Light touch This is why your highlights don’t look like Leighton Meester’s. Plus! My favourite celebrity hairstylist on how to pick the right hair colour

Leighton Meester Herbal Essences This is why your highlights dont look like Leighton Meesters. Plus! My favourite celebrity hairstylist on how to pick the right hair colour

Last year, Leighton Meester was number one on my list of the haircuts, styles n’ colours that made me want to run (not walk) to my hairdresser.

And I am sure it is no coincidence at all that the man responsible for her ‘do is also my favourite celebrity hairstylist, Charles Baker Strahan. (He’ll be familiar to some of you, if you remember his awesome side-braid and side-bun tips.) Charles also tends to Whitney Port and Lauren Conrad, plus he’s the official stylist for Herbal Essences (for which Leighton is also a spokesperson).

And I cannot help but gush about him because every time we speak, he gives me some insider hair intel that Blows. My. Mind. Trust me, after years of gleaning hair tips from hair experts, learning something new doesn’t happen often.

Today’s revelation has to do with colour, so if you belong to the 75 percent of women who dye (and especially if you’re a brunette), this post will improve your life—I promise.

First—a pic of Charles so you can fully appreciate his awesomeness.

Charles Baker Strahan This is why your highlights dont look like Leighton Meesters. Plus! My favourite celebrity hairstylist on how to pick the right hair colour

Okay, now check this out.

chunky highlights This is why your highlights dont look like Leighton Meesters. Plus! My favourite celebrity hairstylist on how to pick the right hair colour

Mal, très mal. This is an extreme version, sure, but more often than not, you get a version of this when you’re a brunette who goes to the hair salon asking for highlights. I’ve actually been the victim of this myself and you just know that something is… off… but you can’t put your finger on it.

Meanwhile, let me emphasize that the trend right now (not that the above look was ever “fashionable”) is very much a subtle, tone-on-tone thing. See?

Leighton Meester Teen Choice Awards This is why your highlights dont look like Leighton Meesters. Plus! My favourite celebrity hairstylist on how to pick the right hair colour

THIS! THIS is what we want. And you’re going to need to give crystal-clear instructions to your hairdresser if you want to get it.

This is what CBS (the person, not the TV station) has to say:

“Tonal and dimensional quality on brunette hair can be a challenge to achieve. What needs to happen with that specifically, if you’re thinking about brunette hair, is that you need to add dimension.”

What kind of dimension, Charles?

“Particularly if you have light brunette hair, go to lowlights instead of highlights. Allow your natural colour to be the highlight.”

Whoaaa. Easy, tiger. LOWLIGHTS instead of highlights? This is radical. Tell me more.

“You intensify the richness. Paint whatever colour at the root, but then pull the streaks down through underneath. The lowlight and filling in of the colour won’t look stripey or skunky. You have a tonal variation that is subtle.”

Well hot damn, that was satisfying.

But CBS’ advice doesn’t end there. One of the most frequently asked questions around these here parts is how to choose the right hair colour. We’ve talked about it before, but I think you’ll find that the following definitively answers the question for once and for all.

How to choose the right hair colour

Think of the children. “You can take cues from that stage of your life. [When you're a kid], everything is luscious. The apples of the cheeks are full, you have a brightness in the eyes and the colour of eyes is more intense. Your hair colour is more vibrant and more alive—and it’s warm, too.”

Jessica Biel hair This is why your highlights dont look like Leighton Meesters. Plus! My favourite celebrity hairstylist on how to pick the right hair colourStep away from the ash. “You don’t ever see a kid with ashy hair. Ashy is a fashion choice, but it’s not a natural choice—it happens [gradually] as you get older, and it’s also what makes us feel older.”

