There's no doubt that dark brown hair is gorgeous, but if you're looking to add a bit of dimension to your strands or simply want to switch up your hair color, you may be wondering what your options are when it comes to highlights for dark brown hair. Luckily, there is no shortage of stunning looks, from brown ombré hair to balayage brown hair. So, whether you want to spice up your look with shades of auburn or blonde, we've consulted the experts to give you examples of highlight ideas for dark brunettes.
Ahead, find 60 ideas for highlights on dark brown hair for a mane makeover.
Dark Brown Hair
Choosing a Shade: When choosing a highlight shade for dark brown hair, it's best to start within one or two shades of your base color. That said, your stylist can work with you to achieve lighter and brighter highlights over time.
Maintenance Level: The maintenance level of highlights on dark brown hair can vary based on the highlights you decide to get. If you ask your colorist for the balayage technique, you'll find the maintenance is low. If you want all-over highlights, the maintenance will be high. Keep in mind that the lighter you go, the more maintenance your hair will require.
Goes Great With: Neutral shades like blonde or warm shades like bronze or copper are great for emphasizing lighter strands.
Similar Shades: Dirty brunette and bronde.
Price: Depending on the type of highlights you plan to get and the salon you go to, you can expect it to cost anywhere from $75 to $350.
Justin Anderson is an expert colorist at Nine Zero One Salon in Beverly Hills. He's also the cofounder of haircare brand dpHUE...You know, the brand that makes the super popular Apple Cider Vinegar Hair Rinse ($35)? Anderson is responsible for this seamless dark brunette to golden blonde color. We're putting this at the top of our Pinterest boards.
To add a bit of warmth and lightness to a dark chocolate brown base, Stephanie Brown, NYC-based hair colorist of IGK Salons recommends adding caramel pops of color for a look that's subtle, pretty, and summery. "It's a great way to add dimension without going blonde," she says.
Ask your hairdresser to carefully place balayage caramel pieces through the front of your hair to frame your face.
Dark Blonde Balayage
If you're a fan of dark brown hair with highlights but aren't quite prepared for a stark contrast in shades, this dark blonde balayage look may be just what you need. And since the color won't go all the way up to your roots, you won't have to worry about a harsh line of demarcation as your hair grows.
Ash Brown Highlights
Prefer to keep things cool? If you have dark brown hair with cool undertones, you'll find that ash brown highlights are a subtle, complementary option. Ask your colorist to focus on face-framing strands, which will help brighten your complexion.
Dark Auburn Balayage
Envious of your redhead friends? To add a touch of their gorgeous natural color to your mane, look no further than dark auburn balayage. "Brunettes usually hate having red in their hair, but for the few not scared this is a really pretty and subtle way to try it, and it’ll grow out very nicely," Brown explains.
To stay in the brunette family but still add some subtle dimension to your mane, consider giving chocolate balayage a try. This rich shade of brown will add instant warmth to your strands while the balayage technique will have your friends guessing if your hair is naturally so perfectly two-toned.
For those who want an all-over lighter mane, ask your colorist for an off-the-root or rooted highlight. "This is a subtle highlight to give you an overall lighter look with a small root of your natural dark brown color," Brown explains. "You can either have a highlight very close to the root or highlight that goes to the root then deepen the root with a gloss."
If you'd like to stick with low-maintenance highlights for dark brown hair, face-framing strands are a great option. As you can probably guess, this involves lightening the hair that frames your face, which will instantly brighten your complexion without the upkeep that comes with an all-over highlight.
Don't want to stray far from your dark brown roots? To simply add dimension to your dark base, pair it with equally dark—but ever so slightly lighter—espresso highlights. This combo is sure to leave people guessing if it's your natural hue.
Beige Gold Highlights
On the note of subtle highlights, you don't have to stick to notes of brunette for a seamless look. Beige gold highlights, especially when applied using the balayage technique like here, can let you walk the fine line between brown and blonde.
"A lot of brunettes say they want ashy highlights, but I think they are just scared of brassy highlights," Brown says. "I find that most of my clients that want ashy actually want this tone." To create the look, she explains to lift the highlights to a yellow to pale yellow and tone with a neutral gloss.
If you liked the chocolate balayage we talked about earlier but would prefer root-to-tip dimension, look no further than chocolate foil highlights. This option will look particularly stunning on those with a warm-toned dark brown base, as well as those who have olive skin tones.
Chestnut Money Piece
Want your lights for dark brown hair to be front and center? We're just slightly obsessed with this chestnut money piece. This is another low-maintenance highlights option since your brightened strands will be focused on your fringe while the rest of your hair is left natural and dark.
Cool Beige Highlights
For those who like the idea of beige gold highlights but want a color that's slightly cooler in tone, cool beige highlights are the way to go. This sandy blonde shade borders on a light brown making it a beautiful option for brightening up dark brown hair.
