If you have naturally dark hair, you probably don’t need to be told that incorporating soft, natural-looking highlights into your hair can present quite the challenge. Too many highlights or highlights that are the wrong color for your complexion can make your hair look odd or unrealistic. Too few highlights or highlights in shades that are too subtle won’t show up well enough to really make a difference. Then there’s the challenge involved in taking care of your highlights once they’re just right!

(Related: 17 Half-And-Half Hair Colors That Prove Two Hues Are Better Than One).

As daunting as the concept may seem if you’ve never highlighted your dark hair before, it’s important to note that it’s not as impossible as it may seem. Simply keep the following in mind to ensure that you’ll get the very best dark hair highlights for your hair.

Less Is More

highlights for dark brown hair
(Photo Credit: Instagram via @graceting1005).

The cardinal rule when it comes to highlights for dark hair really is “less is more.” Adding lots of highlights to very dark hair can make it look skunk-like or overly streaky. Your naturally dark hair can provide a nice contrast for highlights and will set them off well even if there are fewer, so start small. You can always add more at a later date if you decide you want a more dramatic look.

Choose a reputable colorist to do your highlights, and ask them for their suggestions as to what they feel would look good on you and what is achievable on your base shade vs. what you may want.

Home Care Routine

How To Maintain Highlights On Dark Hair at Home

Once you’ve gotten your highlights looking just the way you want them, it’s important to maintain your hair with shampoos, conditioners, and styling products especially suited for dark hair that has been highlighted. There is a wealth of choices on the market today; ask your colorist to recommend an at-home regime to keep your color looking fabulous.

Color and Placement Choice

When it comes to your color choice, there are several things which need to be considered. Please remember that with any new color service, it’s important to listen to the colorist and take their advice. Just because you decide you want a color, that doesn’t automatically make it achievable. Have photos of colors you like that are realistic relative to your own hair color and show them to your colorist. Any reputable salon will be more concerned with maintaining a healthy head of hair rather than potentially over bleaching and causing irrevocable damage for the sake of getting one shade lighter.

highlights for black hair

Natural base shade – This will determine how many shades lighter you could lift your hair in one application of bleach or color.

The natural tone of the hair (i.e., warm or cool) – This will determine how much red your hair will throw out as you lift. If you are looking for an ashier cooler tone to your highlights, but your hair has a lot of red in it naturally, you may need to rethink your end result.

Artificial color already on the hair – Artificial color (i.e., tints done either at home or in a salon) will also determine how much lift you can achieve. Typically, you will only be able to lift artificial color with bleach, and the more artificial color on the hair, the harder it will be to achieve a noticeable result.

Your colorist will usually suggest a strand test to see how much lift can be achieved from hair with color build-up and then show you or talk to you regarding the result. They should give you options regarding whether or not you are able to achieve what you are looking for easily or what else you can do if not. A haircut can always be suggested to take off hair with the color build-up to help achieve the desired color.

Commitment to maintenance – How often are you prepared to have this service done? Would you prefer a subtle color with strategic placement to avoid seeing the regrowth? Or are you looking for a dramatic result that you don’t mind having colored every couple of months when regrowth starts to show through? 

Skin tone and eye color – Your coloring overall will determine what types of shades will be complimentary. 

Hair texture and density – This will likely determine the size of weaves your colorist uses. If you have fine hair that isn’t very dense, and you put large weaves in, it will look incredibly natural and stripy with very obvious regrowth. On the other side of the coin, if you have coarse, wavy hair that is very dense and you use a fine weaving technique, the color is likely to get lost in the hair and not be noticeable at all.

Haircut – This will help determine the placement of the highlights. Your haircut and color should always work together, so your stylist and colorist should always have a cohesive plan for your hair service if you are having both a haircut and color on the same day.

Another thing to consider if you do have artificial color build-up on longer lengths is to have a big chop to remove some of the older colored hair, that may impede the ability to achieve a certain color result.

Whether you’re a color veteran or trying out a color for the first time, we would always recommend having a consultation with a reputable colorist before making any decisions. They can assess all the above considerations and discuss your options, answer any questions, and alleviate any possible fears you may have regarding the process. Pictures of color inspo you like are vital! One person’s idea of blonde or auburn might be drastically different to the next person’s, so visual aids are a must!

Now you just have to get onto Pinterest and start choosing your inspo photos!

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