Pay attention to what happens in the sun. “When you come back from a vacation in a warm place, there’s a warmth to your skin, and your hair is lightened ever so slightly. Hair will always lighten warmer. It never lightens cool—that’s just not the way it works. If you’re a deep brunette and your hair lightens in sun, it gives you an idea [of what shades will look good on you]. If it naturally goes to a golden warm, then stick to golds. If you’re meant to have some form of red, there are cues where red will look good on you.”

Drab, solid colour bad. Tone-on-tone variation good. “When hair has a differences in tone and colour, and is crisp and vibrant, that makes it beautiful. [You want] some tonal variation.”

But easy on the highlights, bro. “The colour trend is lush and tone-on-tone. If it’s highlighted, there’s not as much chunkiness. With exception of Ombré…”

If you do go Ombré, keep it subtle. “Ombré isn’t necessarily ever ‘out,’ because it’s what happens naturally. If you see a little blonde girl in the winter, when her natural colour doesn’t get as much light from the sun, the ends of her hair look more intense. But when it goes too far—that’s only a good look if you’re in a punk band. So I think Ombré isn’t something that’s a revelation, it’s just exaggerating what happens naturally.”

So tell me…

Have you ever had stripey, skunky highlights?
Did Charles Baker Strahan’s tips blow your mind or what?
Do you find that you naturally gravitate to the colour you had as a child? (Personally, I love that Charles has validated my blonderexia…)


Wednesday, March 23/2011 at 5:56 pm

Great post, Michelle.
Now this is the kind of a man I would trust to do probably everything with my hair :) I still haven’t done anything with mine as I can’t find a good hair dresser. My hair is very dark so it will be hard to do something with it…
And,yes, Leightons’ hair is fab! x


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Friday, April 1/2011 at 11:06 am

I know – I would totally let Charles have his way with me! :-)


Tuesday, April 5/2011 at 11:20 am

Ditto to that, Michelle!!! Lol!!


Wednesday, March 23/2011 at 6:10 pm

I had an accident last month with highlights EVEN THOUGH I mentioned I was deathly afraid of stripes at least 5 times. I was only going from light brown to blonde, and still was bad. Thankfully he was really good when I went back and he broke up the chunks with something closer to my natural colour… one of the perks of seeing the same person for years is they really want to make sure you’re happy (or at least that’s my experience).


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Friday, April 1/2011 at 11:08 am

Glad he was able to fix! Did you see my post on double-process? Might be something to consider… I’m a total convert now – no more streakiness!


Wednesday, March 23/2011 at 6:20 pm

My mom got the chunky highlights often, and every single time it made her look wayy older. I don’t know, but there’s something about a bad hair color that says “I’m trying too hard to cling to my youth and fail lamentably”. Maybe that’s why I’ll get my hair shaved bald before I let any “hairstylist” put streaks of color on my head! Back off with that tin foil, woman!! Hahaha..

I’ve been dyeing my hair darker for years now, and it’s SUCH a pain to go back to my natural dark blonde… /sigh I’ve been to the salon twice already, and am still stuck with darker ends and a very bleh reddish light brown, and twice I specifically said I wanted to go lighter.. Next time, I’m taking a picture of ScarJo from the Oscars 2011, and it better look better than a DIY.. I mean I’ve gone from nearly black (mistake..) to light brown on my own, and a hairstylist can’t get from light brown to dark blonde?! Pe-lease..


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Friday, April 1/2011 at 11:12 am

Going from (dyed) dark back to light is harder than the reverse… a lot of colour-lifting involved, if you’re not doing highlights. I had to do it over many months.

I know you said you’re anti-highlight, but have you ever done double-process?


Soelis Kabbabe
Wednesday, March 23/2011 at 6:22 pm

I personally think my natural hair color is way to right for my skin. I’m too pale, and my hair when I was a kid was dark brown. So I have been avoiding this shade. After so many radicals changes, I’m currently using ash brown. Should I go back to my natural hair? What do you think Michelle?


