Highlights: color nuances, coloring techniques and care tips

Whether babylights, sombré or balayage: highlights give the hair color shine and conjure up natural reflections.

Photo: Getty Images | Jeremy Moller

Babylights, block highlights and the like conjure up flattering accents in the hair and ensure a fresh look without completely coloring the hairstyle. Which techniques are available, which highlights suit which (hair) type – and how easy it is to make highlights yourself.

Highlights give the hair more color intensity and natural reflections that make it look particularly shiny and fresh. Traditionally, strands in lighter color nuances than the natural shade are used to give the hair more dynamics and structure. Nothing against well-tried classics like foil strands, but with modern coloring techniques, the highlights can now be set so finely in the hair that nobody notices that a hairdresser had a finger in the pie. In addition to natural highlights, eye-catching looks with multidimensional effects can also be created. If you like it sophisticated, you can also accentuate individual sections of hair with strands – for example the fringe or the ends of the hair.

Dark brown highlights in platinum blonde hair or bright red accents in a pitch-black mane – in principle, all options are open to you when it comes to coloring highlights. Depending on the original hair color, you should consider a few things before you go to the hairdresser so that the result looks nice and natural.

highlights on dark hair

With dark hair you can set highlights with lighter strands – but the color contrasts should not be too strong. Brown or even black hair, for example, can be given warm, natural accents by slightly lighter nuances such as chocolate or mocha tones. Highlights in caramel and blonde tones create the coveted “sunkissed look” – also known as babylights – in brown hair. The high-contrast mix of blonde and brown is also called bronde. With reddish hair, you should make sure that you also use reddish nuances in the highlights. Otherwise, the result can quickly appear unnatural.

Highlights tips for light hair

If you have a light natural hair color, you don’t have to bleach your mane completely to make it shine. Instead, individual light strands set subtle highlights and brighten the entire look. Honey, sand and wheat tones, for example, go well with naturally blonde hair, but ash blonde, platinum blonde or gray highlights also provide natural shades and optically more fullness. Light hair with blond highlights that resemble the natural color and conjure up subtle plays of light and shadow in the hair look particularly natural.

Slightly darker strands provide depth and a colour-intensive, rich look for light hair. Blondes can never go wrong with a soft, clear light brown. These so-called lowlights are particularly effective on ash blonde hair. But be careful: For a smooth transition, the highlights should not be more than two shades darker than the natural color.

Highlight mix of several colors

Different colored highlights might sound like a wild hair color mess, but it’s not. In several nuances of a color family, they make the hair look fresh from vacation – as if the sun had bleached the mane to varying degrees. Imitating the sun-kissed strands of the beach can be achieved with naturally blonde hair, for example with highlights in light honey, apricot and sand tones. Chocolate, caramel and mocha shades look particularly natural on brown hair. In order to dye different nuances, there are even special highlight sets for at home that can be used to create two different tones of highlights.

The classic: Foil highlights

With the tried and tested but still popular foil technique, which is also called slicing, the hairdresser separates thin strands from the hair, paints them with color and wraps them in foil. In this way, the highlights are spread all over the head and alternate naturally with the darker natural hair color. The method is ideal if you want to achieve a significantly lighter look including shades without bleaching the entire mane.

Balayage for all-natural highlights

The balayage look is still one of the hottest hair trends, which is probably due to the fact that it suits every woman and every hair length. The term comes from the French verb “balayer”, which means “to sweep” or “sweep” in German. The name alludes to the way the highlights are applied: in the balayage technique, the hairdresser paints the highlights freehand with a brush in the hair. The advantage is that he can respond individually to head shape, haircut and hair length. Balayage highlights don’t all start at the hairline either, but at different heights. The result is soft accents in a wide variety of strengths and super-natural color gradients.

Beach waves through natural shading

The natural shading highlight technique is even softer than the balayage method. That means: The shade of the highlights is only a bit lighter than the natural or base hair color. This creates a very natural look with light blonde effects.

