How To Add Highlights To Dark Brown Hair At Home

Highlights are a great way to add dimension to your hair without a lot of damage. They will enrich your already amazing haircut. But getting highlights done at a salon regularly can add up a lot of money. Are you handy with a paintbrush? Why not try doing highlights yourself? Anyone can do it at home by correctly following the instructions.

Highlights Examples For Inspiration

The easiest type of hair highlights to do at home is the balayage a French hair dying technique consisting of hand-painting highlights to create a natural, sun-kissed effect. Luckily for us, this highlighting technique is also incredibly trendy right now.

These tips work best on naturally dark hair, so if you have previously dyed your hair dark brown or have a lot of gray hair, highlights are best left to a professional.

This model's wavy dark brown hair is ever so lightly highlighted with some subtle, light brown highlightsPhoto: Instagram/@samcheevs

We love this no-fuss, understated look. The delicate caramel highlights would be easy to recreate at home with a box dye in the same color. This would be a great look for anyone who wants to change up their look but isn’t looking for anything drastic.

This model sports a head of golden brown highlights on her dark brown wavy hair

Need something a little brighter? Take things up a notch with this golden caramel.

See how having more highlights makes her overall hair color look lighter without having to lighten the whole thing?

This look can also be achieved with a light brown box dye. It’s a perfect spring or summer look.

Brown hair with golden caramel highlights

Why start at the top when you can start halfway? Partial highlights, or ombré highlights, start about halfway down your head and are a fantastic way to ensure easy upkeep.

For this look, you’ll need to lighten your hair with a special lightening kit and toner rather than a boxed dye.

This gorgeous model is rocking all-over golden highlights in her naturally curly 'do.Photo: Instagram/@frogirlginny

Not afraid to go bold? Don’t be scared of a little bleach and go for a full head of golden highlights. This look will brighten up your complexion and warm up your look. All you have to do is take the curls you want to be highlighted and dye them one by one to accentuate the shape of your cut.

Check 25 Best Hairstyle Ideas For Brown Hair With Highlights for more ideas and inspiration of beautiful hair highlights.

Your Toolbox For Perfect At-Home Highlights

Ready to get started on your hair? Make sure you have everything you need first. We’ve compiled a comprehensive list of everything you need to make sure your highlights turn out just how you want them. Read through to see if you’ve got all the bases covered.

1

A tinting brush

A tinting brush setPhoto: killerstrands.blogspot.com

It’s important to have a brush similar that is the same size as the highlights you want to give yourself. The brushes above are made of silicone, but you can use brushes with plastic bristles as well.

First things first, you’ll need something to apply your hair dye with. This should be a small, angled brush that corresponds with the size of the desired highlights – the bigger the brush, the chunkier your highlights will be.

While you can buy brushes specifically manufactured for dying hair with bristles or silicone, a paintbrush or even a toothbrush will suffice.

2

Box dye (option 1 of 2)

Look for a box dye that will work on dark hair, such as this champagne blonde shade from L'oreal

There are two different categories of product that you can use to get at-home highlights. You’ll need to choose carefully based on your desired look. If your highlights are no lighter than medium brown or dark red, you will be able to do them in one step using box dye.

The key to choosing the right kit is to make sure it says “for dark hair” on the box. Usually, the box will have a set of ‘before’ and ‘after’ images for various hair colors. Pay attention to the after image on the dark hair swatch more than the hair color of the model on the front of the box.

Some brands of box dye that cater to those with dark hair include the Schwarzkopf Live Color Xxl Hd Intense Colour, L’Oreal Paris Superior Preference Ombre Touch, Garnier Nutrisse Nourishing Multi-Lights Highlighting Kit, and the L’Oreal Paris Superior Preference Fade-Defying Color + Shine System.

Important note: box dye either won’t be effective on hair that has been previously dyed or it may have undesirable effects.

3

A hair-lightening kit (option 2 of 2)

hair lightening kit

A hair-lightening kit like this Manic Panic Flash Lightning Bleach Kit will come with everything you need to get your hair as light as a golden blonde.

If you have dark brown hair, you’ll need to lighten it first to deposit color. Why? The theory behind coloring your hair is similar to coloring on a piece of paper with some colored pencils. The dye is a colored pencil, and your hair is a piece of paper.

Imagine taking a yellow pencil and drawing on a black or dark brown piece of paper. It doesn’t show up! You’ll have to draw on a lighter piece of paper. Bleaching your hair is like taking this brown or black piece of paper and making it lighter so that your yellow pencil will show up clearly.

