Skip to main content Skip to header navigation

How to highlight your hair


Deciding to exchange a full head of hair color for a new hue is an undertaking — on one’s looks, wallet and even wardrobe. Instead of committing to a complete change, highlights offer a nice middle ground. Not only are they a great way to try out an alternative appearance, but a stepping stone to see if a lighter look is right for you.

How to highlight your hair at home

We got Julien Farel senior colorist Aidan Harty to give us the step-by-step for achieving head-turning highlights at home.

Section hair


Section the hair properly. This is the most important step. Create a part starting from the crown to the top of the ear on both sides and clip up.


Then create a part in the back of the head going directly across from ear to ear and clip up.


Section the hair on the nape in 2 parts down the middle and pull hair forward.

HIghlight hair


Start with 1 of the sections pulled forward. Take a small portion of hair and start applying from the bottom part of your hair working your way up for a natural highlighting look. After taking a small strand of the hair, take the painting brush and dip it into the lightening product that’s mixed in the bowl and lightly spread the product on the plastic board.

Sweep in a slow motion in order for the product to be smooth for even application when applied to the hair strand. That’s the purpose of having the board, so you have control of how thick or how thin the lightener is. The purpose of the cotton underneath is to control the product, just in case there is overlap. Following with plastic wrap helps to create body heat from the scalp, so there is minimal processing time even if you add heat to the process. Do approximately 5 or 6 on this layer.


Let down a second layer of hair on the back of the head and repeat.


Let down the rest of the hair on the back of the head and repeat.


Move to the side of the head and let down the lower third of the hair and apply highlighter to 3 small portions.


Work in layers of threes for both sides of the head. Apply the highlighter to approximately 3 small portions in each layer. Remember to start the application from the lower region and work your way up.


After 10 minutes or desired lightness, rinse the back first and then the front.

Hair color 101 

Julien Farel celebrity colorist Abby Haliti — who has styled the tresses of Olivia Palermo, Rita Ora and Jane Krakowski — offers additional advice for doing it right.

How to prepare

Two days before the process, wash your hair by gently massaging it with shampoo. This ensures all existing products are washed out. Then, follow up with a deep conditioning treatment before highlighting. (To be clear: Shampoo two days in advance but condition right before). It can be helpful to get a haircut before highlighting hair because a cut is the foundation for the color. The new haircut is used as a guide because placement is the number one key to have the right amount of highlighting.

Tools needed

A brush with supple bristles is a must, so the color product goes on smoothly and evenly. It also allows more control when placing the product. Additionally, a plastic bowl for mixing and cotton to lay the pieces of hair after it has been painted will be used. A plastic board is important for sweeping the lightener before applying it to the hair strand. Plastic wrap will be utilized to cover the hair afterwards, a tail comb is needed for sectioning the hair and clips are necessary for holding the hair. Gloves and a towel are best for keeping things neat.

Application tips

Apply color following the haircut and let the hair fall naturally before you start. By applying product through a flat plastic board, it smooths the hair out. It is advised to pick up a section of the hair and in a very diffused manner, paint the pieces in a sweeping motion thinner at the scalp area and heavier and wider toward the ends. Next, place cotton between hair that’s been highlighted following with plastic wrap on top. Timing is dependent on the darkness of the hair and desired lightness.

Important ingredients

Hair colors without peroxide, ammonia and alcohol are best because they are all offending chemicals. The use of gentle products is preferred because they are the best defense against damaged hair.

6 Ingredients that are great for natural hair >>

Picking a color

Colors that complement your skin tone and eye color are ideal, and it goes back to the color wheel. The easiest way to do this is by placing a piece of pure white paper against your wrist, the same spot where you apply your perfume and looking at the color of your skin as it contrasts with the white paper. If you see a blue or lavender hue, you have a cool skin tone. If you have a greenish hue, then your coloration is warm.

People with warm undertones look best in autumnal and earthy hues, like rich golds.

Cool skin tones look best in cooler undertones like platinum, light ash blond or rich browns.

Preventing mistakes

Be aware of your current color, before you buy, and then complement that base color rather than going too light. Think “less is more.”

It’s important to ask for professional advice before coloring hair because colorists’ eyes are used to seeing what works and what doesn’t.

Maintaining color

Julien Farel Haircare Vitamin Shampoo and Condition, and Julien Farel Haircare Restore

It’s advised to trim hair every four to six weeks to remove split ends and help with manageability. Deep conditioners should be used once a month. Another important tool is a special micro-fiber towel, to dry hair, because it absorbs more moisture rather than a regular bath towel. This means applying less heat when styling. In the summer, stay away from chlorine! If you are going for a dip in the pool, wash it out as soon as possible.

Color-treated shampoo and conditioner like Julien Farel Haircare Vitamin Shampoo and Condition and Julien Farel Haircare Restore are great products to use twice a week in place of shampoo and conditioner, to bring hair back to its virgin state. Restore regenerates, revitalizes, protects and delicately cleanses, leaving the scalp hydrated and hair smoother.

More articles on hair styling

Introducing a new salon for hair extensions only
How to be a client that hair stylists love
The only hair products you need

Photo credit: Julien Farel Senior colorist Aidan Harty

Leave a Comment