How to DIY Highlights at Home, According to Hairstylists

August 04, 2023
Alanna Martine Kilkeary
By: Alanna Martine Kilkeary | by L'Oréal
Three tubes of the L’Oréal Paris Le Color Gloss One Step In-Shower Toning Gloss against a red background
The mere thought of DIY hair color can seem daunting, let alone giving yourself highlights. But if you’re considering highlighting your hair at home, the good news is that there are ways to make your at-home coloring job look fresh from the salon. Ahead, we chatted with Matrix artistic director Nick Stenson and Nikki Lee, co-owner of Nine Zero One Salon, about exactly how to master at-home highlights. Here’s what you need to know — plus, the products you’ll want to add to your cart ahead of time.

Stick to Balayage

Most highlighting techniques are best left to the professionals, but balayage is a bit easier to DIY. “I recommend only doing balayage (painting on the surface of the hair and processing in open air) at home, not foiling,” says Lee. “Foiling has a risk of bleed marks if the foils slip and can also get too hot and cause breakage.” She recommends reaching for the Garnier Olia Highlights Clay Lightener if you want to try to balayage your own hair. This at-home highlighting kit lightens and brightens hair while still allowing your hair’s natural tones to shine through.
Garnier Olia Highlights Clay Lightener

Avoid a Major Color Change

It’s important to note that “highlights at home should be used for subtle dimension or some pops of brightness, not for a major color change,” says Lee. DIY highlights are best suited to people with naturally light brown to blonde hair who have not colored their hair before. (Attempting highlights at home when you already have artificial color in your hair can lead to an orange-hued result.) If you have darker hair and are interested in a full hair transformation, be sure to schedule an appointment with a professional colorist.  

Apply Dye Using the Teasing Trick

If you love the look of balayage, one such technique to keep in mind involves teasing sections of your hair before applying your box dye. According to Stenson, this highlighting technique will help diffuse the color so that it will seamlessly blend into place. 

Start by taking ¼-inch sections of the hair and tease from about the top of your mid-shaft to the root. Next, apply your color to what is left outside the teased hair sections, which would be from your mid-shaft down to your end. The reason for applying the color this way is to ensure that your highlighted strands don’t appear too heavily concentrated. “The application should be soft and diffused, without heavy amounts of color placed on the hair in certain spots,” says Stenson.

Unsure about what at-home highlighting dye to use? We love the L’Oréal Paris Superior Preference Glam Lights Kit.

Detangle After the Color Sets

When it’s time to wash out your hair after the color has set, be gentle and diligent. “I suggest rinsing out the color first, then using a detangling brush to remove the teasing and applying a deep conditioning treatment, like the Biolage HydraSource Deep Treatment Pack, in the hair while doing it,” says Stenson.

Make Sure the Color Doesn’t Over-Process

“The lightener should be rinsed out when the hair reaches the color of the inside of a banana to avoid over-processing and damage,” says Lee. “Always keep a close eye on the lightener while it’s processing, checking it every five to 10 minutes until the desired level is reached.”

Maintain Your Color With a Gloss

In terms of at-home color maintenance, we recommend incorporating a purple shampoo into your hair-care routine. These formulas help minimize the look of brassy tones and leave color looking vibrant. You can also amp up the brightness and shine post-coloring with an at-home gloss treatment. We love the L’Oréal Paris Le Color Gloss One Step In-Shower Toning Gloss in Cool Blonde

L’Oréal Paris Le Color Gloss One Step In-Shower Toning Gloss in Cool Blonde
Photo: Matthew Kelly, Additional Reporting By: Jordan Julian

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