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Wednesday, March 23/2011 at 7:00 pm

You mean there’s not enough contrast between your hair and your skin tone? Do you have a pic?
I’m not a huge fan of ash brown, both based on Charles’ advice and my own life-long quest to banish my own natural mousy colour!


Soelis Kabbabe
Wednesday, March 23/2011 at 7:25 pm

Think Cameron Diaz when she was dark brunette with Dakota Fanning pale skin, that’s my natural complexion. I always felt dark hair was kinda blah on me because my eyes are dark brown also, and my eyebrows are light brown. So I didn’t have any feature to pop up. My husband wants me to go back to my dark hair, so maybe I’ll think about it. I’m not gonna lie, with dark brown my hair feels and looks so healthy. Liv Tyler’s hair color could be an option? I haven’t found a really great stylist in NYC, like I said to you in an email, they are good…just not enough to get my hair as I want.


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Friday, April 1/2011 at 11:16 am

Oh I’d work the pale! I love the contrast. That sounds really pretty – a nice rich glossy dark brown. (If I could pull off that colour, I would have it!) You could warm it up slightly too… that would probably be more flattering than the ash with your skin. Then just invest in an eyebrow pencil :-)


Soelis Kabbabe
Wednesday, March 23/2011 at 6:23 pm

I meant, it’s not right for my skin.


Thursday, March 24/2011 at 12:05 am

Very good tips. Thank you. I love Leighton’s highlights in the first pic. In the second one her colour is gorgeous but her roots look gross.


Thursday, March 24/2011 at 12:10 pm

Oh my goodness thank you for addressing this hair colour issue! I have been victim to the waaaay too light, chunky highlight far too many times. I went through a phase where I wanted sort of Giselle beachy hair- but a little darker since my base colour is med-dark brown. Over the course of a year, I must have gone to about 5 or 6 very well regarded salons in Toronto looking for someone to give me natural looking, subtely highlighted, tone on tone hair colour. What I got consistently, was chunky, stripey, high contrast highlights. I brought photos, read up on the correct jargon to use when speaking to your hair dresser, everything, and time after time, I turned out like that awful picture you have posted and have had to stop at a Shopper’s on the way home to buy yet another box of dark brown hair dye. You don’t know the trauma that this issue has caused me in my life. THANK YOU for addressing it!!!


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Friday, April 1/2011 at 11:18 am

I hear you sister! Don’t even get me started about the lack of options in this town! Actually have you seen my double-process post? Maybe something to consider as well, if you wanted to lighten your base. I’m THRILLED with my new colour from Tony Chaar. (And if you go there you will understand how worried I was beforehand! heh.)


Thursday, March 24/2011 at 7:13 pm

Wow brilliant. My stylist convinced me that a golden toner, NOT an ash toner, was what I needed. I think blondes tend to think ashy to counter brassiness, but we don’t have to go that ashy. It DOES make us look older and CBS is totally right- hair doesn’t lighten cool! Seriously. My stylist always said stick with the shade you were when you were a kid which is why I call it “going BACK to my natural colour” ;)


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Friday, April 1/2011 at 11:19 am

Yes hate the ash on blondes… it’s so old skool and makes you look grey!

I love the “BACK to my natural colour” – awesome spin.


Friday, March 25/2011 at 4:46 pm

Michelle, I am in love with this post! I can’t stand the look of my hair with highlights and I never like how it turns out when it dyed one colour. I’ve been getting anxious to colour my hair again (something different) for summer and I think I’ve found some inspiration from this post.

Lauren from ChickAdvisor


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Friday, April 1/2011 at 11:20 am
Tuesday, April 5/2011 at 11:29 am

In an effort to save myself some bucks, I dove into the world of at-home hair colour again. I used to do this all the time, then decided I liked the extra attention at the salon :)

Anyway … I’m really liking the colour I chose, except I didn’t realize it was permanent until AFTER I had applied it. Oops!! I meant to grab a demi/semi permanent colour, but I was so excited to try Clairol’s Nice n’ Easy Color Blend Foam that I didn’t bother looking at anything else. So now I’m wondering what the next step is. When/if I start seeing roots (I tried to keep the colour close to my natural; me, but slightly improved) do I do an all-over colour again, or just my roots? … Or should I just go back to the salon and have them deal with it?


