Have you had this experience? You’re bored with your hair, so you chop it off. After a few months, you decide to grow it out...only to cut it short again. You’ve cycled through this so many times that you’re ready to try something different. You want to switch it up but you don’t know what to do. It’s safe to say, we’ve all been there at one point or another.
If you’re looking for a change without cutting your hair, why not try adding dimension with some highlights? It’s a time commitment in the salon chair, yes, but hey, all good things take time, right? From balayage to babylights and ombré to sombré. If you're not sure what these terms mean, you're not alone.
“Oftentimes, different color terms can get confused or misused,” says Christine Thompson, Master Colorist and cofounder of Spoke & Weal. “Even within the industry, new terminology pops up all the time but begins to morph into other meanings, which can lead to confusion, especially in the salon chair during the consultation.” To minimize any confusion, we recommend familiarizing yourself with the different types of highlights you can get, so you and your colorist are always on the same page. And if all else fails, a picture never hurts.
To help you get started on your hair color journey, Thompson breaks down all the different types of highlights you can get for your hair. Keep scrolling for your next hair change inspiration.
"Babylights are meant to make hair look slightly sun-kissed," says Thompson on the petite highlights. “They can be harder to detect as a standalone highlight, but they give the hair more of a shimmer or glow.”
“If you were to compare this technique to a haircut, it would be a bob,” says Thompson on the classic highlights that start at the scalp. “You would get different trends using traditional highlights by varying how close or far apart they are.” Traditional highlights do require slightly more upkeep than balayage or some of the other styles on our list, as they distribute color all over the hair (and therefore roots tend to be more obvious).
“This is a technique referring to the motion of 'sweeping' or creating a seamless blend,” explains Thompson. “A lot of the times you see this in open air painting; however, it can be done within foils as well." She says that balayage often gets confused as a "look," but is actually a technique of painting by freehand using a sweeping motion.
This is the balayage technique where pieces of hair are placed into foils for more lightening, Thompson says. This is a good option if you're looking for more of a lift in color than hand-painted balayage because the foil allows the hair to get lighter while it's wrapped inside.
“Ombré is a look where the hair color goes from one color to another in a gradient or a shadow tone,” shares Christine. This is another low-commitment look, as you can go a while longer between salon visits (roots here are key, so even if they grow out, you won't have to race in for a touch-up).
Sombré is an example of mashup terminology. It’s the combination of “subtle” and “ombré,” explains Thompson and is exactly what it sounds: a subtle blend of a darker shade at the root to a light shade at the ends.
Face-framing highlights focus the lighter color on, naturally, the hair that frames your face. The resulting look helps to open and brighten your face and is among the most natural because it lightens the hair where it would be naturally lightened by the sun. Plus, as a bonus: it requires a lot less upkeep than a classic, overall highlight and looks natural even as it grows out.
Dimensional highlights are those that offer more contrast (think dark brown with lighter highlights). In other words, you're adding dimension to the hair via color. This can create the illusion of a thicker mane and looks great on those with curls or waves.