Highlights Vs. Lowlights: Which One To Get & Styling Ideas

Add complexity and depth to uplift your tresses by using stunning, complementing hues.

Reviewed by Nick Arrojo, Hair Stylist Nick Arrojo Nick ArrojoHair Stylist facebook_icontwitter_iconlinkedin_iconinsta_icon
Written by , BA (Literature & Psychology), PG Diploma Arshiya Syeda BA (Literature & Psychology), PG Diploma linkedin_icon Experience: 7 years
Edited by , MA (English) Asmita De MA (English) linkedin_icon Experience: 3 years
Fact-checked by , MA (English) Bhumika Daga MA (English) linkedin_icon Experience: 2.5 years

People who love to color their hair and experiment with getting that extra oomph often go for any of the two of the most popular and accessible options – highlights and lowlights. We all know that there are endless options for coloring the hair, and highlights have become a well-worn tradition. But what about lowlights? In this technique, a few sections of hair are colored in a darker than natural shade. If you are wondering how both are different from one another and how to choose the perfect shade, we have the answer. Keep scrolling to know more about highlights and lowlights.

protip_icon Before You Get Started
  • Get reference pictures and ask for a test application on a few strands before proceeding. It also works as a patch test to check for allergic reactions to the product.
  • Mix both coloring styles to give your tresses depth, dimension, and a pop of color. It looks great especially during the grow-out process.
  • Highlights and lowlights show up better in curly hair than in straightened hair.
  • Use a sulfate-free, color-safe shampoo, and conditioner, and apply hair masks once a week. Ask the stylist to recommend any other hair products for the maintenance of color.

What Are Highlights?

Highlights are hair sections or strands dyed one to three shades lighter than your original hair color. The main purpose of highlighting is to brighten up the overall hair color and add softness and dimension.

For example, if you have jet black hair, your highlights should be a shade of dark brown or reddish-brown. Brunettes can go for copper or caramel hues, and blondes may opt for a lighter shade of blonde or platinum.

There are two ways to highlight your hair. You can get them hand-painted into your hair (which is now the famous ‘balayage’ technique), or you can go the more traditional foil route. In the latter method, aluminum foil pieces are used to separate the highlighted hair sections and warm up the product for a better color payoff. This prevents the color from getting on the surrounding hair and gives you the look you are aiming for.

protip_icon Quick Tip
The ancient Greeks may have tried to add highlights to their hair as early as 4 B.C. A person would coat their hair with an ointment composed of pollen, olive oil, and gold flakes before spending hours in the sun. Although it wasn’t particularly effective, this method was employed for a very long time.

What Are Lowlights?

Lowlights are the opposite of highlights. In this technique, the hair sections are colored one or three shades darker than your actual hair color. Lowlights add depth and dimension to your hair, making it look thick and full.

People usually go for lowlights after highlighting their hair a few times to add some of the colors back to their overly lightened strands.

Lowlights uses the same coloring techniques as balayage and tinfoil techniques. The result may look like “highlighted hair,” but it may not be so. Now that we know what highlights and lowlights are, let’s look at how you can differentiate between the two. Scroll down to find out!

Highlights Vs. Lowlights: What Is The Difference?

Difference between highlights and lowlights
Image: Shutterstock

In many ways, these two hair color techniques are the opposites of each other. Let’s look at some of the significant differences between highlights and lowlights:

  • Highlights generally look better on dark hair (like shades of brown and black), and lowlights have a more prominent effect on lighter hair (like shades of blonde and light brown).
  • This may be a dampener on your hair coloring dreams, but highlighting damages your hair as it involves bleaching to lighten your hair color. Lowlighting, however, requires depositing color onto your hair to dye it the shade you want.
  • Though both highlights and lowlights add dimension to your hair, highlights add more movement to it and give it a sun-kissed effect, while lowlights are great for adding depth and volume to your tresses.
  • When you should be sporting highlights or lowlights also depends on the season. Highlights usually look better with summer styles as they give your hair that perfect sun-kissed look. On the other hand, lowlights work better during the winter due to their darker coloring.

Now that you know the difference between lowlights vs highlights, let’s figure out in the following section which one you should get.

Highlights Or Lowlights: Which One Should You Get?

 You can get highlights or lowlights depending on two things:

  • Your Original Hair Color: If your original hair color is dark (black, red, auburn, shades of dark to medium brown), go for highlights. If it’s blonde, go for lowlights.
  • If Your Hair Is Colored: If your hair is bleached to a lighter shade and you want to add depth to it, go for lowlights. If your hair is colored darker than your actual hair color, go for highlights to add dimension and movement.

Eva Gutowski, a food, fashion, and beauty blogger, shares her tips on lowlighting hair extensions if one is hesitant to color their own hair. “My advice to you if you’re lowlighting extensions or even your own hair is to never overestimate your product. I got some pretty dark colors for going from blonde to dark brown, and when I put the product on my extensions, [it] turned a deep brown/black color. But when the product is washed off, it’s not nearly as dark as when the product coated it. My hair took two rounds of lowlighting (i),” she observes.