This is where developer or bleach comes in. Any box dye that claims to lighten hair will contain bleach. While you can use a box dye that contains bleach AND deposits color, the results can be rather unpredictable. Instead, use a hair lightening product (bleach) along with a special dye called a toner to get the exact shade you want.

Bleach comes in varying strengths – in the world of hair products, “volume” refers to the strength of the product that will lighten your hair. This will vary depending on how light you would like your highlights to be. The higher the volume, the lighter your hair will be.

If you’re not looking to lift much color, you might want to use 20 volume developer. This is the kind that is included in most box dye formulas. However, if you’re thinking about the golden or ashy blonde, it’s advisable to use 30-volume developer.

Your best bet for purchasing a lightening kit is from a local beauty supply store or online.

Some recommended bleach kits include the Manic Panic Flash Lightening 30 Volume Bleach Kit or the Blond Brilliance Highlighting Kit, available at Sally’s Beauty Supply. The kits should include a powder lightener and a creme developer. Some may even include a tinting brush for you!

4

Toner and developer (optional)

toners

A toner can make the difference between DIY disaster and salon-quality hair. These toners from Wella will get your hair to where you want it to be.

This is the magic ingredient that will get your hair looking like you just walked out of a salon. Have a particular hair color in mind for your highlights? Toner will help you get that exact color.

Usually, a toner involves a subtle wash of color that won’t drastically transform your hair color but will change the undertones of your highlights. For example, it can give brassy yellow hair a warm, golden tone, or a silvery, ashy tone.

Once you decide what color highlights you want, you can purchase a toner in the right shade. A toner is especially recommended if you are lightening your hair with bleach rather than a box dye. Wella is a popular brand that makes toners used by professionals at salons. Luckily, it’s only 6 or 7 dollars and can be bought at any beauty supply store or online.

For toner to work properly, it must be mixed with developer. Luckily, you can buy very low volume developer (5 volume) for as little as $2 from a beauty supply shop. Do not use more than 10 volume developer with your toner.

5

A mixing bowl

You will need a mixing bowl such as this plastic black one that you don't care about staining.

Whatever method you choose, you will need a container to hold your dye so you can dip your brush in it.

You don’t need to buy anything – it can be an old plastic hummus or yogurt container, for example. It’s wise to choose something that you can re-use for this specific purpose since you probably don’t want to eat out of it after putting bleach in it. You can also buy a bowl from Sally’s or another beauty supply store made just for mixing dye in.

6

Plastic gloves

This one’s a no-brainer. No one wants to burn their hands with bleach or stain them with dye! Many box dye kits include plastic gloves with them, but if they don’t, be sure to have these on hand.

7

Some old towel and old clothes

When changing up your hair color, hair dye WILL inevitably get on your clothes. Don’t ruin perfectly good shirts and instead wear an old t-shirt you don’t mind ruining. The same thing goes for shorts or pants: you never know where dye or bleach is going to drip.

You’ll also want to use an old towel for the same reason – it’s always for the best to use an old towel to dry your hair and body just in case. It’s also good if you need to wash your hands in the middle of the highlighting process too to avoid ruining any hand towels.

8

Tin foil or plastic wrap (optional)

Don't let anyone tell you what to do with your hair - it's your hair – do whatever you want!

To prevent dye from getting on the rest of your hair, you can use tin foil or plastic wrap to keep the highlighted sections secure. The advantage of plastic wrap is that you can see what color your hair is turning as opposed to having to open the foils every 10 minutes.

9

Conditioner

Since pigment will be lifted, your hair is going to be damaged. You may not even see the full effects of this damage immediately, but you should start taking care of it ASAP. This means using as much conditioner as you need, including regular deep-conditioning treatments.

Use your favorite conditioning product. For some a leave-in conditioner spray can be a godsend. Or, depending on your hair type, hair oils may work in place of a traditional conditioner, such as coconut, olive, or argan oil.

10

A friend (optional)

While you can do it yourself, it’s always better to have a friend or family member to give you a second opinion if they aren’t helping you out directly.

Have someone eyeball the back of your head during and after the process just to make sure everything is even and covered.

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How To Highlight Your Hair, Step By Step Instructions

Save hundreds of dollars by doing your highlights yourself. Go for something simple, like this model's light brown balayage.

