Highlights seem like a trend that hasn’t died in decades because stylists worldwide find new ways to modernize it. But these salon experts aren’t the only ones who can dabble in highlights. Are you a DIY kind of person and have always wanted to learn how to highlight hair at home yourself?
Pretty much anyone with an at-home highlighting kit, steady hands, and the right amount of courage can work on their highlights in the comfort of their home.
Ladies will agree with me that getting gorgeous highlights is a fabulous way to elevate your look without having to commit to chopping your hair off or dyeing it an outrageous color.
What Are Highlights?
Highlights refer to tresses of hair lightened or bleached and then toned to add dimension to a full head of hair.
These lighter pieces of hair add contrast to the rest of the body, creating the illusion that light is hitting your hair and giving it shine.
They add depth to your overall look, so that solid hair color doesn’t look so flat and one-dimensional.
It also looks super cute, so that doesn’t hurt.
Some types of highlights, like the oh-so-trendy balayage, creates more of a luxurious vibe too.
Highlights make the hair look vibrant and healthy, and attracts more light.
They also give a bit more life to color-treated hair, helping it look more natural and professionally done.
Should You Highlight Your Hair At Home?
Big names like L’Oreal and Olaplex have at-home highlighting products and kits well within your reach at the drugstore, but should you be doing your own highlights?
If you’re doing your hair for a high-profile event where you need to look your absolute best – like your wedding day – leave your hair to the professionals.
There are some highlighting techniques that require special skills only a trained stylist might have, like a balayage.
But in this day and age, simple highlights can be done at home, like many other personal care regimens.
Anyone should be able to get beautiful highlights, even those with budget constraints.
Or if you don’t want to wait weeks for a scheduled appointment with the hairdresser.
Affordability is the biggest advantage of DIY highlighting.
Highlighting your hair with your stylist can be expensive.
You can get it done by yourself at a lower price.
Getting highlights done can cost hundreds of dollars, but a kit and all the other tools you need to do it at home will probably cost a tiny fraction of that.
But the cost of highlighting is that you need to know how to do it.
If you want to add a bit of dimension to your hair to give it a vibrant look, then you just might go on and do it yourself at home.
It’s also fantastic for those who’ve had highlights before and know exactly what parts of their hair they prefer to make lighter.
By doing it yourself, you don’t have to fidget in your seat at the salon, praying your stylist gets it right this time.
In a nutshell, doing your highlights yourself gives you more bang for your buck and offers flexible customization, so you can lighten up streaks and tresses to your liking.
Follow the instructions
But of course, doing it yourself as a beginner is a risk, too.
If you try experimenting without a deep understanding of your hair or highlighting, you may end up with a spotty, streaky mess of orange hair and turn up at an expensive salon to get it fixed anyway.
So if you’re contemplating doing your highlights at home yourself, make sure you have enough self-control to follow your highlighting kit’s instructions to a T.
Essential Tools You Need And What They’re For
A seamless, hassle-free DIY highlighting experience relies heavily on thoughtful preparation.
Make sure you have these essentials ready before you sit down and begin highlighting.
You’ll need the following for your DIY highlighting session:
Choose a kit that will complement your natural hair color.
Go for blonde or auburn highlighting kits that are a few shades lighter than your base color.
Kits usually already include lighteners and toners, so they’re easy to use for beginners.
This is what you can consider your “bleach” that lightens up your hair with the help of ammonia.
Each lightener has its own unique set of instructions to mix up and prepare, so check the product label for yours.
A demi-permanent color solution to give you the undertone you want for your highlights.
This is where you’ll be mixing up your lightener and color solutions according to the directions on the product label.
Prepare the mixture right before you intend to brush it onto your hair.
Hair dye brush
This is for painting on the lightener and toner.
A comb with thin bristles and a narrow end can help divide the hair and weave through it to section it off.
These will help organize your hair sections and keep them in place once the lightener or toner is painted on.
The lightener can end up bleaching (and even burning!) your skin, so make sure you wear gloves from start to finish.
This is optional, but you can apply some Vaseline or any petroleum jelly to your hairline to avoid staining and burning your skin around there.
Set aside some ample time to prepare for the task ahead.
You want to make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible.
Select the most appropriate color
Highlighting involves the use of dye or bleach that is lighter than your hair color.
Plus, it would help if you also considered the condition of your hair before selecting the color.
For the most effective result, you should go for a color that is two or one shade lighter than your hair’s base color.
In contrast to the popular belief that you should choose a very light color, going too light can create a strippy and unnatural effect on your hair.
If you can, you should choose a toner since it makes your hair look more natural.
If you have dyed your hair before, the bleach will only lighten your hair.
However, if you used vegetable or henna dyes, you won’t see the lightening effect.
If you have dark hair, you should look for a shade that matches your hair’s natural shade to have consistent coloring.
It is also advisable that you look for a dye that is drip and conditioning free so that you will retain the most moisture in your hair after the process.
Bring out the clothes and gloves
Hair lightening can be nasty, especially to your clothes and the surrounding environment.
Hence, it will help if you cover yourself and anything you don’t want to come into contact with the bleach or dye.