But is it necessary to choose either one of them? Find out in the next section.

Can You Mix Highlights And Lowlights?

Yes, you can! Rather, your stylist may mix two styles to make your hair look voluminous and trendy for much-need hair enhancement. If you want a multi-dimensional hair color with multi-colored highlights, your colorist will use various hair shades to highlight and lowlight certain sections of your hair. The result? Effortless pizzazz that looks fabulous on everybody. Celebrity Stylist Nick Arrojo adds, “A great hairstyle becomes even better when it’s complemented by great color. If you want to look more polished, more pulled together, and more modern, then great hair color does that for you. It’s an opportunity to brighten up your best features. Hair color tends to draw more attention to your face, especially the eyes. Color creates magic.”

If you have not jumped off your chair/couch yet, here are a few hair styling ideas for highlights and lowlights that will certainly get you moving towards the nearest hair salon. Scroll down!

Top 8 Styling Ideas For Highlights

1. Auburn Highlights For Brown Hair

Auburn Highlights For Brown Hair
Image: Shutterstock

Add auburn highlights to your brown hair or go a shade or two darker than your base color to effectively get lowlights on brown hair for a completely captivating look. You’ll end up with a shiny mane. The auburn highlights add a bright sun-kissed orange hue to regular brown hair. Amp up the attractiveness to new heights with layers and waves.

2. Soft Blonde Highlights

Soft blonde highlights for honey blonde hair
Image: Shutterstock

Now, here’s a great highlight idea for all you ladies with blonde hair. Brighten up your global honey blonde color by highlighting it with a light golden blonde shade. Cut and style it in a long wavy bob to transform into a total beach babe.

3. Milk Chocolate Highlights

Milk chocolate highlights for medium brown hair
Image: Shutterstock

If you have medium brown hair, these highlights will do wonders for you. Go for a light milk chocolate brown shade of highlights to complement your brown tresses. Curl the lower half of your hair to enhance the movement and dimension already created by the highlights.

4. Caramel Highlights

Caramel highlights for mahogany brown hair
Image: Shutterstock

Here’s a gorgeous highlight style that you won’t be able to get enough of. Caramel highlights have a richness to them that cannot be recreated by any other shade. Go for this shade on mahogany brown hair and slay everyone with your gorgeous hair game.

protip_icon Quick Tip
For an effortlessly elegant style, try a shag with caramel highlights. The shag haircut is achieved by cutting shorter layers on long hair to give you volume and texture.

5. Bronze Balayage Highlights

Bronze balayage highlights for auburn hair
Image: Shutterstock

Remember the balayage technique? That’s what’s been done here to create this stunning hair look. Highlight the lower half of your auburn hair with a beautiful bronze to create this gorgeous contrasting style.

6. Sun-Kissed Highlights

Sun-kissed highlights for jet black hair
Image: Shutterstock

A great thing about having jet black hair is that no matter what shade you highlight it with, it is bound to look awesome. These dull gold highlights look like they were molten and dripped down her dark tresses to create a mysterious and sultry effect.

7. Peek-A-Boo Highlights

Peek-A-Boo Highlights
Image: Shutterstock

Burgundy peek-a-boo highlights on dark brown hair inject a bold and sultry dimension into the overall look. These rich, wine-colored accents add depth and warmth, creating a striking contrast against the dark base. The subtle peek-a-boo placement ensures a touch of mystique, allowing the burgundy tones to playfully emerge with movement. This style is a sophisticated way to embrace vibrancy and individuality while maintaining the allure of dark, luscious locks.

8. Ombre Highlights

Ombre Highlights
Image: Shutterstock

Ombre highlights, a chic trend, blend blonde hues seamlessly into brunette locks, creating a captivating transition. This sun-kissed effect adds depth and dimension to the hairstyle, embodying a timeless and effortlessly stylish look that suits various lengths and hair textures with minimal maintenance.

Like you have so many options to experiment with hair highlights, there are multiple options for lowlights. Here are our top 5 picks.

Top 6 Styling Ideas For Lowlights

1. Light Ash Blonde Lowlights

Light Ash Blonde Lowlights
Image: Shutterstock

Lowlights increase contrast, bringing out the best in the blonde hair. The light ash blonde highlights add dimension to champagne blonde hair, making it look thicker and shinier. For a busy lifestyle, this low hair maintenance color in any length is ideal.

2. Dark Gray Lowlights

Dark gray lowlights for brown hair
Image: Shutterstock

When going for lowlights, you don’t need to stick to the spectrum of your base color. Experiment with shades of multiple contrasting colors. These dark gray lowlights, for example, amp up the movement and dimension of her brown hair to the core.

