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The Ribboning Technique Is The Latest Way To Try Chunky Highlights

hair ribboning

I’ll be the first to admit that when it comes to my hair color, I'm not all that daring. I almost always ask my colorist for balayage, a few blonde highlights to give my mane dimension, and a hair gloss every now and then. So when chunky highlights appeared on my google trend search, I was more than a little skeptical. 

Upon further research (aka a few hours scrolling through Instagram), however, I was nearly ready to hop on the chunky highlights train. I discovered a modern technique that combines the natural-looking results of a balayage with the dramatic contrast of chunky highlights. Never heard of the ribboning technique before? We tapped pro stylist Kristen Dunne for everything you need to know before it’s time to head back to salons.

What are chunky highlights?

Think back to those stripey streaks of blonde most of our favorite pop stars had in the ‘90s. Unlike thinner highlights that blend in with your existing hair color, colorists use thicker sections of hair for chunky highlights to create a high-contrast look.

Are chunky highlights coming back?

Chunky highlights are nothing like the streaks you remember from middle school! While chunky highlights are definitely making a comeback, there are tons of ways to make the look work in 2020 that are a bit less dramatic. Number one on our list? The hair ribboning technique.

Photo credit: @all_dunne_up.

What is the hair ribboning technique?

There are so many techniques to achieve chunky highlights in 2020, but the ribboning technique is one of our top choices. Whether you overheard the term at the salon or across the room at a coffee shop, the balayage hype is everywhere. The salon technique involves hand-painting highlights and lowlights throughout hair to create subtle, dimensional color. If you love the look of balayage but desire a more dramatic color change, Dunne recommends the ribboning technique.

“Ribboning is a form of balayage placement that can create a high contrast color or a very subtle color depending on the desired look of the guest and how the stylist chooses to pattern it,” Dunne explains.

Just like intertwining a ribbon through fabric, your colorist will paint color onto larger pieces of hair to create the appearance of ribbon-like highlights throughout your mane. The final look is a balayage with stunning contrast between the lighter strands and a darker base color.

“Balayage normally leaves a soft, subtle finish,” Dunne explains. “When using ribboning placement you’ll achieve bright pops of color, creating a ton of depth and movement within the hair.”

Keep in mind: In order to achieve the perfect ribbon highlights, your colorist will need to use bleach. Though bleach will always lead to damage, a trusted salon pro will work to minimize the look and feel of your hair before you leave the salon.

Photo credit: @tabetha_and_co.

How do you maintain ribbon highlights?

Convinced that you’re ready to take on ribbon highlights? First thing's first: We need to talk about how to care for your color. The amount of salon upkeep your hair will require depends entirely on the final look you choose. If your ribbon highlights are painted closer to your root, plan for a touch-up appointment every six to eight weeks. If you opt for a more rooted look, you can wait up to 12 weeks before heading to the salon.

If you’re brand new to the world of highlighted hair, your new ‘do deserves a revamped care routine packed with color-protecting products. Begin by swapping your regular shampoo and conditioner with a system formulated for color-treated hair. From the L'Oréal portfolio of products, we love the Biolage R.A.W Color Care Shampoo and Conditioner. Formulated with coconut milk and meadowfoam, the system helps protect color-treated hair, leaving it soft and shiny with lasting color vibrancy.

Treat your newly lightened mane to an at-home hair treatment like the Redken Extreme Anti-Snap Leave-In Treatment at least once a week. The leave-in treatment for damaged hair and split ends repairs, strengthens and protects hair shine.

Searching for ribbon highlights ideas? We’ve rounded up seven of our favorite looks to try.

The Best Ribbon Highlights Ideas To Try Now

Photo credit: @ohlucyy.


If you want to add a touch of spice to your look without going completely red, consider ginger for your next big color change. 


Photo credit:


Who says you need long, wavy hair to try ribbon highlights? The technique can also give naturally curly hair tons of dimension. 

Photo credit: @jerica_jandvstudio.


These subtle, ash blonde ribbon highlights prove that ashy hair colors are always a good idea. To keep your ash blonde hue brass-free, be sure to add a shampoo and conditioner system like Kérastase Blond Absolu Bain Ultra-Violet Purple Shampoo and Cicaflash Conditioner to your routine. This system instantly neutralizes brassy hair and yellow undertones. 

Photo credit: @coloredbycaitlin.

Honey Blonde

If you favor warmth over ashy tones, you can’t go wrong with honey blonde—no matter your skin tone!

Photo credit: @xoxo_balayage.

Cold Brew

Feeling bored with your dark brown hair? Cold brew ribbon highlights are the caffeine kick your mane needs.

Photo credit: @hair_by_niamhh .


With just one scroll through Instagram or Tik Tok, it’s obvious that face-framing highlights are in. Ask your colorist for face-framing ribbons for a look that’s extra dramatic.

Photo credit: @hair_bydanalee .

Hot Pink

We get it, subtly isn’t for everyone! If you want to play with a bold hair color, give hot pink ribbon highlights a try.


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