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Types of highlights: which highlights are right for you?

Hair trends come and go, but highlights are forever. Highlights, or the partial coloring of specific hair strands to create typically a lighter overall appearance, are one of the most popular hair color techniques. But the hair highlight options don’t stop at just one style. You can choose between the techniques of highlights, lowlights, or babylights to achieve an effect that’s just as unique as you are. Even better, it’s easier than ever to create these effects at home thanks to at-home highlighting kits and a myriad of hair color shade options. Ahead, discover the different types of highlights, and learn which highlight hair technique fits best with your intended hair color and hairstyle. Plus, study up on the ways to achieve highlights at home and keep hair healthy-looking once you do so. Here’s everything you need to pass Highlights 101:

Which color and type of highlights is right for your hair

What are highlights?

“Highlights are when you want to make the hair lighter, typically using a hair lightener or a light hair color,” says celebrity stylist and Garnier consultant Nikki Lee. Highlights is the general term for lightening specific sections of hair. You can then decide, by yourself or with a colorist, if you prefer the specific hair color techniques of lowlights or babylights.

Highlights are hand-painted, created by weaving small sections of the hair and then adding color. Sections can either be wrapped in foil to process or hand separated. For a natural looking highlights effect, you or your colorist will paint the mid-sections to the ends of your hair. Highlights are sometimes misconceived as only for blonde hair, but any hair that’s being colored in sections lighter than its base color is a highlight. If your hair is auburn and you add golden brown hair strands, that’s still considered highlighting the hair.

If you’re looking for an all-over hair color look without the maintenance or drama of single-process hair color, highlights are a great option. The thinner the highlight weave, the more you’ll create the effect of all-over color.

What are lowlights?

“Lowlights are when you are adding depth into the hair using a darker hair color shade,” says Lee. Lee recommends lowlights for anyone looking to make their hair darker. While the endgame of highlights is to make hair look lighter overall, lowlights darken your hair color’s overall appearance while adding texture and depth to your hair color shade.

Much like highlights, lowlights can also be applied at home once you settle on the highlight color that complements your current hair color and your desired intended hair highlight effect.

What are babylights?

Babylights are a great option for hair that looks truly natural. “Babylights is a term used when you highlight the hair,” says Lee. “Instead of weaving bigger sections, you weave tiny ones and highlight those in a foil.” Those tiny sections mean color will blend seamlessly to achieve an overall appearance of lighter or darker hair color. Colorists will leave a smaller amount of space between sections, creating the overall appearance of your upgraded shade. “Low maintenance” is the key term for babylights. You’ll end up visiting the hair salon or in the hair color aisle less often if you opt for this subtle hair coloring technique.

Some colorists use babylights to focus on the “baby hair” area, or the tiny hairs at the crown of the head and front of the hairline. Colorists will lighten up the hair around the hairline, creating a lightening effect that frames the face. (Draw attention to your gorgeous eye makeup and perfect lip color with this technique!) Babylights are modeled after the natural highlights we have as children. The purpose of this look is to keep hair color as natural-looking as possible. The line of demarcation that can make colored hair obvious will instead be blended into the hairline. Even if you’re weaving in a bold trending hair color shade, the overall result will be subtle. Babylights also mean you can go longer between applications, as hair will remain natural-looking even as it grows out. Babylights are a great option for someone new to colored hair or to highlights and looking to ease their way into colored hair — or for anyone who loves their natural hue and are looking simply to take their existing hair color to the next level. If you love the feeling of surprising friends with the fact that your hair is colored, babylights are the highlighting technique for you.

What Color Highlights Should I Get?

Since your natural hair color will peek through no matter which highlight style you choose, it’s important to choose the right highlight color. According to Lee, there are no specific pros or cons for each style — it’s simply a matter of choosing the right technique for the look you’d like to achieve. “You should be versed on these terms to help determine the exact look you’re going for,” she says. “If you would like to go lighter, the recommendation is to do highlights or babylights. If you are thinking about going darker, you want to build dimension in the hair by going with lowlights.”

When it comes to choosing a highlight color, Lee’s strategy starts with the eyes. She recommends you match your highlight color to the tone of your eye color. If you have cool eyes, choose a cool toned highlight shade that will complement your hair naturally. “I have blue eyes, so platinum highlights work well on my hair,” says Lee. If your eyes are gray, green, or even brown with lighter flecks of color, blonde highlights are a good choice for you. Dark brown or intense green eyes may hint that brown highlights will look more flattering.

How to Highlight Hair at Home

If you are new to at-home hair color, don’t let highlights intimidate you — in fact, they may be a better option. If you’re dyeing your hair for the first time, Lee suggests highlights as opposed to all-over color. “You can always go back in and add more highlights,” says Lee. All-over color is recommended once you know the exact hair color and hairstyle you hope to achieve.

There’s a simple hack for choosing where to place your highlights — going natural. Lee recommends that at-home colorists “envision where the sun hits your hair” when highlighting. “You want your hair to be highlighted where the sun hits it. Highlights should be brighter on top, where the sun would naturally have lightened it,” she says. Lee also recommends colorists make sure to start highlights a bit lower than the root. Not only does it make for a simpler growing-out process, it also looks more natural.

As for the actual highlighting process, all-in-one highlight kits compact everything you need into one ready to use kit. After combining your hair developer and powder to mix up the perfect hair color shade, the included brush does the work of highlights for you. Brush creme a half inch from scalp out to the ends, then add a small amount of highlighting creme back to the root area, leaving a quarter inch of root natural. After 15-20 minutes letting the formula soak on your hair, rinse it with water and shampoo, followed by a nourishing conditioner.

Once you do color your hair, it’s important to treat your newly dyed hair with care. Lee suggests treating your hair with hair oil from root to tip once a week. Once your hair is covered, wrap it in a towel and sleep on it, letting it soak overnight. In the morning, wash and deep condition your hair.

As anyone with colored hair will tell you, highlighting hair is addictive! Once you’ve found your favorite highlight color and technique, you may find yourself wanting to try a new method. We love experimenting with color — and we support healthy-hair looking hair no matter what hair color shade you choose.

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