips

Before Color

Attitudes - A Salon Toledo, Ohio Stylist: Jessica Zeigler 2008

Tom Carson All rights reserved

It is always best to go to a hair color expert if possible. If you can't, research available home highlighting kits. If you buy a kit to use at home, read all instructions carefully.

Getting the color you want for your hair is just one part of the process. Keeping the color and preventing it from washing down the drain in short order is also part of good highlighting/lowlighting techniques.

Hair color fading is the number one complaint women and men have about hair color treatments, whether full base color or highlights, lowlights or other color techniques. Hair color manufacturers are working hard to develop more sophisticated and advanced formulas.

With proper pre and post color care, you can keep your highlights and lowlights just as bright and fresh as the day you had them applied.

1. Before you have any color, highlights or lowlights applied, make sure your hair is in tip top condition. Hair should be healthy and well hydrated before applying chemical color of any type.

2. Color takes best on virgin hair, which is hair that has never been colored or chemically treated. This means that it is not advisable to apply new color over previously colored strands.

3. Shampoo hair with an acid balanced shampoo and conditioner prior to coloring. An acid balanced shampoo will leave scalp and hair healthy without stripping natural oils. Avoid moisturizing shampoos right before color service., Moisturizing shampoos can coat the strands leaving a buildup which block color absorption.

4. Avoid using styling products a few days before hair color is applied. Styling products can also prevent color from being properly absorbed into the hair. Heavy gels and hair sprays can definitely coat the hair and block color from being properly absorbed.

After Color Application - Making Your Haircolor Last

Attitudes - A Salon Toledo, Ohio Stylist: Jessica Zeigler 2008

Tom Carson All rights reserved

1. Wait 48 hours, if possible, before washing your hair after a color service. The longer you can wait to shampoo after highlighting and low lighting, the better chance you have of keeping the color vibrant for an extended period.

2. Shampoo and condition your hair with hair care products (Shampoo & Conditioner To Try: Phytocitrus Vital Radience Shampoo, Phytocitrus Vital Radience Mask) designed for chemically highlighted, colored or low lighted strands. Remember to use products that honor the special needs of chemically processed strands.

3. Avoid using hot water when you shampoo. Hot water instantly fades highlights and lowlights.

4. Shampoo as infrequently as possible.

5. Use color depositing shampoos, conditioners and styling products to help deposit lost color back into the hair. When possible, use color depositing products every other shampoo.

For more tips on how to Make Your Haircolor Last check out: Making Your Hair Color Last


Highlights and lowlights offer many options for instantly changing up an existing hairstyle. With the proper care and maintenance it's possible to keep highlights and lowlight fresh and vibrant for many weeks.

If you want to talk more about this or other hair care articles on or anywhere else, please post a message on's Hair Talk Forums.

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