For example, you can cut a hole in a bag or use a towel and wrap it over your shoulder.
You should also wear latex gloves to protect yourself from the dyes and bleach.
If you can, cover the walls with paper or spread a cloth on the floor to protect your bathroom floor from coloring.
Plus, it would be best if you covered your hairline with Vaseline (as mentioned above) to get dyes off it conveniently after the process.
Know your tools and how to use them
Highlighting tools are sold as a bunch in the form of a kit.
Hence, you shouldn’t expect a single product.
Instead, the kit usually contains more tools than you can handle, especially if this is your first time.
The solution? Practice.
Get familiar with the tools in your highlighting kit by using it with your conditioner.
This way, you can make mistakes here and not when you need to get the job done.
If the highlight applicator is too big, you can go down and buy a small toothbrush.
The reason is that big brushes can make maneuvering uneasy and make the result appear botch-up.
Read the labels and instructions
Another step you should take in the name of familiarizing yourself with the product is to read the label and the instructions before usage.
Since you don’t have your colorist with you, you might as well take responsibility and read what the box says.
I cannot stress it enough that you must follow the instructions on the label.
Not once, read them over and over until you grasp every bit of information.
Test it on a strand
The strand test, as many like to call it, is a safe way of playing with dyes and bleach.
Instead of coloring the whole head, it will help if you experiment on a strand of hair instead.
Hence, the result you have with the strand is the result you will have if you had tried it on your hair.
Use a strand at the underside of your hair and follow all instructions.
Then, you can see the result and make improvements if you must.
Don’t wash your hair
Make sure you have two or three-day-old hair before you start highlighting.
“Dirty,” worn out but dry hair is excellent for highlighting because the natural oils and grease help to protect your hair from the strong lighteners and chemicals that might irritate your scalp.
Before you begin, make sure you find a cozy little nook where you can sit for the entire process, preferably on a comfy seat with a big mirror on the wall in front of you.
The wider the mirror, the more visibility you have on all sections of hair.
How To Highlight Hair At Home Yourself
It’s now time for the main activity!
Put your colors in place
Like I said before, be sure to follow the instructions on the box.
One essential part of the instructions is the type of color you should mix and its quantity.
If this is your first time, use a permanent dye and don’t use bleach since the damage will be considerably less if it goes wrong.
Furthermore, it will help if you don’t use bleach, especially if you want a natural look.
If you must use bleach, pour a small quantity into a small bowl and use your brush to take the bleach with ease.
Divide your hair into several parts
You can divide your hair into as many sections as you want if you have full hair.
However, four sections should suffice.
Use rubber hair ties or hair clips to hold each section in place so that the dyes don’t mix and give you a messy result.
As I said, do a strand test if you have time to ensure the dye shade you have chosen will give you what you want.
Picking Your Ideal Highlight Technique And How To Do It Yourself
Since doing highlights depends on your style and color preference, there’s no single way to do it correctly.
But there are different styles you can opt for, each with a unique technique and end result.
Here are two easy ways you can try at home, even if you’re a beginner:
Using a highlighting cap
If you have no idea where to start highlighting, you might want to use a highlighting cap, which is just a plastic cap with dots on it.
They usually come in kits, which include a hook to help you section out your hair.
This is a dummy-proof way of highlighting your hair because the cap leaves little to no room for error.
Here’s how you do it:
- Put on the plastic cap and sit in front of the mirror.
- Guided by the dots on the cap, use the hook to poke holes and pull thin hair sections out of the plastic cap. Remember that the more hair you end up taking out of the cap, the lighter your overall look will be.
- Once you’re satisfied with the amount of hair peeking through from the cap, get your lightening mixture ready.
- Brush your lightener through each section of exposed hair, making sure to saturate them thoroughly.
- Wrap the coated sections of your hair close to your head or fold them in foil. Let it sit for as long as the instructions on the lightener say.
- Jump in the shower and wash your hair with shampoo, carefully taking off the foil and shower cap in the process.
Babylights and sliced highlights
Another more traditional way of doing it is by sectioning the strands yourself with the long, narrow end of your highlighting brush.
You can either do a fine “weave” when separating the hair or take chunkier pieces of hair to lighten.
Either way, don’t highlight too many at a time.
Patience is a virtue.
Here’s how to do it right:
- Part your hair down the middle.
- Take the end of your comb and start separating fine locks of hair you want to lighten, starting at the hair part. The finer the tresses, the more natural your highlights will look.
- Take a piece of foil and place it under the hair you want to lighten.
- Start painting lightener onto the hair on the foil. When it’s all saturated, fold up the foil and flip it over to the opposite side of the head.
- Don’t take a new section to highlight right away. Take some of the hair with the end of your comb and flip it to the other side of your head so that it’s right on top of the foil you just worked on. You will essentially skip layers of hair to lighten so that your natural color will still be the prominent shade.
- Do steps 2-5 a couple of times, working your way down from the hair part.
- Repeat the process on the other side of your head until you’re satisfied with the amount of hair lightened in foil.
- Let the lightener set in your hair and then wash your hair in the shower, taking off all the foil carefully.