Chunky hair with wide block highlights

The English word “chunky” means something like “chunky” or “bulky”. In contrast to slicing, this method deliberately dyes wider strands of top hair lighter or darker – hence the term block strands. In the 90s, the “chunky hair” style with particularly striking light-dark contrasts was extremely popular. In the meantime, the block highlights are a bit more natural due to softer color gradations.

Gradual gradient with ombré and sombré

With the so-called ombré technique, highlights are placed in the hair lengths and ends to achieve a color gradient from dark to light. Extreme looks are played with strong contrasts, for a natural result the hairdresser relies on a more harmonious transition. This is also referred to as a soft ombré variant: the soft ombré or sombré. This highlighting technique avoids harsh edges to create a much smoother transition. The lower strands are only two to three shades lighter, not four to six shades like the ombré look.

Babylights for the sunkissed look

Babylights are the latest trend in highlights. As the name suggests, only fine, extremely thin and natural-looking color accents are applied to the hair with this dyeing technique. Unlike the “two-tone effect” of the ombré technique, babylights are intended to give the impression that the hair has been naturally lightened by the sun. The natural hair color is retained and is only occasionally offset with fine strands – for example in the hair lengths, from ear level or around the face as “face frame highlights”. Babylights are the perfect alternative if you don’t yet dare to go for a full balayage look and would like to try a subtle color change first.

Ideally, you let a professional do it, but with a little courage and tact you can also conjure up highlights on your head yourself. There are various coloring techniques to choose from. The easiest way to color your highlights is with a comb or a special highlight cap.

1. Comb strands

Among the various at-home highlighting techniques, comb highlights are popular because they are quick and easy to use. With a special highlight comb you gradually pull the highlights into the hairstyle. Simply brush the comb with dye and run it through the hair where you want it. For a natural distribution, you should pay attention to different distances and not start too close to the base. The disadvantage of comb highlights is that you can only easily reach the top hair. The underlying hair is more difficult to dye.

2. Hood strands

Dyeing with a highlight cap is self-explanatory: With this technique, you put a cap with a hole pattern on your head and pull out strand by strand through the holes. A big advantage is that the scalp does not come into contact with the chemical dye. However, the bonnet highlights are distributed very evenly due to the given pattern, so that the look is less natural.

3. Freehand highlights

This requires a steady hand, practice and a bit of courage: As with the balayage technique, the highlights are set freehand with a brush. Therefore, apply the color sparingly and get a friend to help you with difficult areas on the back of your head. Freestyle highlights look very modern at best, but are not for beginners. Since the coloration is not so easy to position by hand, the whole thing can quickly backfire.

Only healthy hair is beautiful hair – from roots to ends. As soon as chemical color comes into play, the mane needs even more care to maintain its luminosity and vibrancy.

Why do highlights need special care?

Since chemical substances are used, even highlight dyeing is hard on the scalp and hair. The extent of the damage in each individual case depends on the hair structure and the dyes used. What is certain is that proper and regular care is required after dyeing – especially if you want your highlights to look fresh for a long time. Special hair care products for colored hair – so-called color shine products – not only preserve the color, but also moisturize and smooth the hair structure. Matching shampoos and conditioners with color protection are available from many brands and in every price category. If the hair color loses its shine after a while, tinted washes can help. They cover the hair with washable color that disappears again after a few hair washes.

No-gos after dyeing the highlights

You should rather keep your hands off hot styling tools, because heat puts additional stress on your already stressed hair. Especially when the highlights are very fresh, you should avoid using straightening irons and curling irons. And when blow-drying, it is better to set it to a cool setting and apply heat protection before styling.

Be careful when (sun)bathing if you go on holiday with freshly colored highlights. Chlorine and salt water can turn bleached highlights greenish. In addition, you should not only protect your skin but also your mane from the sun. Because UV radiation attacks the cuticle layer of the hair and causes the color to fade. Special styling products with UV protection and a sun hat should definitely be taken on holiday.

Maybe also interesting: lighten hair with home remedies!

Author: myself editors

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