This subtle ombré situation from Johnny Ramirez, celeb colorist, is the perfect example of cool-toned highlights, for brunettes who "don’t like any kind of warm tones," as Ramirez puts it.
Mahogany Face Frame
For those who don't shy away from brown hair with red highlights, you'll find this mahogany face frame to be a subtler take on the trend. The reddish-brown shade provides the perfect amount of contrast against Zendaya's dark brown, curly locks.
Take cues from the beach and ask your colorist for sandy balayage. The hand-placed highlights will let you play with a brighter blonde at your ends and around your face while your mid-lengths have ashy light brown highlights throughout for a seamless transition of shades.
We're digging this wavy brunette lob that's dispersed throughout with hazy golden highlights.
Ombré hair is one of the best options when it comes to dark brown hair with highlights, as there's no need to worry about a harsh line forming as your roots grow out. Consider playing with tones of red by having your dark brunette base fade to a pretty mahogany brown at your ends, à la Ciara.
Beachy Bronde Hair
Ramirez's specialty? Creating "lived in" and beachy hair color, like this dark brown to ash blonde, almost bronde example. We like how her textured layers show off the highlights and add a bit more dimension.
Golden Copper Balayage
Subtle pops of golden copper balayage looks great on very dark brown hair, according to Brown. Just ask your colorist to keep your highlights to a minimum, rather than a full head. "You don’t want to do too many because you don’t want it to look red or brassy," Brown explains. "When it’s just a few subtle pieces it’s very pretty."
During the summer months, you may notice that your ends become naturally lighter than the rest of your hair. This is what golden ends on dark brown hair attempts to mimic. We particularly love this combo on textured, naturally curly hair as it creates even more dimension throughout.
Golden Ombré Balayage
For an edgier look, try recreating this melded color, which looks especially stunning on textured hair. Complete the look with natural, curly texture. We like SEEN's Curly Creme ($27).
Chestnut is one of our favorite brown hues for adding dimension to a dark brown base as it adds just the right amount of lightness and warmth. The reddish-brown shade looks beautiful when painted seamlessly throughout the hair with chestnut balayage highlights.
Light Golden Ombré
Want to embrace a blonder mane but don't want to deal with the upkeep that comes with a full head of blonde highlights? Take cues from this light golden ombré look, which features a dark brown root that flawlessly blends to a light golden blonde from the mid-lengths to ends.
Cool Ash Blonde Ombré
Kim Wasabi is an expert colorist and owner of Excellent Hair Salon & Spa. She calls this color "brown beige and ice gold." What starts as a dark brunette at the roots slowly transitions to a cool ash blonde at the ends.
Light Blonde Balayage Ombré
To test the waters if blondes have more fun, consider this bold light blonde balayage ombré look. "You need to be careful of this because you want it to look like beach hair," Brown says. Have your colorist frame the face with pale blonde pieces, then carefully place pale blonde all over for a piecey dimension. "Make sure there is a smooth transition from dark to light."
For a blonder head of hair that's full of warmth, honey ombré highlights will be your best friend. Jennifer Hudson wears this rooted ombré look beautifully, creating loose curls throughout her hair that show off the seamless transition of shades.
Gold Color Melt
Wasabi is also responsible for this cool gold color meld, which looks incredibly shiny and glossy, especially when paired with big barrel curls. It's making us want to reach for our GHD Curve 1.25 Inch Soft Curl Iron ($199).
Rooted Blonde Highlights
If you want to give blonde hair a try, rooted blonde highlights are the way to go. "I like this look because it gives dark brunettes a way to be blonde without the crazy maintenance if it was a highlight to the root," Brown says. "It will still be some maintenance but it grows out nicely where you don’t have to come back as soon," she adds.
Needless to say, this inspirational picture of Rihanna is enough to convince us to book an appointment at the salon ASAP. The transition from dark to a light, warm chestnut looks particularly stunning against deep skin tones.
Auburn Color Melt
Wasabi also created this auburn color melt, which we love, since dark brunette is usually highlighted with gold tones. Even though this deep red is more typical of Autumn, we think the glossy red highlights work perfectly for summer, too.
Chunky looks are in! Yup, as much as we love a seamlessly blended mane, there's something to be said about popping chunks of dimension. "This is balayage or ombréd pieces of a warm brown to richen up brunettes," Brown explains. "It’s really beautiful. Just take large sections and balayage with color, like three levels lighter with 30 volume."
Light Chestnut Chunks
Speaking of chunky looks, if you want something with a bit more contrast, we love light chestnut chunks on dark brown hair. Ask your colorist to focus them at the front of your face.
Subtle Brown Highlights
Alysa Pace is a hairstylist and colorist at Bomane Salon in Beverly Hills. She created this dark brunette color with subtle light brown highlights. The color and cut are perfectly '70s-esque.