With a little common sense and the right tools, anyone can dye their hair at home. After choosing your hairstyle and gathering all of the above items, you’ll be ready to start. Leave yourself plenty of time, especially if it’s the first time you are dying your hair.

Step 1Do a test strip. This is the first and most important step. Always make a small test trip on your hair so that there are no surprises at the end and no expensive trips to the salon. In addition to testing the color, you’ll also be testing the time it takes for you to get your hair to its desired color.

If your dye kit involves mixing a powder and a liquid, try to mix only what you need to do the test strip. Otherwise, the chemical process will not last long enough to do your whole head later. Remember that the color on the box is not a guaranteed result of the color your hair will be.

Step 2Style your hair as you normally would. It may seem odd, but style your hair as you normally would before applying the dye, whether that’s curling, straightening, or blow drying it. That way, you’ll have a better idea of which strands to dye.

Step 3Mix your hair dye according to the instructions. Usually, a hair dying kit will include several tubes or packets that you will have to mix to activate the dye or bleach. Carefully following the instructions included in the kit, mix the appropriate ratio, and stir evenly until everything is thoroughly mixed. Don’t forget to put on your plastic gloves!

Step 4Apply your hair dye! Whether you’re applying bleach or color, you should work quickly since you’ll want all of your hair to develop more or less for the same amount of time. Take a glob of product onto your tinting brush and carefully paint the strands you wish to highlight, avoiding spills. You may want to section your hair with clips or hair ties to make this easier.

See how the highlights are applied in a 'v' and 'w' shape rather than a straight line across? This is the goal for natural-looking highlights.Photo: Instagram/@kristen.lumiere

Do not apply in thick sections!!! Try to keep your highlights to the width of a shoelace. If you want to vary the width of your highlights, you can, but don’t go thicker than two times the size of your smallest highlight. Start with the hair that is closest to your face, then work towards the back of your head.

While you should work from top to bottom, you should do the roots after you’ve finished – just to avoid uneven color. Don’t worry about your highlights being completely symmetrical or the same width, though you should pay extra attention to the ends—be sure to coat them very well with your dye or bleach.

If you are not starting at the root, you can try to create a little gradient where your highlight starts by taking the bleach or dye you’ve already applied to the hair and rubbing it towards your roots in a blending motion with your brush, gloved fingers, or toothbrush. Blend in a ‘w’ or ‘v’ shape rather than a straight line across.

Once you’ve completely covered the desired strands with the bleach or dye, you can keep the product from getting everywhere by wrapping a strip of tin foil or plastic wrap around the highlights if you like (having a friend help you do this is very useful).

Step 5Wait. After you’ve carefully secured your bleached sections away from the rest of your hair, your job is to sit back and let your hair develop. Turn on some Netflix, tackle some emails, or do a load of laundry. The amount of time you let your hair sit should depend on the instructions of the kit and your hair type, but you should check the color every ten minutes.

Balayage highlights like these golden blonde streaks are effortless and low-maintenance.Photo: lookbook.nu

The average time to wait is around thirty minutes. However, if something looks off or the color is as light as you want it to go, hop in the shower and rinse the dye or bleach immediately! If not, let sit for up to an hour. Do NOT keep the dye or bleach on for more than an hour.

After the time is up, it’s time to give it a thorough washing. To protect your clothing from bleach or dye stains, remove your clothes before removing the foils or plastic wrap. Wash well with shampoo and use a deep conditioner.

Step 6Toning (optional). If you’ve got the hair color you want just from the box dye or bleach, congratulations! You’re finished. However, more often than not, the brassy yellow or orange color you will get from lightening dark hair will not be your desired final color.

To get the desired shade, we can alter the undertones of your highlights. For example, if you want to avoid yellow, brassy tones, you should use the opposite color on the color wheel. Yellow and purple are contrasting colors, so we use purple to combat yellow tones.

To deposit the toner effectively, mix the toner with the 5-volume developer and apply to the highlights. After applying and letting sit for 15 minutes or until the desired color has been reached, rinse your hair with shampoo until the water runs clear. If you have blue or purple tinted water, keep rinsing.

Pro tip:

Be wary of over-dying your hair. If you’ve gone from brown to blonde to black hair and want to lighten your hair again to get a highlight, STOP! This is a one-way ticket to your hair falling out and turning to straw. Remember, lightening your hair is permanent! The best thing to do with hair that’s been previously dyed is to leave it in the hands of professionals.

That’s it! Enjoy your new, beautiful look.