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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.
These at-home highlighting kits are the way to go if you want gorgeous highlights.
Best Overall: Madison Reed Light Works
Helpful wishbone activator
Includes toner to use afterward
Pricier than other options
Who else recommends it? Allure and NBC News both picked Madison Reed Light Works.
What do buyers say? 300+ Ulta reviewers rated this product 4 stars or above.
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 that even work on darker brown hair, the clay-based, ammonia-free, cream color makes the experience mess-proof and more goof-proof than usual. 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.
Active Ingredients: Keratin, argan oil, ginseng root extract | Shades: 5 | Size: 1 ounce (Light Works Lightening Cream), 2 ounces (Light Works Lightening Activator), 1.35 ounces (Light Works Finish Toning Glaze), 2 ounces (Light Works Finish Toning Glaze Activator), 0.5 ounces (Light Works Bond Building Cleansing Treatment), 0.5 ounces (Color Protecting Shampoo), 0.5 ounces (Color Protecting Conditioner) | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Drugstore: L'Oréal Paris Frost & Design H65 Caramel
Includes toner to use afterward
Pull-through cap can be laborious
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.
Shades: 2 | Size: 3.5 ounces (Creme Developer), 0.86 ounces (Lightening Powder), 0.35 (After Frosting Conditioning Shampoo), 0.63 ounces (Toning Protective Creme), 1 ounce (Color Toning Rinse) | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Best for Blondes: Clairol Balayage for Blondes
Helpful brush applicator
Only one shade
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.
Type: Permanent | Shades: 1 | Size: 0.49 ounces (Lightening Powder), 1.48 ounces (Developing Creme), 1 ounce (CC Colorseal Conditioner) | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Best for Light Brown Hair: Garnier Multi Lights H2 Golden Blonde
Reviewers note color doesn't match the box
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.
Active Ingredients: Grapeseed oil, avocado oil | Type: Permanent | Shades: 2 | Size: 2.28 ounces (Nourishing Creme Developer), 1.6 ounces (Nourishing Color Creme), 1.35 ounces (Nourishing Conditioner) | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best for Brunettes: REVLON Color Effects Frost & Glow Highlights Honey
Strengthens hair bonds
Pull-through cap can be laborious
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.
Active Ingredients: Bond Restore Complex | Type: Permanent | Shades: 3 | Size: 2.9 ounces (Cream Developer), 1.3 ounces (Highlighting Powder), 0.4 ounces (Moisturizing Violet Shampoo), 0.4 ounces (Anti-Brass Conditioner) | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Best for a Quick Fix: dpHue x Kristin Cavallari Blonding Brush
Easy to use
Gradually lightens color
Only works for blondes
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.
Active Ingredients: Lemon juice, hydrogen peroxide | Shades: 1 | Size: 0.65 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best for Base Color & Highlights: L’Oréal Paris Couleur Experte 6.1 French Éclair
Easy to apply
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.
Type: Permanent | Shades: 4 | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Best for Balayage Effect: eSalon Light Set
Includes toner to use afterward
Plenty of helpful instructions
Reviewers note it gives an orangey finish
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.
Shades: 6 | Size: 2 fluid ounces (Toning Mask), 1.55 fluid ounces (Activator) | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
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 first to make sure you like the way it looks.
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.
How We Researched
To compile this list, our team of editors and contributors spent hours researching the best products on the market in this category, evaluating their key features—like ingredients, shade range, or design—in addition to reviews from customers and other trusted sources. We then used this research to assign a star rating from one to five (five being the best; one being the worst) to certain products on the list.
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.
The 22 Best At-Home Hair-Color Kits for a Successful DIY Dye Job. Allure. https://www.allure.com/gallery/ten-home-hair-color-kits-under-20
Best at-home hair color and hair dye kits, according to experts. NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/select/shopping/best-hair-color-hair-dye-kits-ncna1189986