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Hair Highlighting Tips

To boost your hair color, try highlights or lowlights for a natural-looking change of pace.

Remember when you had the spare time to lounge on the beach, spraying lemon juice from a mist bottle into your hair to create natural highlights?

If you’re like most women, those days are gone. But while your schedule is incredibly hectic, you can still get the look without basking in the sun (which, as we all know, is bad for you, anyway).

Ride the wave of light with highlights or lowlights—two techniques to create stripes of contrast throughout your hair. They can be subtle (reddish tones on brown hair) or dramatic (blonde highlights on brunette hair). You can have thick chunks of color, which continue to be popular, or a carefully selected number of thin highlighted strands for a more restrained look.

Highlights are easier to maintain than all-over, or single-process, color. They require minimal maintenance (every eight to 16 weeks), which can be desirable for women who have trouble booking long salon appointments due to time constraints.

By definition, highlights lighten and brighten your hair. Lowlights, by contrast, darken and deepen hair color. Many salons are using multi-tonal color, not limiting their palette to a single color when highlighting or lowlighting. Blending colors provides a more natural look.

Of course, other stylists use today’s technology to create much bolder statements. Joico, a Darien, Connecticut-based professional product line, teaches stylists how to create color creations like the “UV”—an abbreviation for ultraviolet light. The UV color concept features four super-dramatic highlighting colors, with vibrant shades of lavender and purple. It sounds extreme—and it definitely is daring—but it’s also a gorgeous mélange of strong shadows that blend fluidly together.

For more mainstream highlighting, the process is relatively simple: Hair is sectioned by an experienced stylist, who applies color from the roots down to the selected strands. While there are many application techniques, many stylists rely on foils, folding color-treated strands into foil sheets to prevent dye from spreading. The stylist sets the timer for a designated period (depending on your natural color and the shades chosen for highlighting or lowlighting), and the strands are allowed to “process.”

Using a professional stylist is advisable, as she can mix colors, understands coloring chemistry and knows how to avoid overprocessing your hair. While stylists recommend having highlights or lowlights applied in the salon setting, there are new consumer lines that allow women to apply highlights at home. If you’re on a budget, you can try a product like L’Oreal Couleur Experte, which consists of two steps:

  1. Application of all-over color, for a translucent base, using a permanent gel crème. Color is applied to dry, unwashed hair, over the full head, with an applicator bottle and left on for 25 minutes. (If you have resistant gray hairs, color should be left on for about 10 additional minutes.) When the color is set, rinse it out and towel-dry hair.

  2. Once the first step is completed, you add illuminating highlights with a special wand. For hair of one length, choose strands that frame your face (but don’t forget the back of your head). For layered hair, follow the layers’ angles, paying special attention to top layers. If you have bangs, apply highlights to wispy strands, and vary the spacing to keep the look natural. If you have curly hair, you can use the wand or even your fingertips to apply color to curls; the texture of your hair requires a bit less precision.

Always read all directions before using any highlighting or lowlighting products. Experts recommend wearing an old button-down shirt when coloring, which protects your neck and shoulders from any color drips.

To help you choose the right shade, L’Oreal offers an online questionnaire, as well as instructional videos that demonstrate product application.

Clairol offers a similar product, Herbal Essences Highlights, but it does not include the base color—only the highlighting agent. The product is applied to dry hair with a highlighting comb.

If you have any concerns about home highlighting, or if you’ve never colored your hair before, take the safe road and book an appointment with a colorist.

Take the risk out of highlighting your hair by becoming a Stellure member and using the world's only 3D hair visualization software. Click the link below to checkout the Stellure website and have a look at some great hairstyles in the free trial:

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