Coloring And Toning Your Highlights
The last step of highlighting that can make or break your finished look is toning your highlights.
This gives the final, magical touch to your hair color that has the power to transform a look entirely.
Sometimes, lightening won’t be enough to give you those vivacious, flattering highlights you prefer.
You could bleach your hair and end up with highlights that are too yellow or orange.
But many people prefer blonder, more silver tresses, or even go for a burst of red or purple if they’re feeling adventurous.
That’s where toning comes in.
It’s for neutralizing brassiness in your lightened hair, enhance it if you prefer a more golden glow, or even ash it out for a cool, silver tone.
It’s important to note that toning your hair doesn’t lighten your tresses even more – that step’s already done.
Toning is all about “coloring” the parts already bleached with a demi-permanent toner to get the undertone you want.
If you’re lucky, your highlighting kit will have a toner as well.
Just mix it up in one of your bowls and paint it on your highlighted hair with a clean brush.
You don’t have to use foil to do this anymore, unless you feel the need to be more organized with your sectioning.
Sit back and relax, allowing the toner to set into your hair for as long as the product’s instructions say.
Wash Your Hair
Do one final wash with shampoo and conditioner.
I would recommend that you use the shampoo that came with the product.
You could also use purple shampoo if you’re going for a cooler-toned look.
After this, rinse your hair until all the dyes come out.
The conditioner helps to trap in more moisture for hydration.
Hence, let it sit in your hair for about three minutes.
Finally, air-dry your hair or use a blow dryer to dry your hair.
You can then proceed and check the result in a mirror.
A warning, though, it is possible that the highlight is a little off.
Not to worry, correction should set in after one or two washes.
If you are not satisfied with your result, you can repeat the process.
However, I will advise that you don’t if you can avoid it.
In any case, make sure your stylist is on speed dial for consultation.
Natural Ways To Highlight Your Hair From Home
There is always the risk of chemicals like dye and bleach harming your hair if instructions are not followed to a T.
Thus, there are natural ways that you can highlight your hair.
These methods are safe, not just for your hair, but also for the environment.
It doesn’t look much, but chalk is an effective way to add color and fun to your hair’s appearance temporarily.
It is easier to dye your hair into a lighter or darker color.
Plus, it is temporary and not permanent.
If you have light hair, the color will last a few washes and will come out in a few days.
The flavored drink is another natural way to highlight your hair from home.
Kool-Aid is handy for adding colored streaks of green, pink, green, and purple highlights to your hair.
To use, boil the water in a small pot and add up to five packets of Kool-Aid.
Make sure you use the sugar-free ones and stir until it dissolves into clear water.
Then, transfer it into your hair with a paintbrush and let the color sit in for about fifteen minutes.
You can then rinse it and rock the result for a few days.
Lemon juice comes with natural bleaching properties.
As a result, it is ideal for highlighting your hair without the side effects that bleach is known for.
Squeeze lemon into a bowl to make juice and apply the juice to your hair.
Start from the root of each strand, and let it sit for about 30 minutes.
Do it outside in the sun so that you can have an effective result.
Do note, though, that lemon works better on lighter hair.
If you want to use darker hair, the result might be a brassy or orange highlight color.
Brunettes will find chamomile tea handy for giving lighter tones to their hair.
Like you did with the Kool-Aid, boil the tea in a pot and let it cool.
Condition your hair and use the tea to rinse out the conditioner.
Then, let it sit in the sun for a while and watch the result.
Caring For Your Newly Highlighted Hair
Getting highlights more often than not leads to dry, brittle hair, as with any case of bleached and processed styling.
It can be quite distracting at first, but with the right changes to your hair care regimen, you can bounce back with strong, healthy hair that gives your highlights more oomph.
One thing you should do is switch to a sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner.
Sulfates can break down color and pigment, so it might fade your toned highlights earlier than your next touch-up.
Purple shampoo is also a great option to maintain ashy, silvery tresses.
To replenish moisture in your hair, give your hair a deep conditioning treatment religiously every week.
This helps to nourish the hair with the hydration and vitamins it needs to be soft and silky again.
Finish off your hair care routine with a light hair serum with UV protection.
The sun’s UV rays can fade colored hair faster, so protecting yourself against them can help your highlights’ longevity.
When your hair grows and the roots don’t seem to blend naturally with the highlights, do some touch-ups, focusing only on the top of the head.
I recommend you do this every 2-3 months.
If you’ve been wondering how to highlight hair at home yourself, there you have it.
Everything you need to know to highlight your hair at home with confidence and maintain that gorgeous contrast in your hair so you can flaunt it as long as you can.
Whether you’re an experienced highlights enthusiast challenging yourself to do your balayage on your own, or a first-timer too intimidated by an expensive salon, I hope some of these tips and steps have helped you out.
And remember, the best way to highlight your hair besides the methods described above is to start small and keep it simple.
Interestingly, you can always add more when you feel like it.
Hence, stay minimal, and don’t be shy to ask your colorist for help if this is your first time.
Anything beyond this, I am sure that your hair will turn out fine.
Good luck painting on those pretty highlights!