What Do Highlights and Lowlights Do in the Hair?


Highlights lighten hair using lighter-colored strands, while lowlights add dimension to hair using darker-colored strands. Using a combination of highlights and lowlights makes the hair color look more natural without the need to dye all of the hair.

Highlights and lowlights work well on all hair colors. To apply a combination of highlights and lowlights to the hair, add a color that is one to two shades darker than the natural hair color for lowlights. Hair stylists typically use shades that are red, auburn or brown for lowlights. The next sections of hair strands are added using a lighter shade for highlights. The shades are added to small sections of hair using techniques such as hair foiling, painting, frosting or chunking.

In hair foiling, a piece of foil is wrapped around the strands to protect the surrounding hair as the color is processed. There are two basic hair painting techniques: balayage and leopard hair highlights. Balayage uses free-form painting for a more subtle, natural look. Leopard hair creates a leopard print design by bleaching and using brown tint. Frosting only lightens or darkens the tips of the hair using a free-form process, while chunking is used on larger sections of hair.