How-to (Beauty)

Sexy Highlights at Home

Lucky How-To
Cannonieri & Fortis
The happiest haircolor—a few streaks here, a few there—is simple to do yourself.
The haircare equivalent of a hot new bag or great pair of shoes, highlights can change your whole look—or simply brighten everything up—without the commitment of a major color change. And while it's easy to let the pros do it in a salon, it's also now much simpler to do them at home, saving both money and a serious chunk of time. "Highlights should be a no-brainer," says Giselle, a colorist at Manhattan's Pierre Michel Salon.

Step 1: Start with your natural haircolor

"A lot of women think their hair is darker than it actually is," notes Marcello Paglionico, a colorist at New York City's Warren-Tricomi Salon who consults at Garnier. "That's especially true if it's lighter at the ends: All of my dark blonde clients insist that their hair is brown." Once you know your natural color, you'll have a good idea where you can take it.

Step 2: Select the right shade

  • Think beyond blond … "I love golds and coppery highlights on redheads," says Giselle. "And on dark hair, golden, honey, and chestnut browns look gorgeous."
  • If you like a subtle effect … "Go two shades lighter than your base," advises Paglionico. "That way, roots are less of a problem. For a first-timer, it's not too dramatic, and it looks good on everyone."
  • If you want major, standout color … Aim three to four shades above your natural shade, and commit to maintenance. "The more obvious the color, the more you need to retouch," says Paglionico. "If you have dark hair, the lighter you go, the more gold it'll get—it can get orangey or yellow."
  • "Go ahead and express your inner blonde," says Julia Youssef, Executive Director of Consumer Products Divisions Technical Center for L'Oréal in New York City. "Highlights are inherently fun."

Step 3: Choose a cream

A spray-on is hard to control, and a liquid is too runny. "Creams don't drip, they stay where you put them, and they have conditioner," Paglionico says. Some creams make it even easier: "You see exactly where the color is being placed as you're painting it on," says Giselle. Another great tool: highlighting combs. "Tiny wands are tricky to use on long hair," says Giselle. "But combs really hold the color—so you don't get a stripy effect."

Step 4: Applying it

  • Start with clean, dry hair. "Wet hair dilutes the formula," says Giselle. Deep-condition it a week before so the porousness is even.
  • Part your hair normally. "If you have straight hair, brush it smooth," says Paglionico. "If your hair is curly, leave it that way, so the color goes on top of the curls where you want it."
  • Don't mix until you're absolutely ready to apply. "Many bleaches loose their potency quickly," says Youssef.
  • Work front to back. "As soon as you apply the product, it starts working," says Paglionico. "So where you want your hair lightest is where you start. Usually that's the front." Trace a bit along your temples, so if you pull your hair back, you'll have a hit of brightness.
  • Sweep the color from root to tip, in one downward motion, and use a light hand—start with finer pieces.
  • Aim for contrast. "Every light piece needs a dark piece next to it to make it stand out and give your hair texture and depth," says Paglionico.
  • Don't try to do your whole head—unless you've got a friend to do the sections in the back.
  • If you have old highlights, just refresh your roots—don't drag the color all the way down to the ends.
  • For every highlight you place on the left side, do one on the right.

Step 5: Watch the clock

Stick to the time period specified in the instructions. This is especially key for brunettes who want blond highlights: "Because the product needs to go through phases, you could end up brassy or orange if you rinse it out ahead of schedule," says Youssef. "Natural blondes have more leeway."Similarly, don't let highlights set up for too long. "It doesn't stop working," cautions Paglionico. "You can end up with breakage; blond hair can go white, and dark hair can go bright orange."

Step 6: Condition

"Do it every time you highlight," says Giselle. "To make your color last and look more luminous, you need to close the hair cuticle." Many kits come with their own tailor-made conditioners.

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