Highlights, lowlights what are they, and are they for you?

June 21, 2013
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By Alana Larsen

Dawn has dark brown hair. She is so bored with it but she really does not want to make a commitment to coloring her hair every four to six weeks. She asked me what she should do. I suggested highlights.

Dawn gasped; she thought I was suggesting light blonde highlights, which would look awful on hair that is as dark as hers. Dawn had me thinking: how many people think that highlights means light blonde highlights?

I would like to explain highlights and lowlights. We are not explaining Ombre, or chunking, which is a much more dramatic coloring technique; we just want you to know about classic highlights and lowlights.

Highlights and lowlights are a process using foils to separate strands of hair so that color may be added to those strands. There are other methods of highlighting using a cap or painting the hair. We find that using foils give us much more control so that the client gets a more natural look. The color goes exactly where the hairstylist wants it. If a lighter shade is desired, the color is lifted from those strands of hair and that is called highlights. If the client wants a darker color blended through their hair, then that is called lowlights.

To give hair a more natural look, we usually stay within two or three shades of the client’s base color. This will also keep the maintenance low, anywhere from two to six months.

There is a lot of room for error in highlighting and lowlighting. The thickness of the hair used for the streaks must be just right as well as the tones and shades used for color. Therefore only an experienced professional should be trusted or you could be crying yourself to sleep because you have ruined your hair!

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OK, here are some guidelines – however, the final decision should be made with an experienced hairstylist so you can both decide what will look good on you:

Platinum Blonde: This is a hard color for most people to wear. It can look harsh on mature people. A medium blonde woven through the color will soften the platinum.

Medium Blonde and Dark Blonde: This is a great base color for highlights. By adding some light blonde shades to give you that sun- kissed look or blending in some exciting coppery tones you can really give this base color some spark.

Dark Brown: For my friend Dawn. Pieces of caramel throughout the head look great. Some bright auburn color will spice things up as well. With these shades it is wise to start the color a little off the scalp so the color blends easier.

Auburn: A very warm color so you want to keep it like that, by using coppers or a yellow orange tone.

Red: There are so many shades of red. This also falls into the warm-tone category. If you have a dark red hair try some copper blonde highlights. If you have light red hair, try some dark red lowlights to tone down any brassiness.

Black: As with platinum, black is a very hard color. It is beautiful if one is young and the black is natural, but as we mature black looks fake and hard. If you are a mature person using black color, try using dark or medium brown for your base color. If you have natural black hair and you would like more dimension, try blending in other colors, such as chocolate brown, rich copper or caramel.

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What about gray hair? That’s a tough one. I have not seen highlights on gray hair that look very good. If you can carry a very light color I would suggest a heavy highlighting of platinum. Your best bet is to color your hair to a flattering shade and then highlighting that color. Yes, it is more maintenance but you will look 10 to 15 years younger and it’s cheaper than plastic surgery.

Still not sure about taking the plunge with highlights or lowlights? Try a hair brightening. This is done by framing the front of your face with highlights, which is a more conservative and economical way to explore highlights.

One color hair is flat and boring. Why not add some dimension to your hair with highlights or lowlights and then let the excitement begin!


Alana Larsen is the owner of Alana’s Salon, 731 River Road, Fair Haven.

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