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How To Highlight Your Hair At Home Without Ruining It

Don't worry—we got an actual colorist to talk you through it.
PHOTO: (left) instagram/balayageartists; (right) instagram/mastersofbalayage

Look, in the grand scheme of things, I know it doesn't really matter that my roots are growing in right now (like, at all). But considering I have to look at myself on about eight billion Zoom calls every day, I've been considering doing what every professional colorist fears most: attempting to DIY my highlights at home. So if you're like me and the idea of waiting to get your hair color freshened up isn't suuuuper ideal, keep reading for everything you need to know about at-home highlights—including the best kits for your hair color, expert-approved tricks for getting the job done right, and more.

How can I highlight my hair at home?

Alright, before you go all DIY and give yourself a whole head of highlights in your bathroom, keep in mind that most hairstylists strongly suggest waiting until you can book an appointment. "Since highlighting hair involves bleach, it takes a lot of time and knowledge to do it correctly," says Meri Kate O'Connor, a colorist at Tabb & Sparks in Santa Monica, CA. "Your highlights can turn out spotty and orange if you don't know what you're doing and, chances are, you'll need to get them fixed if you attempt them yourself." Hear that, people? Highlights are genuinely best left to the pros—so if you can wait, please do.

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If you've already committed to highlighting your hair at home and nothing can stop you, O'Connor suggests you—at the very least!—just stick to your hairline. "That way, you're connecting the front of your hair to the rest of your color, so it won't look as grown out," she says. Bonus point? If you f*ck it up—which, again, you might—you aren't stuck trying to fix your entire hair. Translation: Don't be overly ambitious; just start small.

Oh, and BTW, if your base color is anything darker than medium blonde, O'Connor says you should stay far away from at-home highlights: "At a salon, your colorist customizes your dye and developer to give you the exact color you're looking for, but at-home highlight kits are kinda like a one-size-fits-all situation." That means it's super easy to end up with brassy highlights when you're attempting it yourself—especially on brunette shades (think: the darker your base color, the more "lifting," aka lightening, your highlights have to do).

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Can I use regular hair dye for highlights?

Nope, and please don't. Unless you're working with virgin, un-dyed hair (in which case, you should definitely stop reading this and book a future appointment instead!), the only way to highlight your color at home is with bleach. Translation: Hair dye can't lift hair dye, so an at-home kit with bleach is kinda your only option. Unless, of course, you'd rather take a natural approach, which brings me to...

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Can I get highlights without bleaching my hair?

Yes! Well, kinda. It's definitely possible to lighten your hair naturally, but you need to have realistic expectations (the first being that nothing will lighten your hair as fast or effectively as bleach). Though you should definitely stay away from DIYs that are spiked with harsh and drying ingredients like baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, or white vinegar, you can experiment with natural ingredients that also help the overall health of your hair, like honey or cinnamon). Natural DIYs aside, you've also got options when it comes to products—never underestimate the toning abilities of purple shampoo!


  1. Gather your supplies

    After you've ignored all professional advice and secured an at-home highlight kit, hang on a quick sec—you'll also need to grab a few tools. O'Connor says you'll need a clean toothbrush or a small coloring brush to help you create those small, precise strokes in the layers framing your face.

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    And even though you miiiight be tempted to grab some aluminum foil from your kitchen, don't—it's way too risky for at-home highlights, says O'Connor, since it speeds up the lightening process and can actually cause your hair to go too light (leading to tons of breakage down the road...yay). Instead, rip up a few cotton balls or squares to place on top of your highlights. Not only will this help isolate your bleached strands from the rest of your hair, but the cotton will also keep the bleach active without drying out.

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  2. Follow the instructions carefully

    Every at-home highlight kit comes with different instructions, so do yourself (and your hair) a favor by reading them diligently before you get started. Following your instructions to a T is the safest way to get the best end result, so forget that YouTube tutorial and focus on your exact instructions instead, k?

  3. Don't overdo it

    Remember: Bleach and hair dye are really harsh on your hair, so if your end results aren't quite what you were going for, press pause before you give it another try. You should wait at least two weeks until you process your hair again—or, better yet, you should see a professional who can tweak your color and get you back on track. In the meantime, the best thing you can do for highlighted hair is to regularly hydrate and condition it—sulfate-free and color-safe products are the way to go!

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This article originally appeared on Minor edits have been made by the editors.

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