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There’s a good reason why highlights are one of the most commonly requested salon hair color services. Just a few, strategically placed lighter pieces can work wonders—brightening your face, adding dimension to your base color, and oh-so-much more. The great contradiction here, however, is that while it’s a fairly simple process for the pros, it’s a much harder type of color to do yourself.
Exactly where you place highlights, not to mention finding the right shade and tone, can be much trickier to DIY than say, simply covering up some gray roots. And while highlights really can work on any hair hue, taking the DIY route is always going to be easiest (and have the highest success rate) for those starting with a pretty light base to begin with.
All that being said, these at-home highlighting kits are the way to go if you want gorgeous highlights.
Best Overall: Madison Reed Light Works
This brand has truly revolutionized the at-home hair color world so naturally, they’d have an awesomely innovative highlighting kit. Available in five shades—which even work on darker brown hair—the clay-based, ammonia-free, cream color makes the experience mess-proof and more goof-proof than usual. Particularly given that it comes with a wishbone-shaped applicator that's meant to help mimic the look of hand-painted balayage highlights you’d get in a salon. Speaking of salons, the kit also comes with a toner to use afterward, the secret to ensuring a natural- and professional-looking result.
Best Drugstore: L'Oréal Paris Frost & Design H65 Caramel
The process here might feel a little gimmicky; you pull on a special cap with holes in it, then use hooks to pull various sizes of hair through said holes and use the color on those pieces. Still, it does make for a great highlighted effect; happy reviewers repeatedly rave about how great their hair looks. It comes in caramel and champagne tones for darker and lighter blonde bases respectively, and there’s an option for both lighter and shorter hair as well.
Best for Blondes: Clairol Balayage for Blondes
With an easy-to-use brush, it’s simpler than ever to paint on just a few babylights, do a full-on balayage situation, or even create an ombré vibe. While it comes in just one shade, it works on a range of light to dark blondes.
Best for Light Brown Hair: Garnier Multi Lights H2 Golden Blonde
Specially made for those with dark blonde to light brown hair, this imparts golden highlights. (Leave it on anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes, depending on how light you want to go.) The formula itself is packed with moisturizing avocado, olive, and shea oils and also comes with a separate ampoule of a grapeseed oil treatment to use after, great for ensuring your hair stays hydrated post-highlighting.
Best for Brunettes: REVLON Color Effects Frost & Glow Highlights Honey
There are three shades available of this color, but this particular option is best for those with brown hair. It comes with a highlighting cap, though there are plenty of YouTube tutorials of people using the product without the cap and still achieving great results. Also nice: The formula is ammonia-free and enriched with a keratin complex.
Best for a Quick Fix: dpHue x Kristin Cavallari Blonding Brush
If you follow Kristin Cavallari on IG, you’ve likely seen the videos of her using this brush, which she created in partnership with her longtime colorist Justin Anderson. Ideal when you want to brighten up your highlights—but don’t have the time or energy to deal with full-on color—the brush-on gel uses lemon juice and hydrogen peroxide to ever-so-subtly brighten and lighten blondes.
(Worth noting, it’s only for those who are naturally or already-lightened blonde, not brown shades.) The heat-activated formula kicks in when you go in the sun or hit it with a blow-dryer, a choice for a fast fix.
Best for Base Color & Highlights: L’Oréal Paris Couleur Experte 6.1 French Éclair
If you want to change both your allover shade and add in some highlights, this is the kit to use. There are five shades available, which come with a coordinating base and highlight tones. And speaking of highlights, the shade is tinged with a blue tone, making it easy to see exactly where you’re placing them, while a tiny fingertip brush makes it easy to place them.
Best for Balayage Effect: eSalon Light Set
Balayage highlights are often lauded for looking more natural and growing out less noticeably. This kit makes it easy to achieve the hand-painted effect, thanks to a range of five colors that can brighten up to three shades. The formula dries quickly so you can paint it on without the mess and comes with an included toning mask to blend your base and highlights seamlessly (as well as eliminate any unwanted brassiness). Big points also for the plethora of instructions, videos, and color charts on the brand’s website.
Best Wash-Out: IGK Amaro Ombre Highlight Spray
Looking to just play around with your color? Want the look of highlights but are scared of messing up a DIY color sitch? Need a temporary solution to hold you over until your salon appointment? For any of the above scenarios, this temporary spray comes up huge. The transfer-resistant color adds dimension and a subdued sun-kissed effect wherever you spritz it (and somehow works on all hair colors) but washes out with plain ol’ shampoo.
At-home highlighting can be a tricky process, but if you’re up for the challenge, going with a highlighting kit is the way to go. The Madison Reed Light Works (view at Ulta) is our top choice, available in five shades that work even on dark brown hair, and it comes with a cool applicator that makes hand painting super easy. Natural blondes should try the Clairol Balayage for Blondes (view at Ulta), or the dpHue X Kristin Cavallari Blonding Brush (view at Ulta), a great fast fix that will brighten existing highlights. And if you want to score highlights and change your base color, the L'Oreal Paris Couleur Experte 6.1 French Éclair (view at Walmart) makes it easy to do so.
What to Look for in an At-Home Highlighting Kit
Lightener or Bleaching Powder
Make sure that the product you choose specifies it contains one of these, rather than a high lift color, suggests Tiffanie Richards, Master Colorist at OC61 in New York City. It’s a little safer for at-home use because it will allow you to check the color of your highlights every few minutes until you reach your desired result, she says.
Check the Shade Guide
Most at-home highlighting kits will have a shade guide on the box (or on the product’s description on the website), which is a good indication as to how light you can go, based on your original base color. It’s not foolproof, but it is helpful.
If this is your first time highlighting your hair at home, try testing a small piece of hair to make sure you like the way it looks first.
How do you use at-home highlighting kits?
Richards says they all range in use, but the instructions typically guide you through a hand painting process with the given tools or possibly using a cap. Follow those directions of course, but Richards recommends also watching a YouTube video on how to apply hand-painted highlights.
How long do highlights from at-home highlighting kits last?
Highlights are usually permanent, says Richards, though they usually stay their brightest for about six to eight weeks. “Keep in mind that highlights, even done professionally, won’t fade over time but will rather seem to darken or become muted,” notes Richards.
“Place cotton balls underneath each highlight you paint on to avoid the color from bleeding onto the hair you don’t desire to lighten. This will also help avoid those funny-looking spots or lines you can sometimes see within painted highlights,” she says.
Why Trust Byrdie?
Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there.
Meet the Expert
Tiffanie Richards is a Master Colorist at OC61 in New York City. She specializes in creating signature blonde and rich brunette colors and is well-versed in a variety of techniques that allow her to personalize the color for each of her clients.