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There’s 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 products 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 work even 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, 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 end result.
Best Drugstore: L'Oréal Paris Professional Techniques Frost & Design 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 Nice 'N Easy Hairpainting Blonde Highlights
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 Nutrisse Nourishing Hair Color Creme (Highlighting Kit), 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 strands stay healthy and hydrated post-highlighting.
Best for Brunettes: REVLON Colorsilk Color Effects Frost and Glow Hair 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 women using the product without the cap and still achieving great results. Also nice: The formula is ammonia-free, and enriched with a keratin complex to help minimize damage.
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, choice for a fast fix.
Best for Base Color & Highlights: L’Oréal Paris Hair Color + Hair Highlights 6.1 Light Ash Brown
If you want to both change 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 and all 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.
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.