Have you ever walked into a salon and felt like a foreigner in an unknown land? As soon as you take a seat, take a sip of cappuccino, and ask your hairdresser for highlights, you are likely met with a blank stare. “Sure. Are we going for ombré today? Oh, maybe bronde is your thing. Actually scrap that, we’re totally going sombré on you.” Take a deep breath. Highlights can be a scary word, but we had a chat with Abby Haliti (the mastermind behind Olivia Palermo’s perfectly coloured tresses) to clear the air. Here’s everything you’ll ever need to know about highlights.

What are they

Highlights” is a general term that refers to strands of hair that are lighter than the base colour they’re being laid upon. Highlights aren’t one-size-fits-all and neither is the way they are administered. The type of highlight depends on a number of things: the look your after, your hair type, and how blonde you wish to go. There are two types of highlights: “balayage” (painted on hair with a small brush) or “foil” (paint is applied to each strand in a foil to get a more saturated look). Balayage is a freehand technique in which swatches of hair are carved out from the whole head of hair and painted with a lightening agent. Each painted swatch is then covered in cellophane. As these highlights are less systematically placed, the resulting look is more organic. By contrast, foil highlights are a more even look, and upkeep should be done more often since the saturation of colour is applied on the whole strand, unlike balayage, which is painted mostly throughout the ends!


What tone should you choose

It depends on your skin tone: warm or cool. Make sure to talk to a professional since the wrong colour could make you look very washed out! People with warm tones should avoid blue, violet, beige, and ash-based hair colours. Cool tones should avoid gold, yellow, red, and bronze tones. Stick to neutral ashy and beige bases when choosing hair colour for cool toned skin. These warmer tones have a tendency to make you look sallow.


Full VS Partial

I don’t like the terms “partial” or “full” because I like to enhance hair based on the style of the cut and the shape of the head. There is no right answer here; everyone should have a custom placement! Think of Olivia Palermo; when I came out with “Power Highlights,” I literally only painted six pieces and added a little lift to the cheekbones and the eyes!


Highlight terms decoded


Ombré hair is the gradual lightening of the hair strand, usually fading from a darker colour near the roots to a lighter one at the ends. “Ombré” is a French word meaning “two-toned.” Ombré can be very subtle or very striking. The look you want to achieve will depend on the technique and level of lightness. The hair is teased upwards while sectioning the hair in a V-shape. A lighter product should be applied to whatever strand of hair is left behind.

Upkeep: Very minimal, twice a year



This usually refers to darker tones. Hair colour that is over oxidized needs dimension and depth. Applying lowlights into the hair strand will give off that contrast. Lowlights can be used on blonde or brown hair!

Upkeep: Depends on the colour oxidation! Unlike bleach that enters the hair cuticle, lowlights are merely deposited on top of it, giving hair a healthier look.



Sombré is a soft or subtle ombré! This technique incorporates lighter shades in a more natural way instead of using the dramatic colours common to ombré! Highlights transition into lighter shades by strategically placing highlights around the face, which cascade into heavier highlights at the ends. The look is achieved by painting fine balayage around face. Place a heavier layer of product on the ends for a more intense look!

Upkeep: Three to four times a year



The hair is separated into itsy-bitsy sections and colour is applied to each group of strands, creating a more multi-dimensional, radiant, natural-looking dye job. It’s about recreating the hair colour you had when you were a precious young one. This look is achieved by painting fine highlights with a very light hand stroke.

Upkeep: Very minimal



This is an intense colour strand that is very punk rock! The placement may vary according to haircut and length. It is created by painting hard strokes or by highlighting with foil.

Upkeep: Very minimal



Whether you’re a brunette who wants a little blonde or a blonde who wants to move toward the dark side, bronde is the perfect combination! It’s a multi-tonal hue that happens to look good on practically everyone! It’s not an exact colour; you have the freedom to completely customize the shade to your hair and skin tone. It involves simply painting into hair and, depending on the colour you want to achieve, also adding depth.

Upkeep: Four times a year



Balayage is a freehand painting technique that has been very popular over the years, with more and more people requesting its minimal upkeep. Colour is painted on the hair strand leading to a more natural look. Balayage hair grows out beautifully and without an obvious regrowth line! A certified balayage expert uses the freehand technique to apply the colour to each strand of hair using a clean brush.

Upkeep: Very minimal



About The Author

Beauty Director

Bianca is dedicated to dewy skin. She has a penchant for beauty oils and will test out anything that promises to deliver a “healthy glow”. She'll also never say no to four cheese pizza.

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