Chances are you've seen lowlights on your favorite celebrity or scrolling through Instagram. They're everywhere and seemingly nowhere all at once, the oft-overlooked stepsister to sunny highlights and beach-ready waves. Turns out, they're really important and have a lot to do with keeping your hair color looking great.
Before we delve into the many merits of lowlights, we set out to answer some essential questions, like what exactly are lowlights and what do they do? We reached out to some lowlight experts to get all the intel so you (er—me!) never feel clueless at a salon appointment ever again.
"Lowlights are the darker color either weaved/painted in or preserved while going lighter simulating or going deeper than the base color of the silhouette," Matt Rez at MèCHE Salon says. Lowlights are often mistaken or referred to as a “darker highlight,” which Rez is quick to point out they are not and should not be referred to as such.
Dirty blonde or blonde hair shades, as well as medium brown hair, all require a lowlight to be added in or preserved while coloring—this is "in order to have separation of color vertically along the hair to keep contrast and from hair looking muddy," Rez says.
Lorri Goddard, who has worked with a bevy of stars like Reese Witherspoon and Emilia Clarke, prefers to do lowlights either wrapped in foil or hand-painted slightly between key highlights. She calls it a “foilyage” technique and says that adding specific low-lights helps make highlights pop. “Adding strategic pieces of lowlights truly enhances one’s natural skin and eye colors,” Goddard says.
It’s important to note that the best technique for you does depend on your individual hair texture. Straight, fine hair allows for much more threaded pieces, Goddard says, making the flow of depth look more natural, while curlier hair works differently.
"The more textured and or curled the hair, the more piece-y the lowlights should be," Rez says, noting that he spaces out weaves and does chunkier lowlights so that when hair is naturally styled, “lowlights shadow along the lengths without being too blended and drowned out by wavier textures."
Rez uses a demi-permanent hair color when depositing a lowlight, opting for the most neutral tone. "I want the depth of the base color to carry through,” he says, often looking to the client’s natural tone (which often ranges in the neutral to neutral-cool category).
Lowlights actually bring down the depth of the base so when new roots come in, the color is more broken up and regrowth is less eye-catching, Rez says. Plus, lowlights fade like any color does, which is why it’s best to keep them neutral or neutral-cool as those colors tend to fade more on tone.
Learn even more essential facts, and see them in action below. We've got all the hair inspiration you need. Keep on scrolling for the best lowlight photos we’re totally texting our hairstylist.
Blonde Hair with Lowlights
Choosing a Shade: Rez says it’s best to keep the base and lowlights on the neutral/neutral-cool side. Incorporate a warmer midlight to keep hair from looking disconnected and muddy, and opt for a neutral to warm tone with the highlights, he says. "This way the allover appearance of the silhouette is neutral and will flatter most skin tones, as skin is multi-tonal usually."
Maintenance Level: When done correctly, lowlights are not a high-maintenance choice, and Goddard says they can even help add longevity to any color.
Similar Shades: Dirty blonde, ash blonde, medium blonde.
Price: Lowlights start at $150, depending on the salon.
This style often incorporates a darker dimensional tone to the hair, and it's where Rez actually came up with the concept of a midlight technique.
The midlight technique uses a color that's darker than the highlight and lighter than the lowlight/base color. It's typically used to clear up the bridge between highlights and lowlights.
Blended Blonde and Brown
We love this medium-toned bronde shade on Olympic skier Eileen Gu, as you can see how the lowlights add such great dimension.
Think of your favorite medium blonde shade. Does it look like this? Like most highlighted hair, a lowlight is often required to preserve hair while coloring.
Jasmine Sanders has the prettiest curls and here, you can see how her lowlights add extra depth and blend into her hair naturally.
This Blonde Lob
This textured lob shows off the way lowlights and midlights can make the transition from brunette to blonde seamless.
Margot Robbie is generally our all-around inspiration but we're really coveting her perfectly blended lowlights that make for more seamless root grow-out.
Another great creation by Rez, these darker pieces really help the lighter colors pop, creating a beautiful, natural look we love.
Hilary Duff's Perfect Blonde
Here, Hilary Duff shows off the perfect lowlights. While her hair looks amazing here, and Nikki Lee at Nine Zero One Salon does an amazing job creating her natural-looking color, Goddard warns that if you're working with parched or over-bleached hair, adding lowlights can pull a hollow tone. She recommends speaking to your colorist about a custom combination as that's the best way to figure out what works for you.
Blake Lively's Warm Bronde
Whether lighter, darker, or strawberry, Blake Lively's warm blonde hue always has such a great dimension in terms of lowlights. No wonder everyone's been loving her hair for ages.
Skin tones are never the same throughout anyone’s complexion, so it's important to create a well-balanced allover appearance. Blending warm, cool, and neutral tones is the best way to go.
"Glossing the highlights to complement the primary skin tone of a client's hair is always a good idea," Rez says. Just make sure lowlights are neutral.
Mae Whitman's Neutral Blonde
Mae Whitman's blonde waves incorporate a great mix of neutral tones.
Karlie Kloss looks exceptional no matter what, but her lowlight-toned waves are a particular favorite of ours.
If you have a negative base, don't worry, you can totally get lowlights, it just might not happen right away. When moving to more subtle highlights such as these, it's best to start slow and add as you go.
Evenly Toned Waves
Martha Hunt is known for her silky highlighted hair, but after taking a second look, it's the lowlights that bring everything together.
A Darker Root
The good thing is that keeping a dark root doesn't change the coloring process. Just carrying down the base color along with the strategic placement of lowlights allows for a natural root and a more graceful grow-out.
A Golden Lob
This textured cut on Hailey Bieber is seriously amazing, and the hair color looks effortless, too.
The more texture, the chunkier the lowlights—so as not to lose them within the silhouette. You can see that method at work here.
Gigi Hadid usually keeps to a darker blonde hue, and it's easy to see how the added lowlights help create movement and body in her waves.
For brunettes who want a touch of the blonde lifestyle without potentially damaging processing, a bronde style achieved with highlights and lowlights can be a great choice.
This beautifully blended brunette to caramel bronde style hits all the right notes. Something you always want to avoid here is too dark or red-based lowlights as they don't always mesh well with dirty blonde to medium brown hair.
A Deep Base
Lowlights bring down the depth of the base so when new roots come the color looks more broken up, making regrowth less noticeable.
This flowing style incorporates so many different blonde tones, but really, it's the subtle highlights and lowlights that give it an edge. It's the perfect blend.
Baby Blonde Curls
This is just another example of exceptional dimension. The key to achieving this particular style hinges on creating a contrast between color and tone, which these amazing curls definitely have.
Take it from Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Camille Kostek's beachy look when we say lowlights are the way to go.