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Highlight Your Tresses: Hair Friendly Tips & Techniques


Mandy Moore Seventeen Magazine VIP Party 06-14-2001

If you love jazzing up your hair color but worry about damage from bleach or other coloring agents, highlights (and/or lowlights) are the perfect option.

Why? If applied properly they offer instant change with minimal danger of fried strands.

Although some highlighting product lines may utilize a potentially hair damaging bleach base, professional and consumer highlight formulas do exist which offer the option to lighten strands without bleach.

These type of formulas still use a variety of chemicals to allow for the necessary lift but are color based rather than bleach based.

Not everyone can utilize the color based highlighting formulas. If your hair is medium to dark brown, highlights may only work if they are bleach based to achieve the proper lightness.

Except in rare cases, highlights are designed to create lightening, brightening accents with hues that are 2-4 shades lighter than the natural color. This means that someone with very dark hair would not benefit from highlights in the bright white platinum family.

Not only would highlights that many shades lighter require bleach, they might be impossible to achieve. Even at the hands of a seasoned hair color expert.

More Hair Highlighting Advantages

The Entertainment Industry Foundation Revlon Run-Walk For Women 05-12-07

Another advantage to highlights over a full head of bleach or color is the bigger-bang-for-the-buck result.

A handful of strategically placed highlights fanned out around the hairline will instantly bring brightness to the face and instantly amping up a dull complexion. Highlights carefully placed through the crown will add instant shimmer and shine with minimal coverage.

Highlights also offer hair color training wheels for nervous hair color wannabes. For anyone wanting color for the first time, highlights

Not only does highlighting your hair offer a fabulous way to instantly jazz up your look, it allows you the option to change the way others perceive you. It can also set you apart, which is why highlights are so attractive.

Many celebrities understand all the advantages of highlights and show off a wide range of highlighted base colors.

Actress/singer/songwriter Mandy Moore is a classic example of a celeb who rocks highlights ranging from blonde to light caramels and even light cherry matched to a dark chocolate base.

Award winner Friends actress Jennifer Aniston is famous for her gorgeous blonde and white chocolates highlights. Superstar Beyonce often showcases stunning face framing highlights.

Hair Highlighting Disadvantages

Anytime your manipulate your hair, whether using a brush, comb, blow-dryer or hot tools, you cause some form of damage to your hair. The same is true with adding highlights, whether your hair is healthy or not.

Some disadvantage of highlights, whether applied by a professional or at home include:

1. May cause hair to become more dry. 2. Darker roots will eventually appear unless the highlights are skillfully applied to minimize root appearances. 3. Highlights will naturally fade over time. 4. Require tender loving care including avoiding use of hot water, hot blow dryers or hot styling tools (blow driers, flat irons, hot rollers). 5. May fade in constant exposure to sunlight. 6. Can be prone to discoloration when exposed to pool chemicals.

Safe Hair Highlighting Rules

Mandy Moore TV Guide & Inside TV Emmy Awards After Party 09-18-05

Before you consider adding highlights to your hair consider the following highlighting rules:

1. Never apply highlights to hair that is already chemically altered through perms, texturizers, straighteners, bleach or all-over color. Adding highlights increase the risk of hair breakage and other long term damage. If you must highlight chemically treated tresses, wait as long as possible, at least 2-3 weeks, after chemical treatments to add highlights. 2. Avoid washing out highlight chemicals with hot water. Use only lukewarm water. 3. While a professional may wish to blow dry your hair after highlights, if you apply them at home, let your hair air-dry or use a blow dryer on the coolest setting possible. 4. Avoid using hot styling tools as much as possible since the heat will encourage highlights to fade faster. 5. Avoid using shampoo or products designed to volumize. These types of products open the hair shaft and would encourage immediate removal of your newly added highlights.

