How To Highlight Your Hair At Home

Smart tips to add fun streaks of color to your hair without having to hit the salon.

Reviewed by Madison DufourMadison Dufour, Barber & Cosmetologist
Written by Arshiya SyedaArshiya Syeda  • 

Going to the salon to highlight your hair means shelling out a bomb and returning for constant maintenance. Instead, learn how to highlight your hair at home, So you can freshen up the color anytime without costing much.

Highlighting your hair has so many more benefits than simply adding a dash of color to your hair. Highlights for hair help you add more depth, vibrance, and dimension to your hair. The right highlights can make your hair look thicker, voluminous, and bouncy! Some highlights even help you frame your face and enhance your facial features. They can boost your appearance and enhance your hair color! You can highlight your strands using temporary, demi-permanent, semi-permanent, or permanent hair dyes or with hair toners. And there are different techniques you can use to highlight the hair, such as balayage, foiling, ombre or a face-framing highlight, depending on the style you desire. So, scroll down and check out how to highlight your hair with traditional dyeing kits and DIY techniques.

protip_icon Trivia
It is said that the ancient Greeks used to add highlights to their hair as early as 4 BC. They applied an ointment made of olive oil, pollen, and gold flakes to their hair, then sat in the sun for hours. Though not effective, it was a technique used for many years.

Essential Things To Know Before You Highlight Your Hair At Home

Before you begin the DIY method of hair highlighting at home, here are some of the critical things you need to know:

1. Choosing Hair Highlights

The first requirement for highlighting your hair is to use bleach or a dye that is lighter than your hair color, based on your hair type, color, and condition. Make sure to choose a color that is one to two shades lighter than your base color. If you go for a much lighter shade, then your high lights can look very stark and unnatural.

Another critical point here is to understand your skin tone and undertone while choosing your highlight hair color. Figure out the surface tone and undertone of your skin and hair (they can be warm or cool, or neutral-toned), and pick a shade accordingly.

2. Popular Techniques Of Applying Hair Highlights

There are many ways of going about highlighting your hair. Below are some of the popular techniques of doing hair highlights at home:

I. Foil Technique

A woman getting highlights done in a salon
Image: Shutterstock

In this technique, the highlights are applied to entire hair sections, which are then folded in foils. It gives you better control over the color placement and allows you to apply multiple colors simultaneously.

protip_icon Did You Know?
The origin of using foils for highlighting started somewhere in the mid-1970s. However, the widespread practice of the technique occurred around the start of the ‘80s.

II. Balayage

This hair highlighting technique involves sweeping a highlight color along the surface of your hair in a freehand style. Unlike the foil highlight technique, this method will not saturate entire sections of hair and will give your tresses a natural-looking gradient.

III. Color Melting

Color melting technique of hair highlighting uses multiple shades to give you smooth and blended highlights with a distinct look. It primarily focuses on blending highlights with your hair’s base color to get rid of any harsh lines between the different colors.

Once you decide on the technique, the process to do highlights at home is quite simple.

Step-By-Step Procedure To Highlight Your Hair At Home

Whether you are going for brown or blonde highlights, there are multiple options for at-home highlighting kits available on the market. Hair highlighting also requires bleaching, and it may take multiple sessions to achieve your desired results.

All in all, there are four ways to highlight your hair to create different looks.

1. Foil Highlights

Image: Instagram

Foil highlights are the most traditional way of doing highlights at home, and this method has been used by hairdressers and DIY-ers for years now. Basically, the highlighted areas are covered with strips of aluminum foils when they are being dyed. This traps the heat and helps the color process faster. It also makes sure that the dye doesn’t bleed onto surrounding hair, thus giving you very precise highlights.

What You Need

  • Highlighting kit
  • Hairbrush
  • Rubber gloves
  • Sectioning clips
  • Hair tinting brush
  • Aluminum foil
  • Rat tail comb
  • Color safe shampoo and conditioner

What To Do

  1. Mix your hair dye according to the instructions given on the kit.
  2. Brush out all the knots and tangles in your hair.
  3. Put on your rubber gloves and part your hair down the middle.
  4. Cut out strips of foil that are 4 inches wide and at least 2 inches longer than the length of your hair.
  5. Divide all your hair into 3-inch x 3-inch square sections and section them with sectioning clips.
  6. Remove the clip from a section of hair that is right at the front.
  7. Now, hold the tail end of your rat tail comb parallel to your center parting and slice it through the upper layer of that section so that you pick up all the surface strands of that section.
  8. Place a strip of foil under the sliced off a section of hair, making sure its end is placed right at the roots.
  9. Apply hair dye on this section of hair right from the roots to ends.
  10. Fold this foil in half by bringing its bottom edge up to its top edge at the roots. Fold it in half this way one more time.
  11. Fold the outside edges of the foil inwards and secure it in place with a sectioning clip.
  12. Repeat this process on all the sections of hair.
  13. Let the dye sit in your hair for the duration of time indicated on the box.
  14. Remove all the foils and wash off the dye with color safe shampoo and conditioner.

