Highlights Vs. Lowlights: Which Is Right For You?


Changing your hair color doesn’t have to be drastic. As in, you don’t need to make the leap from blonde to brunette, or vice versa, to totally switch up your look. In fact, you can breathe new life into any style with subtle changes by way of highlights and lowlights.

Think of highlights and lowlights as a pop of color instead of a full transformation—they can be use to either brighten (highlights) or deepen (lowlights) your natural shade without doing a full overhaul of the color you’re already working with. They also help add dimension to a single shade, and can do away with any sort of flatness or dullness you’re dealing with in your color. But in the battle of highlights vs. lowlights, how do you choose which is best for you? Aside from talking to your stylist and asking every question you’ve got (because, FYI, a proper consultation is just as important for them as it is for you!), here are some tips on how to decide.

What Are Highlights?

Highlights Example

Highlights are one of the most common hair color processes, and can apply to a number of different processes from foils to balayage. They tend to be 2-3 shades lighter than your base color, so for for brunettes, they can range from honey to golden to caramel; for redheads, something in the strawberry blonde family is usually gorgeous; and for blondes, they air on the side of bright-blonde and platinum. “Choose highlights for a more solid and brighter look,” says Redken artist Laura Carmichael. Depending on the look you want to achieve, highlights can be applied either strand by strand for a glowy, sunkissed look, or in larger panels for a bold, chunky effect. 

What Are Lowlights?

Looking to add some contour to your look? Go with lowlights, which are 2-3 shades darker than your base. They work to deepen your natural hair color, adding richness and dimension to any look. If your hair is looking a bit flat, lowlights can also help you fake some volume in a sort of hair color optical illusion. And if old highlights are looking dull (or if you want to darken them up when the seasons change), lowlights are a great way to give them a bit of depth and drama.  Your stylist may also choose to use highlights and lowlights together in order to make the end result its most natural and effortlessly textured.