At The Salon

Whenever possible, always ask a professional hair colorist to apply your highlights. There are number of reason for this including:

1. A professional hair colorist specializes in the study of applying hair color. 2. Lifting base color to a lighter shade may inadvertently result in pulling unwanted hues such as orange or red. A professional can avoid this challenge to prevent it from happening and can easily fix it if it does occur. 3. A professional can offer you advice of the proper shades that will best complement your skin and eyes. 4. Trusting your highlighting to a professional will minimize any potential damage because the pro will know exactly how strong to mix the chemicals.

At Home

Mandy Moore Chasing Liberty Premiere 01-07-04

If you can't go to a pro consider the following rules for safe at-home highlighting:

1. Take time to prepare for the highlighting process by allowing healthy hair to "age" for up to 48 hours before applying the highlights. Allowing your hair to collect natural oils will help highlights to stick better to the cuticle. 2. If your hair is unhealthy, prepare for highlights by having damaged strands trimmed of all damage including split ends or ripped strands and go through a prep cycle of using deep conditioners. 3. Carefully read the directions in the highlighting kit before you begin. Even better, read the directions more than once to make sure you are very clear on how to proceed. 4. Once you understand the directions, follow them completely. 5. Do not leave the chemicals on your hair longer than advised since this is when excessive damage can occur. 6. Use lukewarm, not hot, water to remove the highlight chemicals. 7. Avoid using shampoo or products designed to volumize. These types of products open the hair shaft and would encourage immediate removal of your newly added highlights. 8. When possible, allow hair to air-dry and avoid using hot blow dryers that will dry out and/or damage newly highlighted strands.

Types of Hair Highlighting Formulas

Mandy Moore 2003 Billboard Music Awards - Arrivals 12-10-03

There are two basic types of hair highlighting products:

  • Permanent
  • Temporary

1. Permanent Highlights

Permanent highlights are always mixed with some type of chemically based lifting agent, bleach or other, that literally blows open the hair cuticle so that the current color can be "lifted" to create the final highlighted result.

If you go to a professional colorist you may see them mixing powders and/or liquids in a special bowl before they apply it to your strands with a special brush.

Permanent highlights do not wash it. The reason they are called permanent is because the highlights remains on your tresses until they grow out, which causes root lines.

Permanent hair color can be touched up at the roots, can be cut off as the hair grows or can be altered through other chemical applications.

2. Temporary Highlights

Jennifer Aniston With Gorgeous Ribbons of Blonde Highlights 12-09-06

This category of highlights often have a vegetable, non-chemical base and is not designed to open the hair cuticle or deposit any type of color.

Basically the color, which is usually has a natural base with minimal if any chemicals, will simply coat the outer layer of the hair. It's not henna, although it does coat like henna does. Temporary highlights add shine and shimmer to pre-existing color or highlights.

Temporary highlights are just that, temporary. They may last for just one shampoo or they may be designed to last from 4-8 shampoos.

Temporary highlights, especially those designed to last for only one shampoo, only coat the top of the cuticle which means that they are much less damaging to tresses. Temporary highlights are somewhat unpredictable and may not work as desired due to the fact that the color does not penetrate the inner section of the strand.

You can stretch the life of temporary highlights by waiting as long as possible to actually shampoo, using shampoo formulas designed for colored hair and using lukewarm water.

A professional hair colorist told me that is you can shampoo just 1-2x a week and use a non-sulfate shampoo or a light conditioner instead of a harsher shampoo, you can stretch temporary highlight formulas to last a lot longer than predicted by the color manufacturer.

Limited Highlight Formulas Made From Herbal Formulas

Jennifer Aniston With Gorgeous Ribbons of White Chocolate Blonde Highlights 12-15-05

Some hair experts recommend the use of lemons, chamomile and rhubarb "natural" formulas to provide an all natural highlighting effect. While these home brewed options may work on naturally light strands, they do not provide any lift and will be ineffective on medium to dark hued hair.

Furthermore, herbal highlights require repeated application to deliver any noticeable color results and in some cases, when applied to porous tresses, can stain them like vegetable or chemical options.