2. Frosted Highlights

Image: Instagram

Now before you start thinking if we’re back in the early 2000s and trying those dreaded frosted blonde highlights that men used to sport, let me stop you right there. The frosted highlights I’m talking about are done with the help of a special cap filled with holes that make for easy application. The result you end up with is super fine textured highlights that blend into your natural hair color seamlessly.

What You Need

  • Highlighting kit (that contains a highlighting cap and hooks)
  • Rubber gloves
  • Hair tinting brush
  • Color safe shampoo and conditioner

What To Do

  1. Mix the dye according to the instructions given on the highlighting kit.
  2. Put on your highlighting cap and rubber gloves.
  3. Start pulling thin sections of hair through the holes on your cap with the help of the hook. Be very careful not to stab your scalp with a hook. If there are any abrasions on the scalp from scratches, cuts, or even a poke from a hook, the scalp might become irritated and burn if the highlighter chemical gets into it.
  4. When you’re satisfied with the placement of your highlights, start applying dye to them. Make sure you saturate the sections from the roots to ends.
  5. Leave the dye on for the duration of time indicated on the kit.
  6. Carefully remove your cap and quickly wash off the dye with color safe products.

3. Hair Chunking

Image: Instagram

Hair chunking is for all you ladies who like to go for a more vivacious and dramatic look with their hair. They’re done the same way as regular highlights, the only difference being that they are done on thicker sections of hair. Thus, a stark contrast is created between the natural color and the highlights, which makes for a funkier look.

What You Need

  • Highlighting kit
  • Hair brush
  • Rubber gloves
  • Sectioning clips
  • Hair tinting brush
  • Aluminum foil
  • Rat tail comb
  • Color safe shampoo and conditioner

What To Do

  1. Mix your hair dye according to the instructions given on the box.
  2. Now, just follow the exact same procedure as the one given under foil highlights, with the exception of dividing your hair into bigger sections and slicing more hair off the upper layer of each section.
  3. Wash off the dye after the processing time is up with a color safe shampoo. Apply conditioner.

While you can always use a readymade kit, highlighting your hair without one is also possible. Read on to find out how.

How Can You Highlight Hair At Home Without A Kit?

Woman highlights her hair at home
Image: Shutterstock

Highlighting your hair at home is an excellent way to save money. If you do not have a kit, there is still a way to highlight your hair without it.

Here is how you can do it:

What You Need

  • Gloves
  • Bleach
  • Aluminum foil (neatly cut into small 8×10 pieces)
  • 10 vol. developer or 6% peroxide
  • Mixing bowl
  • Tinting brush
  • Rat-tail comb
  • Mirror

Prep Before Highlights

  1. Detangle your hair.
  2. Wear an old T-shirt as you may get bleach on your clothes.
  3. Mix the bleaching powder and developer by following the ratio instructions on the boxes.

What To Do

  • Divide your hair into three sections.
  • Leaving out the middle section, tie up the two side sections of your hair.
  • Pick up thin sections of hair from the middle section and slice out a thinner layer of hair using the tail of the rat-tail comb.
  • Place a piece of aluminum foil under this thin section of hair.
  • Apply the bleach mixture to the hair on the foil using a tinting brush for even application.
  • Place another piece of foil on top of the first piece to cover the hair.
  • Repeat the procedure throughout the middle section of hair – picking up the pieces that you want to highlight – before moving to the side sections of your hair.
  • Leave the dye in your hair for the time duration indicated on the bleach box. You can keep checking the shade that your hair has reached every ten minutes by removing dye from a small section of hair.
  • Once your highlights have reached your desired shade, wash off the bleach with color-safe shampoo and condition your hair.

If you do not have aluminum foil, there is still a way to highlight your hair at home without it. Here is how you can do it.

How Can You Highlight Hair At Home Without Foil?

You can go for hand-painted highlights if you do not want to use aluminum foil. Hand-painted highlights (also popularly known as ‘balayage’) are all the trend right now and the reason for it is apparent. This gorgeous color technique does not make use of foils to separate the highlights. It blends the highlights so flawlessly into your hair that they look like they grew out of your head that way naturally. Now, balayage requires quite a high level of skill that can only be done by professional hair colorists. But, here is a pretty nifty hack that you can do yourself quite easily.

What You Need

  • Highlighting kit
  • Rubber gloves
  • Flat paddle brush
  • Hair tinting brush
  • Sectioning clip
  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner

What To Do

  1. Mix the dye according to the instructions given on the highlighting kit.
  2. Put on your rubber gloves.
  3. Section away and clip up the top half of your hair.
  4. Coat the bristles of your paddle brush with dye with the help of a hair tinting brush.
  5. Run this brush through a section of your hair from the midsection to the ends of your hair.
  6. Flip the brush and run it through the back of the same section of hair.
  7. Saturate the ends with more dye as they require more product than the top section of your hair.
  8. Keep applying dye to your brush and running it through your hair until you’ve covered all the sections. Make sure you stagger the points from where you start applying the dye by running brush from a little further up on some sections and further down some others so that your balayage blends seamlessly with your natural hair color.
  9. Unclip the top section of your hair and repeat the same dyeing process on it.
  10. Leave the dye on for the duration of time indicated on the box.
  11. Wash off all the dye with a color safe shampoo and conditioner.

