Whether you prefer subtle and sun-kissed or bold and dramatic, highlights are the perfect way to enhance your natural haircolor. To help you understand what might work best for you, we compiled the ultimate guide to anything and everything you need to know about this coloring technique. From the different options out there, to what to ask your colorist for, to how to maintain your results at home, consider this a crash course in “Highlights 101.” Class is in session.
WHAT ARE HIGHLIGHTS?
Highlights are simply pieces of hair that are lighter than your natural color, explains Redken Artist George Garcia. If your base color is brown, you can add highlights that are a lighter brown, or even have brown hair with blonde highlights. For blondes, blonde highlights incorporate lighter blonde shades. It’s important to note that there are different types of highlighting techniques, too. Traditionally, foils are used to strategically isolate parts of the hair in various shapes and patterns, be that to create contrast that’s very bold, or very soft, says George. There’s also a newer technique, Balayage, where highlights are hand-painted onto smaller, more random pieces of hair, resulting in a more lived-in look.
WHY SHOULD I ASK FOR HIGHLIGHTS?
Regardless of which technique or color you go with, there are plenty of pros to opting for highlights. “Highlights are fresh and youthful,” says George, adding dimension and movement to any base color. Not to mention that the maintenance and upkeep required is noticeably less than if you were to change your hair color entirely—AKA way fewer salon visits.
WHY SHOULD I SEE A PROFESSIONAL HAIRCOLORIST FOR HIGHLIGHTS?
While there’s no shortage of at-home highlighting kits and YouTube tutorials, this is not the time to DIY. “Yes, you can learn how to apply a foil or paint on some color, but that technique might just work for one type of haircut, and not yours,” explains George. Professional colorists can customize and tweak the color application to best enhance your hair style. Not to mention that they are trained to take into account things like skin tone and eye color when coming up with the best color palette for you. There’s also the matter of hair health. Because any type of highlights involve lightening the hair, there is a potential for some damage. The pros are not only trained how to use the color properly in order to minimize this damage, but can also incorporate strengthening treatments to help maintain the health and integrity of the hair. A favorite among colorists? The Redken pH-Bonder, an in-salon treatment that protects the bonds in the hair and reduces breakage during color services.
HOW TO TALK TO YOUR COLORIST ABOUT HIGHLIGHTS
Thinking about highlights? “Open communication with your colorist is key,” says George, who adds that it’s important to first book a consultation. During this appointment, bring in photos of hair color you like—and that you don’t—and be sure to tell your colorist how often you’re willing to come into the salon for color appointments. “Your hair makes a statement to the world. Tell your colorist whether you want that to be a whisper or a shout.”
HOW DO I MAINTAIN MY HIGHLIGHTS?
Lightening hair can make it start to feel dry and brittle, so using the right products at home is key. “Healthy hair also holds color better,” says Garcia, who recommends that anyone—no matter whether they have brown highlights or blonde highlights—use the Redken Extreme Strengthening Shampoo and Redken Extreme Strengthening Conditioner. With an exclusive protein complex, the duo strengthens the hair from root to core to tip. A weekly treatment is also a must. George also suggests alternating between Redken’s spray-on, protein-rich Extreme Cat Protein Reconstructing Hair Treatment Spray for the strengthening benefits, and the moisturizing All Soft Heavy Cream Super Treatment Mask. “Switching between these two will not only help keep your hair strong and healthy, but also help you maintain your color.”
To the point of maintaining your color, keep in mind that blondes are especially susceptible, particularly those with cooler blonde highlights. For this, try Redken Color Extend Blondage Color Depositing Purple Shampoo, a violet shampoo and that counteracts unwanted yellowing to keep your blonde highlights cool, not brassy. (Not to mention that it also contains a strengthening Triple Acid Protein complex. Yes, please.) George suggests using it weekly for the first few weeks post-highlights, gradually increasing the frequency to twice a week.