Rooted Bronde Highlights
What happens when you're torn between staying brunette or going blonde? We'd like to think this rooted bronde highlighted look is the result. Equal parts blonde and brunette, it's the perfect balance of tones with a dark root that makes touch-ups easy.
Golden Ribbon Highlights
As Pace put it best in her Instagram caption, "let there be gold." Ribbons of yellow-blonde highlights give this style a beachy and California-girl vibe.
Light Brown Balayage
To embrace your brunette base, consider adding just that right amount of definition with some light brown balayage. The subtle contrast is perfect for those who want to test the waters of highlights for dark brown hair.
Rich Brunette Highlights
For those who want to add a lot of warmth to their hair, stick to rich shades of brunette. The varying shades of brown will give your dark brown hair new life.
Rooted Ice Blonde
Ready to go blonde? If you don't want to shy away from a lighter mane, make sure to go for a rooted look. This rooted ice blonde color is sure to create some serious, envy-worthy contrast.
If you want a bright blonde look that's low maintenance, ask your colorist for a shadow root.
We also like this style from Lee. Instead of highlights interspersed without, the blonde highlights are concentrated at the ends and the front.
Chestnut Face Frame
A subtle, chestnut face frame is a great way to ease nervous brunettes into highlights, according to Brown. "Just pop in some subtle pieces around the hairline. It gets you used to feeling lighter without being lighter all over."
On the note of subtle color, subtle ombré is another great option for dark brunettes who want to test the waters of lighter hair. Thanks to the transition from dark roots to lighter ends, you won't have to worry about the constant upkeep, either.
Reddish Blonde Highlights
Matt Rez is a colorist at MÈCHE Beverly Hills. He specializes in balayage, which is a coloring technique that creates gradual-looking color. We love this super dimensional dark brunette color with varying shades of blonde.
Cool Brunette Highlights
If you're afraid of your highlights turning brassy, consider asking your colorist for cool brunette highlights. Ashy in tone, you won't have to worry about any orange tones popping through.
Rooted Ash Blonde
Cherin Choi is a colorist and co-owner of Nova Arts Salon. Check out her Instagram feed for fascinating before-and-after transformation pictures like this, in which she changed a client's hair color to something lighter, fresher, and glossier.
Golden Face Frame
Find yourself ogling over golden blonde hair colors on Pinterest? Us too! If you don't want to part with your dark brown hair but want to incorporate some gold hues into your mane, a golden face frame will make for the perfect highlight option.
Golden Copper Face-Frame
Kristin Ess is the founder of her namesake hair brand, which can be found at Target (we love her Strand Strengthening Reconstructive Moisture Mask, $15). She posted this photo to her Instagram account, explaining that this is nine months post-color. It's the perfect example of how highlights should grow out...subtly and naturally. We're obsessed.
Dirty blonde, step aside—your brunette counterpart is coming through. Dirty brunette is an ashy balayage ombré. "Be careful when doing ashy colors, there is a fine line between ashy and gray," Brown warns. "The lighter you go the more careful you have to be, but it’s a really pretty beach vibe."
Light Brown Ombré
To stick with a classic and foolproof option, head to the salon for a light brown ombré look. You can't go wrong with this seamless transition of brown shades!
Subtle Brown Babylights
Olivia Munn's barely-there babylights provide just enough shine when the light hits. Opt for a coppery brown color as she does here for a hint of glam.
We're not sure what we love more, Lily Aldridge's glossy locks or the sunkissed ends of her mane. A color like this is the perfect transition from season to season.
Smoky Brown Balayage
Starting almost black at the roots, Shay Mitchell modernizes her dark locks with a touch of gray towards the middle to ends of her hair. It's just enough of a smoky color to blend in with her roots and take notice of the change at the same time.
Dakota Johnson's caramel highlights perfectly complement her skin tone and eye color. Her wispy fringe is just a bonus.
We're loving the reverse balayage action going on here. Lighter caramel tones at the root slowly descend into rich chocolate brown waves
Honey Blonde Braids
Braided styles showcase hair coloring beautifully and it's no different here. Amandla Stenberg's roots may be chocolate brown, but her cornrowed finger waves and braided bun really highlight the intense honey blonde chunks throughout.
Wavy Bob with Chocolate Highlights
Viola Davis's wavy bob is given the slightest dimension with some chocolate brown highlights at the ends of her hair.
Charcoal Brown With Light Brown Highlights
We rarely see Jessica Biel sporting anything other than her lightened locks, but here, her charcoal brown hair is the star of the show. It's almost a single process color, save for the ever-so-subtle strands of light brown peeking through underneath.
Whether she's pastel or platinum, Kim Kardashian returns to her raven roots at some point. Here, her glossy locks are blown out to show some auburn undertones. Try a shine spray like Moroccanoil's Glimmer Shine ($30).
Vanessa Hudgens's dip dye bob sees her hair color change from dark chocolate brown to a light caramel hue, proving that even shorter hairstyles can rock a color melt.