Additional Hair Highlighting Rules

With any type of product you put on your hair there can be rare circumstances that can cause unexpected problems. One complication can be when highlights are applied to hair that is extremely damaged and porous.

Even though the highlights are designed to slowly wash out/fade over time, the highlights may seep deeply into the cortex and permanently stain it. Which means that the highlighted colors become permanent until they eventually grow out.

Keep in mind that the reason there are different types of hair highlights because no one method works best for all types of people and their hair.

Color Shampoos With Pigment Deposits - Pros & Cons

Beyonce With Gorgeous Ribbons of Buttery Blonde Highlights 2007

Many companies market "color shampoos" that are designed to assist in the maintenance of chemically added hair color and highlights. While these shampoos range in strength from very minimal color deposit to major deposit, they can not add highlights to hair that is not previously colored.

It is unlikely that a natural dark brunette will see any results from using a color shampoo designed for platinum or golden blondes. However, a highlighted or colored platinum or golden blonde may experience a brightening, slight lightening effect from color shampoos with a strong pigment depositing action.

One warning is to avoid utilizing strong pigment depositing color shampoos on hair that is damaged and porous since the color pigment sin the shampoo may stain the cuticle and be difficult to remove.

Many hair consumers are confused about the pros and cons of color shampoos. When in doubt, discuss whether these types of products are appropriate for your natural or highlighted hair. Many consumers assume that color shampoos will add highlights to their hair. This is generally untrue.

Hair Highlights Professionals Generally Agree On The Following Rules:

1. Consider skin and eye coloring when selecting hair color highlight hues. It is generally suggested that you stay within two shades of your natural hair color. Extremes in hair color can drain natural color from the eyes and skin.

2. Weigh the cost and time factors in the upkeep of highlights.

3. Evaluate how complicated the process may be and whether it is better to have a professional do it or to do it at home.

Listed below are the most common highlighting questions.

What's better for my hair, temporary or permanent highlights?

Jennifer Aniston With Gorgeous Face Framing & Crown Accenting Ribbons of White Blonde Highlights 01-09-07

Hair professionals consider temporary highlights less damaging on the hair than permanent highlights which are chemically based. In most cases, temporary highlights are completely safe. They are only unsafe when the target hair is extremely porous and could potentially be stained by the non-chemical mixtures.

Temporary highlights only coat the top of the cuticle which means that they are much less damaging to tresses. If your hair is healthy, there is minimal risk with temporary highlights. If your hair is chemically treated, porous or damaged, you should only use temporary highlights with the help of a hair color expert.

There is little question that permanent highlights can be much more damaging than temporary highlights. However, if they are applied with a color base, rather than a bleach base, they can be much less harmful to generally healthy strands. The advantage of permanent highlights is more predictable results that are durable.

Can hair be damaged by highlights?

Only if the wrong level of peroxide is used or you are over-processing (too many permanent highlight colors are applied) your hair. If you constantly change your hair color through highlights, especially if you go through drastic color ranges, you must regularly use deep conditioning treatments.

Hollywood Hair Highlighting Secrets

Jessica Simpson HairDo Clip-In HairExtensions For Instant Blonde Highlights 2007

With the recent rise in the popularity of temporary and permanent hair extensions, Hollywood stars and celebrities "instantly" add 100% safe highlights with a few strategically placed fusion or clip-in human hair extension strands in contrasting shades.

This is an excellent way to change your look in literally a few minutes (with temporary) to a few hours (with fusion or similar extensions).


If you love jazzing up your hair color but worry about damage from bleach or other coloring agents, highlights (and/or lowlights) are the perfect option.

The best way to achieve fabulously beautiful highlights is to select a highlighting product that is most compatible for your hair type, texture and current condition.

Whether you go with a temporary or permanent highlighting treatment, do it with a professional hair colorist or do it yourself, be true to your tresses.

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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