There comes a time in every woman’s life when she stares into the bathroom mirror and feels exactly zero emotions about her hair. Instead of appreciating her length or brilliant color, her mane just seems to fall flat.
If you’re daydreaming about putting a little pizazz in your ’do, we have the perfect solution for you. Dying your hair blonde or red isn’t the only way to change up your look. Lowlights and highlights, small sections of darker and lighter hair strategically placed all over the head, add visual interest and the illusion of extra depth to your mane.
Instead of panicking and choosing to cut a bob you’ll immediately regret, try to elevate your hair color first. No one knows the miracles of lowlights better than L'Oréal Professionnel artist and brand ambassador Laura Gibson, who spends her days working as the color director of Washington D.C.’s Cavalry Salon.
Gibson broke down the basics of lowlights for us, and we’ll be surprised if she can’t convince you to try them in your own hair. What do you have to lose, other than a hair color that isn’t cutting it?
What are lowlights?
If highlights are pieces of hair dyed slightly lighter than the rest of the head, then lowlights are their opposite. These strands should be at least a shade or two darker than your base color, contrasting against the rest of your hair.
Think of the way an object looks in bright sunlight. Without a sharp, deep black shadow to set it off, how could you possibly perceive depth? Lowlights create the same sense of depth, appearing like the shadowy under layer of your impossibly thick hair.
Why does anyone need lowlights?
Nobody needs lowlights, but we highly recommend taking them for a spin. If your hair color seems to fall short of expectation or you’re not loving how thin it looks in photographs, lowlights are probably the right choice.
There’s a second, entirely different reason to consider making lowlights a part of your life: They can help make a new hair color more wearable. If you’re totally besotted with icy platinum hair but worry the shade will wash you out, lowlights can make the look less dramatic.
Instead of feeling like your mane is wearing you, you’ll be surprised at how wearable a transition shade makes the color.
What’s the trick for getting the best lowlights?
Although lowlights should be darker than your base hair color, don’t mistake that for instructions to dye the bottom layer of your hair near-black.
“Lowlights don't necessarily have to be a dark shade,” Gibson explains. “It could even be a medium blonde shade for a very light blonde.”
During your salon hair color consultation, your colorist can help you identify the optimal lowlight shade for you.
“Ask the stylist what colors go well with your skin tone and eye color,” Gibson says. “Hair color is like makeup—you should use it to enhance your features.”
Because your stylist will determine how your color turns out, it’s important to enlist the right person for the job. Gibson recommends looking over your colorist’s Instagram social media portfolio before ever booking an appointment.
What’s the biggest lowlight mistake?
According to Gibson, the only thing to avoid with lowlights is creating too much of a contrast between the lightest color in the hair and the darkest. The result is stripy, ‘00s-era hair that feels dated.
To ensure you’re getting the most flattering lowlights, stick to highlight and lowlight colors that are three to four shades apart. The result will be a cohesive, blended look—not tiger stripes that might get you mistaken for an escaped zoo animal.
If you’re starting off as a blonde, Gibson also advises staying away from lowlights along your hairline. Keep them toward the mid-lengths and ends of the hair, instead.
What kind of damage will happen to your hair?
Interestingly, Gibson explains that lowlights cause less damage to hair than highlights do.
“Lowlights typically are done with a demi-permanent or a permanent hair color, which can beis less damaging on the hair than a highlight,” she says.
Still, all hair coloring techniques leave the hair at least a little weaker. If you’re planning to schedule an appointment for lowlights, take this time to give your mane a little TLC. Step back on the heat styling, and treat your strands to an extra hair mask or two.
Wondering why care is so important? Damaged hair is highly porous, which means it easily absorbs both moisture and color. It can also pick up too much color or unwanted, muddy shades during the lowlighting process.
What products can help maintain your lowlights?
The pro colorist also recommends asking for a L'Oréal Professionnel Pro Fiber treatment to help your mane feel more pampered and look more beautiful. That’s a cause every hair lover can happily get behind.
“Your color will look its best when you protect and nourish it,” Gibson adds.
Still, the number one rule of dying your hair is that half the work happens in your home. Your colorist can ensure you leave the salon chair looking like an ethereal goddess, but maintaining the shade is on you.
To make the process easier, invest in a haircare system (that’s a shampoo, conditioner, and occasionally a hair mask) that promises tohelps protect color and reduce the appearance of damaged strands. That’s all there is to it.