How To DIY Highlights For Dark Hair At Home (Full Guide)

DIY highlights for dark hair

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 DIY highlights for dark hair home by correctly following the instructions.

Worth mentioning, that hair highlighting is not a straightforward procedure. If you’ve got questions about hair highlights, check this link. The article answers various doubts we see popping up in social networks and forums, ranging from “how long do hair highlights last” to as elementary as “whether it’s OK to go swimming after the process”.

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.

Check this color. We love this no-fuss, understated look.

This model's wavy dark brown hair is ever so lightly highlighted with some subtle, light brown highlights

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.

Here’s another example.

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.

This gorgeous model is rocking all-over golden highlights in her naturally curly 'do.

Your Toolbox for Perfect DIY Highlights for Dark Hair

Ready to get started on your hair? Make sure you have everything you need first so that your highlights turn out just how you want them. Read through to see if you’ve got all the basics covered.

1. A tinting brush

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 products 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. A final piece of advice is to use an app for hair color change to see your desired outcome before going all in.

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)

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 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 a 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)


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 the developer. Luckily, you can buy a 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)

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.

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 1: Do a test strip

This is the first and most important step. Always make a small test strip 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 2: Style 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 3: Mix 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 4: Apply 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.

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 5: Wait

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.

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 6: Toning (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 it 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.

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

A Discussion About Colors: What Are The Trending Shades for 2021?

From chunky highlights to ash blonde, you can try many nice and sweet colors this year.

Popular Color Examples

Face-Framing Highlights

DIY highlights for dark hair
Photo: Instagram/@brittanyxavier

This hairstyle allows you to keep the most of your naturally dark hair while only highlighting the strands around your face. This is low maintenance hairstyle that is going to be big.

Cinnamon Highlights

Worn by Prianka Chopra and Negin Mirsalehi, gingerbread or cinnamon highlights on brown hair is loved and very stylish. You can quickly achieve it on your dark natural hair.

Honey Highlights

Photo: Instagram/@negin_mirsalehi

If you have dark hair and you would like to try something new, don’t hesitate to try honey highlights. They will gorgeous on natural chocolate-shaded hair.

Mocha Latte Hair

Photo: Instagram/@thebeigelabel

Are you a mocha latte fan? Now you can have the famous blend of brown, light brown, and honey blonde on your hair. The mixture will add volume and a lot of texture.

Which Highlights are Best for Dark Brown Hair?

When we talk about highlights for dark hair, these are some of the shades that women usually go for.

Caramel Highlights On Dark Brown Hair

Caramel highlights and dark brown hair go well together like a hot chocolate with caramel syrup. This combination will dissolve into a rich mixture on your hair.

Ash Blonde Highlights On Dark Brown Hair

Believe it or not, but with good bleach and right color, you can have ash blonde highlights on your dark brown hair. However, for the best results, you should have cool dark brown hair undertones.

Strawberry Blonde Highlights On Dark Brown Hair

Strawberry blonde is one of those bold shades that many women are not brave enough to try. However, you should definitely match it with your dark brown hairstyle. You can also go for red highlights as well if strawberry is too much for you.

Chesnut Highlights On Dark Brown Hair

Warm chestnut looks absolutely amazing on dark brown. The transition across your hair will make everything seems beautiful and so sleek.

Golden Blonde Highlights On Dark Brown Hair

The golden or honey blonde shade might be the most popular one for highlights. That is because it looks fantastic on both light and dark brown hair.

Auburn Highlights on Dark Brown Hair

Auburn is that unexpected hair color that will look amazing on your brown hair. It will melt into your dark roots and all across your hair lengths.

How Can I Lighten My Dark Brown Hair Without Turning it Orange?

Alongside natural ways to get your light highlights, you can make it look nice and not brassy even with the commercial dyes. However, make sure to know your hair type well before you start.

