Hair Highlights vs. Hair Lowlights – Which Color Suits You?

Hair highlights and hair lowlights are popular color choices at Mitchell’s Salon & Day Spa. Both color styles can add dimension to your hair, but in entirely different ways. For instance, highlights lift your hair a few shades lighter than the base while lowlights take the base color deeper. Both can have a dramatic effect on your locks. Here is all you need to know about highlights/lowlights, so that you can make the best decision for this upcoming hair appointment.

What Are Hair Highlights?

Hair highlights are designed to make your locks brighter, with either a single level of lift or with several levels of brightness for a more contrasting effect. Highlights can work with any base color. It doesn’t matter if you are blonde, red, or dark brunette; adding luminosity to your hair is sure to flatter your finest features.

Hair highlights is a generic term that can represent a wide range of styles. The color can be painted on from root to tip or the highlights can be feathered toward the root for a sun-kissed appearance (also known as a balayage).

What is a Balayage?

The term “Balayage” is a hand-painting technique that starts off at the root. It leaves a natural and sun kissed effect and leaves your hair with a ton of added dimension. The great news is that balayage hair styles tend to require less maintenance than standard hair highlights.

Use your hair stylist’s guidance on the level of lift that is most appropriate with your hair’s base color. In most cases, you will be advised to stay within three levels of your base color when having highlights applied. However, it all depends on the final outcome you have in mind. Highlights are so versatile that virtually any lightening effect can be developed with the right amount of creativity and hair styling skill.

What are Hair Lowlights?

Lowlights add depth to the hair by using darker colors than your natural base. Hair lowlights can be used to correct color that has been lifted too light or to neutralize some lighter tones.

Unlike hair highlights, lowlights are achieved with demi-permanent gloss or toner instead of pre-lightener. Consequently, lowlights tend to be gentler on the hair than highlights and are thus more appropriate for those with sensitive hair.

Like highlights, hair lowlights can be applied from root to tip (reverse balayage), which allows for deeper shades to be painted through the mid-lengths of each strand. The resulting effect breaks up the base color. Blonde hair can be deepened with honey blonde hues for soothing warmth, and strips of dark chocolate brown can be used to add depth to light brown hair.

Your hair stylist will be able to advise you on which shade to choose for your hair. Lowlights can even be used on your hair if you find yourself unprepared to fully commit to a darker all-over color.

And if you have any silver stray hairs you wish to disguise, lowlights can be used to cover these spots up for an age-defying effect.

What About Babylights – What Are They?

Some clients prefer babylights, which incorporate bits of highlights or lowlights to lift or deepen appropriately. Instead of using broad strokes with the highlight or lowlight colors, babylights are applied with micro-fine and subtle touches. The effects are striking when used on smaller sections of hair and are virtually undetectable. Babylights are what you should ask for the next time you want a subtle color shift that appears natural as can be.

Highlights vs. Lowlights – The Primary Differences 

Now that you have a better idea of how hair highlights and hair lowlights differ, it helps to note some important differences, so you make the best decision to achieve the look you want.

Highlights for Dark Hair & Lowlights for Lighter Locks 

Your hair stylist will likely recommend highlights if your natural base color is on the darker side, like brown, red, or black. Highlights can be scattered through a blonde base, but the most dramatic effect will be created by opting for a contrast in tones.

Lowlights, on the other hand, can soften hair that is too bright or glaring, like platinum or brassy blondes.

Separate Color Formulas 

Hair lowlights are applied by painting on a gloss or toner, while hair highlights require a pre-lightener. Permanent color can sometimes be used to achieve a highlighting effect, but only if the product is intended to lighten.

Highlights Can Be Harsher Than Lowlights

Lowlights do not require pre-lightener, which means they tend to be a kinder option for hair that is prone to dryness and breakage. The same cannot be said for hair highlights, though there are products that can be applied to protect the hair from damage between highlighting appointments. One example of a product that can help is Olaplex.

Olaplex is a product we use at Mitchell’s Salon & Day Spa that helps to maintain the integrity of your hair when color is used. We especially like to use Olaplex when clients choose to go lighter. When combined with highlights, the hair care product protects the hair from damage. At the same time, the special formula begins to restore each strand the inside out. As a result, you get to enjoy healthier hair that glows.

Hair Highlight/Lowlight Tips for Different Shades of Hair 

Applying Hair Highlights to Blonde Hair

A balayage technique can be used to add face-framing highlights to the front and bottom layers. The effect is dramatic and illuminating, making it seem like you spent a sunny day relaxing at the beach.

Hair Highlights on Red Hair

For copper hair, strawberry blonde highlights can be weaved in for a dramatically deeper look. The hair highlights work best when applied subtly for a seamless blend.

Highlights on Brunettes

Hair highlights on light or dark brown hair look more natural when you lift no more than three shades lighter than your base. At these levels, you get the most eye-catching blends like a light and dark mixed caramel finish on otherwise dark brown hair.

Hair Lowlights on Blonde Hair

A reverse balayage can give even the brightest blondes more alluring depth. This effect also works on hair that has been taken too blonde. The reverse balayage technique works perfectly when hair is overprocessed and has become blonder than you would prefer. The wider ribbons of the hair coloring technique break up the highlights for stand-out beauty.

How Often Do Highlights & Lowlights Need to Be Reapplied?

Most hair stylists use the foiling technique to color your hair with either brightening highlights or depth-creating lowlights. As a general rule, give it six to eight weeks before scheduling your follow-up salon appointment. Regrowth does tend to be noticeable but since there are no hard lines, both high and lowlights should grow out gracefully.

Some people find that they can go months without a follow up appointment while others schedule every six or eight weeks, depending on the overall effect they want.

Can Curly Hair be Highlighted?

A common question asks about curly hair and if highlights can give the same type of depth that straighter hair people are able to achieve. With straight hair, it is easy to determine where the color will fall along the head. This allows your hair stylist to map out the contrast.

With curls, achieving the same look gets tricky. The curls are constantly altering their shape and position, which makes the highlights look like random specks of light. A skilled hair stylist will be able to achieve a good balance of light and dark on curly hair, giving your curls all new depth and dimension, but you should schedule a consultation before your color appointment to make sure.


You have heard of highlights and lowlights, but what about Trilights? These are a mere combination of coloring between hair highlights and hair lowlights. The effect is certainly dramatic and will make anyone stand out in a crowd. However, a skilled hair stylist can give you the eye-popping look you want, no matter how many levels lighter or darker you wish to go.


Hair highlights and lowlights show us that changing your hair doesn’t have to be a drastic affair. You don’t have to make the choice, for instance, whether to make the jump from brunette to blonde, or from blonde to red. Switching up your look is dramatic, but you can get just as dramatic of an effect by highlighting or low lighting your hair.

Both brightening hair highlights and deepening hair lowlights can breathe new life into any hair style with subtle but dramatic changes. And both of these color choices are available now at Mitchell’s Salon & Day Spa. With four luxurious Cincinnati locations, we are ready to give you the hair treatment you deserve in Kenwood, Hyde Park, Tri-County, or West Chester. Book your hair highlights or lowlights appointment today and achieve your ideal hair color.