The biggest fear people have when highlighting their hair at home is that they will end up with ugly zebra stripes-like highlights. Find out how to avoid this in the next section.

How To Highlight Your Hair Without Creating Zebra Stripes

To highlight your hair at home without zebra stripes, you will need to section the hair well and use a proper highlighting kit. Make sure to apply the highlights evenly and to use very thin sections of hair so that it blends with your base hair color seamlessly.

Using a foil technique helps tremendously with this issue, by using small sections to prevent bleeding or splotching.

Wondering what results you should expect? Find out below!

What Color Should You Expect After Highlighting Your Hair?

Since the hair color and tone vary from person to person, the highlights and level of lightness may vary too. In general, these are the results you can expect:

  • Medium brown hair, without any bleaching, may simply take on a golden hue.
  • Dark brown or brunette hair may turn chestnut brown or orange if you have big color molecules in your hair that are generally harder to break down.
  • Red hair may turn orange or blonde.
  • Dark blond hair may turn light blonde.
  • Light blonde hair, on the contrary, may turn to white-blonde.

Irrespective of the DIY method you choose, you need to follow specific tips and a rigorous hair care routine post highlighting to maintain the look. Read on to know more.

Tips To Follow When Highlighting Your Hair At Home

Here are some of the factors to be considered to ensure a smooth experience of hair highlighting at home:

  1. To get hair highlights that appear to have a natural color, make sure you pick a dye that is no more than two shades lighter than your base color and also belongs to the same tonal family. For instance, if your hair’s base color is warm, the highlights should also be warm and just two shades lighter than the base.
  2. If you are aiming for more contrast, make sure to place the streaks of highlights a bit farther from each other.
  3. The lightest and thickest hair highlight streaks should be closer to your face to accentuate your facial features.
  4. If you want to highlight your hair specifically for an event, do it at least two weeks prior so that the color develops and blends properly.

Infographic: Things To Keep In Mind Before Highlighting Your Hair At Home

Coloring your hair at home can be a stressful ordeal, especially if you are new to it. But there are some pointers you should keep handy that can make the process easier.

Scroll down and check the infographic below to know what you should keep in mind before highlighting your hair at home.

things to keep in mind before highlighting your hair at home (infographic)

Illustration: StyleCraze Design Team

Save the high-quality PDF version on your device now.

Download Infographic in PDF version Download Infographic
Download Infographic in PDF version

The Final Word

Highlights add dimension, vitality, and complexity to your hair. Your hair may appear larger, voluminous, and bouncy with highlights! Some highlights can even be used to frame and enhance the characteristics of your face. They can help you look better and change the color of your hair! The technique can be scary if you don’t know how to highlight your hair at home. Make sure to do your research before deciding on the right color for your hair and the best procedure to get the desired effect. Finally, remember to follow the maintenance guidelines to keep your highlights looking new and vibrant.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the main difference between highlights and lowlights?

Highlights are generally lighter than your natural hair color, whereas lowlights involve coloring sections of your hair with a shade that is darker than your natural hair color.

Do highlights damage your hair permanently?

The process of hair highlighting uses oxidation agentsi  XAn agent that transfers oxygen to gain electrons. The releasable oxygen is necessary to oxidize the hair dye and initiate the reaction mechanism to obtain the desired hair color. and ammonia, which can be harmful to your hair if proper care is not taken. Use hair products that are formulated specifically for damage control to care for color-treated hair. In addition to this, using a good-quality hair serum is recommended to protect your hair from UV rays and discoloration.

How long do highlights last in your hair?

That depends. For instance, permanent highlights last until your hair grows out, while semi-permanent highlights last for 4-6 washes. Temporary hair highlights last for about 1-3 washes. If lightened with bleach or a developer higher than 10% will stay lighter and will not wash out because the color molecules have been chemically removed from the hair.

How can I highlight my hair at home without using bleach?

You can apply a mix of lemon juice and water and expose your hair to the sun rays for half an hour to see visible effects. You may also rinse your hair with apple cider vinegar to highlight and lighten the hair.

Can a hairdresser lighten hair without bleach?

Yes. if you have light brown hair, hairdressers may use different color shades (like platinum and blonde) to lighten your hair color. The dyeing process is usually followed by toning to neutralize any unwanted hues.

How do you highlight the hair with a toothbrush?

You can apply the hair dye with a baby toothbrush. Section your hair and saturate it with the color and wrap it in foil.

Key Takeaways

  • For seamless DIY hair highlights, use a proper highlighting kit, foils, or a cap.
  • Pick the right shade of highlight product and apply it on thin sections of hair to avoid zebra lines.
  • Make sure to apply the color evenly before you wrap the foil.

Coloring your own highlights at home is easy. You just need to know the technique, which you can learn from this helpful video. Check it out!

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