Applying Hair Highlights To Short And Long Hair

Techniques for applying highlights to long hair vs short hair vary widely. Find out which highlighting technique is right for your length and texture of hair, and follow these instructions to do it yourself!

Highlighting your short or long hair is a great way to update your look.By following the instructions in this guide, you can save time at the salon and a lot of money, and still turn heads when you step out on the town in style!

Step One: Assess the Condition of Your Hair

If you have recently had your hair permanently waved or straightened, you may need to put off highlighting until the cuticle of your hair has settled down.The chemicals in a permanent wave work by breaking the hair's cuticle and then resetting it in the shape of the rod.As a result, your hair will be more porous and thus more easily damaged after a permanent.Ask your professional stylist if you are unsure of your hair's condition.

Do you heat-style your hair often?If you do, you might want to get a fresh haircut before you highlight, eliminating as much of the dead hair as you possibly can before applying chemicals to it.The bleaching chemicals in highlighting solutions strip the outer layers of the hair, and can lead to breakage later on.

If your hair has been previously bleached or dyed, you will not be able to rely on the box's chart to determine what the final color of your highlights will be.Black or very dark hair colors can turn blue (or even green!) when highlighted, and blonde colors can turn an undesirable orange or "brassy" color, so be very careful.Again, when in doubt, it is always best to consult a professional colorist before applying any harsh chemical to your hair.

Important Note:Never apply highlights to hair that has been temporarily dyed or within two weeks of other any other chemical treatment, and never mix your bleaching cream with any other product!Leave this to the professionals.Attempting advanced techniques on your own can result in chemical burns, inhalation of noxious fumes, or hair loss and breakage.

Always consult your professional colorist when you are unsure about a home product's safety, and always perform a strand test before highlighting your hair.This involves mixing a small amount of highlighting paste and applying it to a 1/8-inch section of your hair.You will need to time it to determine:

a. How long the product will need to process to achieve the desired color.

b. How much damage the product will do to your hair, and if it is worth the risk.

Step Two: You are now ready to begin highlighting.This is the fun part!


Whether your hair is curly or straight, blunt-cut or layered, baby fine or thick and full, you can achieve beautiful highlights and save yourself money and time at the salon by using a technique called "hair painting".It might be a good idea to have a friend help you with this technique, especially if you have a hard time doing things with one hand.

First prepare your hair according to the instructions on your highlighting kit.You will then need to mix the bleaching powder with the developing cream until it is smooth and free of lumps.(It will be about the consistency of thin pudding.)You are now wearing plastic gloves to protect your hands and can proceed with the following steps:

1. Comb your hair into the style your normally wear.

2. Beginning at the front of your hair, pull a ¼-inch section* away from the scalp, and hold it.Be sure the section is free of tangles or stray hairs from other parts of your head.

3. Apply a generous amount of the highlighting paste to the applicator included with your kit.If your kit does not include an applicator (almost all do), a squeaky clean paintbrush will work very well.

4. Starting at the top of the hair section, "paint" the paste all the way to the end, keeping it as evenly spread as possible.If your hair is very long, you might need to repeat this several times.Avoid leaving lumps of the paste on any part of the strand - keep it as smooth and even as possible.

5. To keep the solution from getting on other parts of your hair, you can wrap the treated section in plastic wrap and gently place it back down.Do not twist, roll, or clip the treated section - the result will be uneven highlights, and an expensive trip to the salon for corrective coloring.

6. Follow the above steps on the other sections you wish to highlight, working from front to back.

7. Process according to the time on your strand test, and closely follow the instructions on your kit for rinsing and conditioning.

*For more dramatic results, you can pull as much as 1 inch of hair to be highlighted, although I recommend sectioning off no more than ½ an inch for first-timers.

Note:You can also purchase a kit that includes a hood, through which you pull strands of hair with a hook (as described below).However, I have found that hair painting works best on very long hair and allows for more control over the final result.


So, you just got a fresh new short haircut, and want to show off your style with some strategically placed highlights.Or maybe you have worn your hair short for years, but would like to refresh your style with the soft look of all over touches of color.As a general rule, I have found that cropped, chunky styles look best with "chunky" highlights, whereas softer, face-framing styles look best with - you guessed it - soft, face-framing highlights.No matter what your desired results, highlighting can be a great way change up the look of a short hairstyle.

Using a highlighting hood

The easiest way to highlight chin-length or shorter hair is with a highlighting hood.Once you have determined your desired look, prepare your hair and mix your highlighting solution according to the instructions included with your kit (as shown above, under HIGHLIGHTING LONG HAIR).You will then follow these easy steps:

1. Comb your hair into the style you usually wear it in.

2. Lower the highlighting hood onto your head and pull it down snug, then tie the straps under your chin.You want to make sure the hood is as snug on your scalp as possible.

3. Using the hook included with the kit, pull small sections of your hair through the holes.You will need to puncture through each hole, grabbing the hair with the hook, twisting, and pulling it through the hole.

4. Repeat this on all sections you wish to highlight.For an all-over sunkissed look, you would pull a small section of hair through every other hole on the crown of your head.For face-framing, you would just pull the sections through around the front.Most kits come with pictures or drawings of various styles to give you some ideas on the look you want to achieve.

5. When you are finished pulling the hair through the holes, and you have checked to be sure there are no loops or tangles, you can apply the highlighting paste.

6. When your time is up, thoroughly rinse your hair BEFORE removing the hood, and follow your kit's instructions for shampooing and conditioning.

Using the hair painting technique

If your hair is cropped very short, the highlighting hood might not work for you.Highlighting this style of hair can be a lot of fun, and is very simple to do.To do this, simply mix your highlighting paste as described above, and then apply it to small sections of your hair.You can apply it to just the tips of your hair to create a soft glow, or paint it on individual sections for a more "piecey" look.Avoid applying the highlighting paste all the way to the root!The resulting look will be unnatural-looking.

Note:Avoid highlighting the lower back or nape or your hair.Even if you are going for a dramatic look, you still want to keep the highlights where the sun would naturally touch your hair.

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