3. Coffee Brown Lowlights

Coffee brown lowlights for blonde hair
Image: Shutterstock

Tired of your same ol’ light blonde hair? Break the boredom by opting for some lowlights to change your look. Go for some sandy brown lowlights right at the top and around the crown of your head to add some serious depth and color to your monochrome blonde tresses.

4. Mahogany Lowlights

Mahogany lowlights for ginger hair
Image: Shutterstock

An excellent way to add some fun texture and volume to your ginger hair is to go for some seriously dark lowlights. A deep mahogany shade will work like a charm in making your ginger hair look super thick and full of life.

5. Night Black Lowlights

Night black lowlights for light blonde hair
Image: Shutterstock

While you are not supposed to go more than a couple of shades darker than your base color, some rules are meant to be broken. For instance, you could go for some super dark lowlights (almost black) on your light blonde hair to create a luscious and super multidimensional hair look.

6. Transcending Dimensions Lowlights

Multi coloured lowlights for blonde hair
Image: Shutterstock

Seldom do you come across a hair color that you keep thinking about. Multi-colored lowlights are one of them. If you have blonde hair, you can try multi-colored lowlights without damaging your hair. Your stylist will take sections of your hair and deposit various colors, ranging from dark brown and ash to violet and pink. Wash it off at the right time to give your hair depth, volume, and an enigmatic transdimensional look that is tough to look away from.

Infographic: Picking The Perfect Color For Highlights Or Lowlights

If you have thought about getting highlights or lowlights but aren’t sure which color to choose, keep reading. When picking highlights or lowlights, consider your skin tone and undertone.

Depending on the hair color you choose, you may highlight or soften your facial features. You can also pick a color based on your eye color, the current season, your regular makeup look, and your wardrobe colors.

Check out the infographic below to know more about choosing the best highlight or lowlight colors for your hair.

how to pick the perfect color for highlights or lowlights (infographic)

Illustration: StyleCraze Design Team

Adding highlights and lowlights to your hair may add dimension to the tresses. “In the modern world, hair color reflects the ever-evolving hair fashion and hair trends. Dynamic, face-fitting, and youthful hair tint is part of the parcel for the style-conscious because it epitomizes a luxurious look. Ultimately, people love hair color because when your style starts to look dull, the color gives back that vivacious glow,” says Nick Arrojo.

Adding highlights and lowlights to your hair may add dimension to the tresses. The styling ideas discussed in this article may help you if you want to choose highlights, lowlights, or a mix of both. In addition, we have explained the difference between these two types of styling. Check all options available above and select the suitable one for your original hair color. Finally, consult your hairstylist for your required hair transformation, hair care tips, and future hair treatment options, and enlist their help to choose the hair hue. Also be mindful of your hair tone, your scalp, or hair pigmentation situation before going for any of the two. Anyhow, go ahead and get the hair makeover you have been longing for.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which is better: hair color or highlights?

It depends on what style you are going for. Highlights add a subtle dimension to your natural hair color, as opposed to changing your hair color completely. Highlights are also cheaper to get, easier to maintain, and cause lesser hair damage.

Is it better to highlight or color gray hair?

It is better to highlight gray hair rather than coloring it. It allows the gray hair to blend with the base color and imparts a natural look to the tresses.

How long do highlights and lowlights last?

On average, highlights and lowlights last for around 3-4 months. But the longevity also depends on the hair texture and haircare routine.

Can you color your hair if you have a sensitive scalp?

Yes. You will have to prep your hair well, choose the right products, and look for ingredients that could deal with your sensitive scalp.

Are highlights and lowlights hard to maintain?

Since lowlights blend well with the natural hair color, they need comparatively low maintenance than highlights do. Highlights need more attention and care to last long.

Are highlights and lowlights permanent?

No, highlights and lowlights are not permanent. These add a temporary hue to the hair that might not last for very long to be called a permanent color.

Do lowlights make hair healthier?

Lowlights can help make hair healthier because they do not require a pre-lightener. This makes the strands less prone to breakage and dryness.

Key Takeaways

  • Highlights require dyeing your hair a few shades lighter than your natural color to add more brightness to your hair, while lowlights require dyeing your hair a few shades darker to add more volume.
  • Whether you should get highlights or lowlights depends on two factors – your original hair color and if your hair is already colored or not.
  • You can go for options such as blonde highlights or mahogany lowlights, depending on the look you are aiming for.
highlights lowlights hair color

Image: Stable Diffusion/StyleCraze Design Team

Learn the difference between lowlights and highlights and how to explain to your hairdresser your desired hair styling requirement in the video below. Get tips on how to get the perfect look.

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Nick Arrojo

Nick ArrojoHair Stylist

Nick Arrojo is a celebrity stylist, author, and the owner of one of America's biggest indie beauty brands. He is the inventor and pioneer of a creative, precision-based razor-cutting method that shapes fashionable, beautiful, and wearable cuts while offering creative freedom and versatility to stylists. His talent and vision made Nick Vidal Sassoon's youngest-ever Creative Director. He eventually moved to...read full bio

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