The Complete Guide To Highlights For Brown Hair


Highlights may be most often associated with blonde hair, but they’re not reserved exclusively for blondes. A few strategically placed lighter pieces can look just as gorgeous on brunettes, adding dimension and visual interest to otherwise solid color. Not to mention, the techniques to highlight brown hair are endless. “For the first time ever we can take every brunette and give them a lighter shade that looks good on them,” says Redken Artist Celene Dupuis. Ahead, the lowdown on highlighting darker hair, a few different ways to do so, and expert tips for maintain your stunning new shade. 

Three Different Looks To Consider

Brown Hair With Blonde Highlights

Highlights for Brown Hair
Photo Credit: @laurendoesmy.hair

Putting light blonde highlights on dark brown hair is a recipe for ending up with zebra-like stripes (not a great look for anyone), so this option is best for lighter-toned brunettes. Ask for highlights that are only a shade or two lighter than your base—veering into dark blonde territory—that will create contrast and dimension, without those unwanted harsh lines. “You can also ask your colorist to do a root shadow, darkening the area right at the root ever so slightly, to make sure the grow out is beautiful and there are no stripes on top,” suggests Dupuis. 

Balayage For Brown Hair

Brunette Balayage xoxobalayage
Photo Credit: @xoxobalayage

As compared to traditional foil highlights, balayage is a free-form, hand-painting technique that works especially well on dark hair. Since you don’t get as much lift, it creates a much more natural end result with a subtle grow-out. Because of that, you can go longer in between color appointments, between three to six months, says Dupuis, saving you both time and money. Balayage for brown hair is an especially good way to capitalize on one of the big hair color trends: “We call it ‘the money piece,’ going lighter and brighter around the hairline,” explains Dupuis. “It’s almost like contouring for your hair, bringing out your best features, while still looking soft and natural.” 


Ombre xofarhanabalayage
Photo Credit: @xofarhanabalayage

Popular for both blondes and brunettes, think of this as almost reverse highlights, where the mid-shaft to ends get gradually lighter but the roots stay dark. The big upshot here? It only looks better the more it grows out, so for those seeking an option with minimal upkeep, this is the best bet. Depending on how dark brown your hair is to begin with, it can also make for a more dramatic effect. The key here is to ensure you take good care of your hair, since it’s the ends—the part of your hair that’s already the most damaged—that is being lightened.

How To Take Care Of Brown Hair With Highlights


No matter which highlighting technique you choose, your maintenance M.O. is essential to keep your new hue looking fresh, healthy, and strong. The cornerstone of that plan is a strong product regimen (spoiler alert: we’re talking blue shampoo), coupled with a few in-salon options. Here’s what you need to know.

What Is Blue Shampoo and Why Do Brunettes Need It?


No matter which way you end up lightening your brown base, there’s a risk of ending up with unwanted brassiness. Bleaching brown hair exposes orange undertones, which ultimately can end up coming across as brassy, points out Dupuis. Your best bet for maintaining your new color is to incorporate a blue toning shampoo and conditioner into your product regimen (more on how it works in a minute).While blondes have had the option of using purple shampoo to combat unwanted yellowing for a while, the options for brunettes have been limited…until now. Meet the new Redken Color Extend Brownlights system.

What Does Blue Shampoo Do?

The new Redken Color Extend Brownlights system is a color-depositing blue shampoo and conditioner duo that neutralizes undesired red and orange tones. Think back to the color wheel that hung on the wall of your elementary school art room. On this wheel, blue falls directly opposite orange, meaning that it will cancel out or neutralize the warmer orange.

How Do You Use Blue Shampoo?


It can be used immediately after highlights, or on a weekly basis to keep your highlighted brown hair fresh and vibrant, says Dupuis. Your best bet? Talk with your colorist to see what he/she suggests is the best option for your particular color. Plus, even if you’re a brunette without highlights, you can use this system weekly to keep your natural color 

What Are Some Other Tips For Brown Hair With Highlights?

Any hair that’s been highlighted is innately going to be more fragile and prone to damage. Swap your conditioner for a hydrating mask once a week to give your strands, particularly more brittle ends, a hefty dose of moisture and strength. Popping back into the salon for a demi-permanent gloss is another good option; this will refresh your tone and keep your color shiny, while still being very gentle on your hair, say Dupuis.