Main content

Highlights Vs. Lowlights: Which Is Best For You?

photos of women with highlights vs. lowlights

As often as you sit in a colorist’s chair, it’s still easy to get lost in all of the salon lingo. From babylights to strandlighting, even we find ourselves researching the different salon techniques from time to time. If any two color services still leave long-time salon goers scratching their heads in confusion, however, it’s highlights and lowlights. Though the popular services have been around for ages, there are still so many burning questions surrounding them.

Trying to decide between highlights vs. lowlights? Lori Zabel, Redken artist, weighs in on exactly what each service is and how to decide which one is right for you. Whether you’re looking to add depth to your ash blonde hair or lighten and brighten your dark brown strands, keep scrolling for everything you need to know.

What are highlights?

Highlights are small sections of hair that are lightened using foils or a hand-painted technique to contrast your base color , adding brightness and dimension throughout your mane. To achieve highlights, your colorist will need to use bleach to lift your hair up to two shades lighter.

If your base color is brown, your highlights could be light brown or even blonde...If your base color is blonde, your highlights would incorporate lighter blonde shades.

If a full head of highlights conjures images of the chunky blonde streaks of the ‘90s, fear not! Your stylist will carefully lighten select sections to ensure your look is blended and seamless. A traditional application using foils isn’t the only way to get a highlighted look, however. Many popular highlighting techniques, such as balayage, can help you achieve the same result.

What are lowlights?

While highlights add lightness to any base color, lowlights offer the perfect contrast. Using the same technique as traditional highlights, your colorist will strategically foil or hand paint pieces of hair to give your look dimension and depth.

“A good way to describe the effect of lowlights is how you look better in a white t-shirt when you have a bit of a tan, then when you don’t,” Zabel explains. “It’s that same contrast that makes the lighter pieces of your hair look brighter, just like how your white t-shirt looks brighter against your tan.

If you’ve opted for all over color but feel your strands are missing a bit of oomph, your colorist will probably recommend lowlights.

Can you get highlights and lowlights at the same time?

If you’ve ever scrolled past a photo on Instagram of perfectly blended, multi-tonal strands, it’s probably a blend of highlights and lowlights. According to Zabel, asking your stylist for both can give you a killer look with tons of depth.

“Adding dimension with lowlights gives your hair some texture and makes it look brighter,” Zabel explains. “It also helps create a more natural grow out, so it’s good for anyone who wants a low-maintenance look.”

How do you care for highlights and lowlights?

As much as we love the look of highlights and lowlights, the popular color services can get pretty expensive. If you want to save yourself some time (and serious coin) spent at the salon, maintaining your highlights or lowlights with an at-home care routine is essential.

“The same way you wouldn’t wash a designer dress in dishwashing soap, [if] you invest in getting a great hair color, you should use products will keep it that way,” Zabel says.

The pro recommends kicking off your routine with a shampoo and conditioner system formulated for color-treated hair like the Redken Nature + Science Color Extend Magnetics Shampoo and Conditioner. This sulfate, silicone, and paraben-free line is formulated with naturally-derived ingredients and features a gentle, non-stripping formula to enhance vibrancy on color-treated hair.

If your next salon appointment takes you into ash blonde territory, subbing in a purple shampoo and conditioner twice a week is a must to keep your hue brass-free. Zabel loves Redken Color Extend Blondage Shampoo and Conditioner. This toning and strengthening system will help keep your blonde brighter and healthier.

Any color service might make your strands look and feel weaker—particularly if your colorist uses bleach to lift your color. That’s why you should use a quality hair mask once a week to rejuvenate your strands a bit between touch-ups. Redken Color Extend Magnetics Mega Mask is a two-in-one hair mask that is both a treatment and care extender designed specifically for the color care of your color-treated hair.

Now that you have the full breakdown on highlights versus lowlights, you’re ready to decide which one is right for you.

Interested in trying highlights or lowlights for yourself? Use our salon locator to book an appointment at a salon near you.

Take Our Wedding Hair Quiz

Orientation message
For the best experience, please turn your device