Highlights are often many people’s first experience of colouring their hair, so even if you haven’t tried them yourself, you probably know someone who has. However, it’s safe to say that lowlights still seem to be a bit of mystery to a lot of us.
Below, we’re breaking down the basics of what lowlights actually are and what sets them apart from highlights, as well as sharing some of our favourite examples of highlights and lowlights working together to create stunning multidimensional looks.
What Are Lowlights?
Lowlights are a hair colouring technique that involve dyeing strands of hair darker to add depth and dimension. Because they emulate the different tones that naturally occur in our hair, they’re perfect for breaking up block colours and making those with dyed blonde hair look more natural. They’re also a really great way to test out a darker hue without committing to it all over (kind of like try-before-you-buy!).
What’s the Difference Between Highlights and Lowlights?
In many ways, highlights and lowlights are very similar and this includes the methods used to achieve them. They’re both applied either in the traditional way using foils, or painted on freehand. The one key difference between highlights and lowlights though is that highlights use bleach to lift and lighten, while lowlights take your base colour down a few shades darker to add extra dimension.
Who Should Get Lowlights?
Lowlights work well on all hair types, from curly to straight and depending on your base colour, they can be either super subtle or have a bolder effect. For example, lowlights are especially popular with those with blonde hair looking to transition to dark and even brunettes who want to add depth and movement to their look.
Are Lowlights Damaging?
Truth is, lowlights aren’t any more damaging for your hair than highlights. In fact, the process is pretty much identical, except one applies lighter hues and the other applies darker hues. Simple, right?
It’s also a common misconception that you can only exclusively work highlights or lowlights at one time. Because to create a more natural-looking finish, you really need to employ both of these techniques, so do ask your colourist to combine these two hair colouring processes to achieve your desired look.
16 Examples of Highlights and Lowlights Working Perfectly Together
Ask your colourist the number one thing that their clients ask for and they’ll probably say something along the lines of “I want it to look natural.” The last thing most of us want is for our hair to look like it’s dyed and to do this you’ll need a blend of both highlights and lowlights.
As we naturally have lighter and darker areas of hair, using these two techniques alongside each other makes for colour that’s so realistic-looking that no one would ever know it’s not real! Here are some of our favourite looks that incorporate highlights and lowlights together…
Using a mixture of caramel blonde with lowlights helps to give Jennifer Lopez‘ sunkissed hue a multi-dimensional finish that looks perfect with her large curls.
Cool-toned ash blondes have been in for a while now but it’s easy to overdo it with too many highlights that leave your hair looking too bright and white. Blending light blonde hair with lowlights helps to tackle this problem by eliminating any chances of over-highlighting. Problem solved. Credit: @minthaircrafting
Editor’s tip: If you’re really dedicated to maintaining ashy blonde locks, unfortunately, it’s not just a case of going to the salon once every 6-8 weeks and hoping for the best (although, we wish it was that easy).
To keep your hair from becoming brassy, you’ll need to invest in a silver shampoo (AKA purple shampoo, thanks to its bright violet appearance) like the TIGI Bed Head Dumb Blonde Purple Toning Shampoo. These types of shampoos work to counteract any yellowness, leaving you with that cool, ashy tone you want between appointments.
Hands up who’s loving the metallic hair trend? Because we sure are! This shimmering blend of silvery strands with a more natural brunette base is really stunning, but on a more practical level, it also means you won’t need to lighten or bleach all of your hair, which = less damage and happier hair. Credit: @hairby.ashleypac
As you may have already realised, there are many different options to consider when looking for highlights and lowlights. Hair Queen Beyoncé uses highlights along her hairline help to frame her face, while the deeper brown tones give her hair colour added depth.
Looking to lighten up your brown hair with blonde highlights but don’t want to go too light? This classy toffee hue would work for women of all ages as the lighter areas will lift the complexion for a more radiant, youthful feel. Credit: @hairbysarz
The beauty industry is no stranger to the nude trend, we’ve all been obsessing over nude lips and nails for years now. Now though, the trend has filtered down into hair in the form of not-quite-warm, not-quite-cool neutral shades which promise to work on just about everyone. You don’t need to tell us twice! Credit: @nk_beautysalon
Not quite ready to commit to a full head of highlights and lowlights? Then follow in Jennifer Aniston’s footsteps and opt for a half-head instead.
By leaving a dark base underneath and adding a mixture of yellow-toned shades, Jennifer is able to get the best of both hair worlds.
Copper-haired celebs like Emma Stone and Emma Roberts have no trouble pulling off the fiery hue but if you’re especially pale and worried red tones won’t suit you, you can try adding a few brighter, more vivid copper highlights on top of your normal colour. That way, you’ll get the look without being at risk of becoming washed out. Credit: @hairandmakeupbyjj
Editor’s tip: Red shades are notorious for losing their vibrancy, but don’t let that dash your redhead dreams. Using the TRESemmé Colour Revitalise Shampoo and Conditioner will help to preserve the vibrancy of your shade for longer.
Does the thought of root regrowth put you off the idea of colouring your hair? With the fan fave balayage technique, you can push those worries to the side.
Using a mixture of highlights and lowlights, usually starting from the ear and finishing at the tips, a balayage is the perfect example of a hair hue that can be tailored to everyone.
Nirvana hair and grown-out roots are all the rage this season and luckily for us, highlights and lowlights make it really easy to copy the look. Our hair naturally has some lighter areas (usually around the face and crown), while the under layers (which are less exposed to the light) remain darker.
Is there any hue Chrissy Teigen doesn’t look amazing wearing? We think not. With her medium-length waves perfectly showing off her mix of ash blonde hair and rich lowlights, we think this is the perfect cool-toned hue for spring.
You don’t need to go a fancy vineyard to rock this merlot-inspired hue! All you need is some burgundy lowlights to give your mane a winter update and best of all, it’ll always be mulled wine season where you are. Credit: @hairbymollyshannon
Put off by the idea of having highlights and lowlights all at once? What if we told you there was a way to make it look like you had both, without you actually having to get two types of colour applied?
Let us explain. When you add lowlights a couple of shades darker to brunette hair, your current colour then by default becomes ‘highlights’. Get it? So, you’ll look like you have lighter strands without you actually needing to lighten them. Clever, no? Credit: @trish_aaah
With the change in season comes a change in hair colour. Ditching our warm winter hues for lighter and brighter shades is the given for spring/summer, and this dirty blonde balayage is just perfect.
With dark blonde roots and a seamless transition into golden blonde, this wavy ‘do is summer in a colour.
Forever wishing you were born with Nordic blonde hair? To fool everyone into thinking your bottle blonde is 100% au naturel, try emulating the effect with creamy white blonde babylights (a finer type of highlight) and some ever-so-slightly-darker, golden tones, particularly at the roots.
After all, even natural blondes have a certain degree of ‘rootsiness’, so don’t be afraid to ask your colourist to pull some darker tones through from your roots. Credit: @allurebyilene
Editor’s tip: To really make the most of your blonde, why not try a special wash and care combo just for blondes? The TONI&GUY Illuminate Blonde Shampoo and Conditioner works on both natural and dyed blondes, enhancing highlights and boosting shine for a really radiant finish.