  • First of all, learn more about your hair color. Every person has a different amount of pigments – pheomelanin for red-yellow and eumelanin for brown-dark colors. The concentration of these pigments can affect the final result of your highlights.
  • When you hunt a dye, make sure to look at the chart in the back. There should be before and after shades. Find the ones that are most suitable for your hair color. And never choose the ones that should make your hair too light. Only two or three lighter shades. That is how you can avoid brassy hair.
  • Don’t let the dye sit on your hair for too long, especially if you have chosen blonde or red shades. Choose the shortest amount of time and always consider removing the dye two or three minutes earlier.

Does Vinegar Get Rid of Orange Hair?

Vinegar is one of those miraculous home remedies that can do so much to our hair. One of the things – it helps getting rid of brassy orange hair. All that you will need for it is a vinegar and water mixture.

You should make a mixture of one part vinegar and two parts water, depending on your hair length. After you have washed your hairs as you usually do, pour the vinegar mixture and massage it to your scalp, roots, and length. Rinse again with lukewarm water.

You can use this mixture a few times a week, depending on how brassy your hair is.

How Do You Do Babylights on Dark Hair?

Natural-looking highlights are great, but babylights are even better. You probably noticed them on many celebrities – from brunettes to blondies.

Baby highlights are white-blonde highlights that create radiant and textured hairstyles. They can be done with a lightening formula and the formula you make for your roots. Even though you might think it won’t be great on your dark hair, babylights suit everybody. You simply won’t go for super blonde babylights, but rather try little lighter ones of your current hair color.

How Can I Highlight My Dark Hair At Home Naturally?

If you prefer a slightly more natural approach, here are some ideas.

#1 Lemon, Conditioner or Coconut Oil

Let’s talk about lemons. Instead of making lemonade, let’s use them to make beautiful highlights on your dark hair. Lemon is one of the most popular natural remedies for highlighting your dark hair.

Lemon is excellent for highlighting your hair. However, it can also easily damage it, so make sure it is mixed with other ingredients. The most basic mix is with distilled water. Make it half-half and pour it over your hair.

You can also make mixtures with lemonade, your conditioner, or coconut oil. These two ingredients will hydrate your hair.

#2 Cinnamon, Olive Oil, and Honey Mask

When you mix cinnamon and honey, you get a miraculous mixture that can lighten your hair up to two shades. You can add olive oil for extra hydration. Make a mask by mixing 2 tablespoons of honey, 1 tablespoon of cinnamon, and 1 tablespoon olive oil.

#3 Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is excellent for your hair overall. It will not only lighten it but also make it easier to detangle, soften it, and remove all the excess oils. Mix apple cider with water and pour over your hair.

#4 DIY Highlights for Dark Hair with Lemon Juice

There are a few ways you can do highlights naturally, using lemon juice. Lemon will not damage your hair like bleach, but it will make your highlights appear delicate.

You can make a mixture of lemon, conditioner, and coconut oil. Another way is to pour lemon juice into a spray bottle and spritz it all over your hair. Don’t soak it in lemon, though. If it is summertime, you can sit in the sun, which will activate the lemon.

How to Lighten my Dark Brown Hair Without Dying and Bleaching it?

There are a few healthier ways to get highlights on your dark hair, rather than bleach it or dye it. Henna, peroxide, and baking soda will make your hair lighter but won’t leave it dry.

Using Henna

Henna is great for women who would like a new hairstyle yet don’t want to use regular dye. The product’s name comes from the plant henna, used to dye hair, nails, skin, even leather, and wool.

You should pick a light shade of henna, mix 3 tablespoons of it with ½ cup of boiling water. Leave it to sit overnight for the best results. Then the next day, apply it to your hair and let it sit there for at least 2 hours. Wash your hair as usual.

Peroxide and Baking Soda

Hydrogen peroxide is a great substitution for bleach. It is not strong as the bleach you usually buy in a drugstore, but it will lighten your hair without damaging it.

Make a mixture of one cup of baking soda with three tablespoons of peroxide and make a paste. Let it sit on your hair for not more than 60 minutes.

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