Thinking of going lighter with your locks? Highlights for hair can bring out your bone structure and make hair shimmer in the sun, but go the wrong route and the look can turn stripy or brassy very quickly. We asked colorist Kyle White of Oscar Blandi Salon in New York to spell out the dos and don’ts of highlights.
DO frame the face.
With highlights, placement is key. “Always place the brightest and fattest highlights around the frame of the face,” White says. Highlights should be darker and sparser at the root and lighter at the tips—think ombré but way more subtle. “The same way the sun would lighten hair naturally,” he adds.
DO have depth and dimension.
“Over highlighted hair that reads like one color is unsophisticated and flat looking,” White says. Highlights should vary in size and lightness and should accent your base color, not overpower it. Speaking of base color, make sure your highlights match your hair’s tone, White advises. “If you have a warm base, then you should have a warm highlight. If you have a cool base, then your highlights should be sandy or beige, and if it’s a neutral base color then your highlights can be either warm or cool.” Noted!
DON’T add too many different colors.
Although dimension is good, too much variation can look unnatural, according to White. “Never have more the three shades woven in your hair—a base, a highlight, and a low light—otherwise your hair color starts resembling something you’d see on a Rainbow Bright doll.”
DO adjust your highlights with the seasons.
“Highlights should be brighter and paler in the summer when you’re spending more time outdoors and the earth is closer to the sun, casting a more yellow light,” White explains. “Highlights should be deeper and more golden in the winter when we lose our summer glow and the earth is farther away from the sun, casting a bluer light.”
DON’T go too light.
“Don’t ever have your highlights so light that they match your skin tone,” White insists. “This will make you look washed out. You always want contrast between your skin color and your hair color.” Of course, you don’t want too much of a contrast between your base color and your highlights, either. “Don’t ever have your highlights more than three levels lighter than the base color, or they’ll look stripy,” White says.
DO care for your highlights.
Your gorgeous, golden highlights are an investment, so treat them like you would any other prized possession. Follow White’s tips for maintenance. He suggests using a moisturizing, low-sulfate, color-safe shampoo and conditioner and washing hair less often. A dry shampoo such as Oscar Blandi Pronto Dry Shampoo Spray ($25, ulta.com), is your highlighted hair’s best friend. You should also prep hair before heat styling with a thermal protector, such as Infusium 23 Leave-In Treatment ($5, drugstore.com).
White also says you should deep condition your hair once a week. He recommends using coconut oil. To use, microwave a teaspoon of the oil for a few seconds and apply it to damp hair for 15 minutes, then wash out.
Lastly, wear a hat or scarf and use UV protective products if you’ll be in the sun. “The sun fades paint jobs on cars and the cushions on your patio furniture,” White explains. “It does the same to your hair color.” Similarly, salt water and chlorinated pool are also hazardous to your highlights. Before swimming, coat hair with a protective oil. White likes Phyto Plage Protective Beach Spray ($30, beauty.com) as a barrier for the hair. Rinse with fresh water once you’re back on dry land.
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