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Blonde highlights are the most timeless hair color look in the salon world. The bright, effortless shade brings a hint of summer to even the darkest base color, highlighting the complexion and creating dimension.
If you’ve been considering adding a hint of platinum or ash to your hair, rest assured it’s a good move. We tapped Tracey Cunningham, Redken brand ambassador, to teach you everything you need to know about life on the sunny side of the street. The undisputed queen of the celebrity blondes has a few tricks up her sleeve that will make your blonde highlights the envy of every woman you know.
Whether you’ve never tried salon color or are practically an expert at highlights for your dark brown hair, Cunningham’s expertise will surely teach you something new.
Unlike other hair colors, blonde doesn’t go out of style—particularly when it’s in highlight form. According to Cunningham, that’s because the shade has a brightening, flattering influence on every head of hair.
Highlights, especially blonde ones, can lighten or add dimension to any shade of hair color...Blondes, brunettes, and redheads can all benefit from blonde highlights in some way.
We’ve often heard stylists theorize that our love of blonde highlights comes from the way our hair looked when we were children. Hours of playing in the sun can leave hair with light pieces around the face and at the top of the head. In other words: Many people think blonde highlights are more affordable than a time machine when it comes to reclaiming their youth.
Still, we’re talking about the investment of time and money in a salon color service, which involves a bit more consideration than just lying in the sun all day. Before making the leap for the first time, make sure you’ve had a thorough consultation with your chosen stylist about the end result you desire. When in doubt, the golden rule of being an excellent client is bringing photo inspiration along with you. Although you may think there’s only one way to interpret “honey blonde,” a photograph ensures you and your pro envision the same final product.
When debating coloring your hair, some part of your brain has to consider the risks involved. How long will it last? What if you hate it? Quality blonde highlights should never be frightening.
In recent years, naturalistic hair color techniques have come to replace the super defined tiger stripe highlights of the early aughts. Instead of a highlighting cap, many artists receiving training in French-inspired techniques like balayage and ombre.
Besides looking more like hair color that could grow out of your own scalp (but better), balayage and ombre require less salon maintenance than traditional highlights. Because they’re painted on by hand, they grow out without a visible line of demarcation. That’s a big win for all the ladies who prefer to stretch their hair color as long as possible!
When applied with a balayage technique, there’s also the added benefit that the color won’t dominate your entire look.
“Whether the client’s goal is to change their overall shade or add a little something extra to their natural hair color, highlights are a great way to experiment with hair color without a drastic change or commitment,” Cunningham agrees.
If you try a new shade of blonde and find yourself falling totally in love with the woman in the mirror, take it as a sign that you might be ready for something new and adventurous. Your stylist can offer personalized advice about the best way to transition into your chosen shade—which is part of why it’s so important to communicate and keep them looped in to how you’re feeling.
Once you’re set on trying highlights, it’s time to decide on placement.
Like many stylists, Cunningham believes that placement is the critical factor in attaining beautiful blonde streaks. Placed near the roots, these bleached pieces mimic the natural highlights children can develop from playing in the sun. The technique—often called “babylights”—is a favorite of the celebrity colorist’s.
“More highlights around the face will give clients a lighter look without having to color every strand of hair,” she adds. “I also love a rooted look, so placing a darker gloss near the root blends the line of demarcation, which also allows clients to go longer in between services.”
If you’re trying blonde highlights for the first time, you’ll have to shake the common misconception that more color equals better color. Highlights should work to enhance your base color, add dimension, and create the illusion of added thickness, not take over your whole head. In the hands of a well-trained hair stylist, you’ll see that even the smallest changes will help bring your mane to life.
It’s also crucial to find a flattering shade of blonde for your highlights, one that plays nicely with both your skin tone and hair color. Although your colorist can help, have an idea of the specific hue you’d like before jetting off to your appointment.
“One client might want an ashy shade of blonde, while another wants something warmer and more golden,” Cunningham adds. “I always suggest bringing at least two pictures to your salon appointment to show your colorist exactly what you’re looking for to minimize any confusion when trying to explain your perfect blonde.”
Once you’ve finally attained your dream highlights, your colorist will set you free like a mama bird pushing her baby out of the nest. It’s up to you to maintain the glossy color between appointments.
To create bright blonde pieces, your stylist will likely use bleach to lift the natural color from your hair. While bleach will always damage the hair, a pro stylist will work to ensure you leave the salon with a mane that looks (and feels) beautiful. We recommend an in-salon treatment like Kérastase Fusio-Dose, which your stylist will customize with one of five boosters to help you achieve your hair goals.
At home, Cunningham recommends a hair care system designed explicitly for colored hair. Redken Color Extend Blondage Shampoo and Conditioner. The line's ultraviolet pigment and Triple Acid Protein Complex tone, strengthen, and brighten for a brighter, stronger blonde after using the system twice a week for two weeks. Who doesn’t want a better blonde, even if it’s just highlights?
Of course, care isn’t just about salon quality products. Experts recommend shampooing colored hair in lukewarm water—too hot, and you risk premature fading. It’s also crucial to use a heat protectant before picking up your dryer or curling wand to help preserve that platinum your stylist worked so hard to create. From the L’Oréal portfolio of products, our go-to is Redken Iron Shape 11 Heat Protection Spray.
When it’s time to touch up your blonde, don’t delay getting to that appointment.
“Depending on your starting shade and desired outcome, clients can expect to come in every six weeks to every six months—it varies from client to client! The more drastic the change, the more salon visits you can expect.”
Take note of this! If you have trouble keeping your appointments straight, platinum highlights may not be the optimal choice for you. Instead, a subtle dark blonde will do.
It may seem like a silly question, but many women with natural brunette, black, and red hair question if they can really make blonde highlights work without feeling ridiculous. The answer is yes! With a thorough consultation and a quality stylist, blonde highlights can work on everyone. The real effort comes in finding the right shade, placement, and maintenance level—all of which a trained expert can advise you on.
If you’ve been feeling like your hair is flat or lifeless, or the color you’ve had for years is no longer making your complexion pop, try out blonde highlights for new energy and youthfulness. You may not be that kid running wild in the sun over summer vacation anymore, but you can sure feel like it with the help of a careful color application.
This, too, is the reason we always recommend visiting a trusted stylist instead of attempting to make the transformation happen at home in your bathroom. Rely on a pro who has studied color theory and know the best way to place highlights to make your face look lifted and bright. Plus, who doesn’t want to be pampered in a salon?
With Cunningham’s guidance, you’re set to take on a blonde hair color look. Blonde highlights are about to become the best hair color decision you’ve ever made.
For personalized advice about getting blonde highlights, use our salon locator to book an appointment with a stylist near you.
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