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Saturday, April 16/2011 at 11:33 am

Nope – just the roots. You should only do the entire lengths once or twice a year with permanent colour, otherwise it’s too damaging.

You need to Twitpic the colour! Don’t leave us in suspense :-)


Saturday, April 16/2011 at 1:40 pm

I’ll try to get a pic for ya when I have better light — can we say crappy weather day today?? In the meantime, the colour is called Medium Reddish Brown — you can look up the swatch on the Clairol website. It turned out darker than I thought, but that’s okay. It was between the red one and Medium Golden Brown.

I watched “Country Strong” the other day, and I think the colour is pretty close to Leighton Meester’s shade at the time (the pics above are lighter than what I have). Here’s a pic I found online:


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Sunday, May 1/2011 at 5:50 pm

Oh I LOVE LOVE LOVE Leighton’s colour there! That must look so gorge on you – nice pick!


Sunday, April 24/2011 at 6:04 pm

THIS is why I read your blog. This info is golden.
When I was a few years younger and I wanted to dye my hair for the first time (brown to blonde which I now know would have been a mistake of epic proportions since I simply thought whacking a light blonde box dye on my medium brown hair would automatically make it amazingly golden and blonde, since I didn’t know about bleach and hair colour levels and whatnot) I ended up having to compromise with my mother and get highlights instead, which my mum did rather well with Wella Streaking Kit – DEFINITELY recommend it!

Anyway, various dyes later (I have since been various shades of red, brown and blonde) I treated myself with a full head of salon highlights for my birthday, forking out £60 for my hair to be blondified.
It went white. With brown roots.
I then had to redo it myself with a golden blonde (it went fluorescent ginger, but I managed to salvage it with a toner) and now, a few months later, I have recently had some 8G and 9N highlights put in again to brighten it up. And it looks really good, a light, beachy, Gisele-before-the-lions-mane sort of look.

And it’s because of this post! So thank you (and CBS) for saving my hair!

Huge fan, fellow blonderexic Thomas xx

P.S. I have just realised how much I have written, and I do apologise, but, being an aspiring writer myself, I simply can’t help it. Plus I’m ever so slightly besotted with getting the perfect highlights.


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Sunday, May 1/2011 at 3:08 pm

I think I love your mom for giving you highlights, that’s awesome! And so glad this helped :-) One more tip – for saving money in between colour jobs you don’t have to do the highlights/lowlights every time… you can just do a toner all over to freshen it up. (And those of us who also do solid colour can just touch up the roots + toner all over.)


Saturday, May 14/2011 at 5:13 pm

I have naturally dark brown hair and very pale skin with freckles and hazel eyes (I burn easily and rarely tan). I really want to try the Ombre look but don’t see how I can have lighter ends when my hair is already so dark all over. Will I need to use a lighter shade for the ends? Can I do this technique with red hair color?


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Friday, July 29/2011 at 5:21 pm

Hi Elizabeth – have you seen this post? If you want a subtle look just choose a shade that’s pretty close to your natural colour.


Saturday, July 16/2011 at 8:06 am

I have natural black hair and i wanna get highlites but im not shure what color i should get what would you recomend? (my hair is what you can call “virgin hair”) Im a baige skin color i have very black hair and brown eyes. what would you recomend?


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Sunday, July 24/2011 at 7:57 pm
Tuesday, October 11/2011 at 11:40 pm

I have stripy low lights… my hair dresses refuses fully color my regrowth.. and this is the second time ive taken in pictures to show her what i want!! so i have low lights, which pulls through my horrible natural dark ashy blonde color, blonde foils and the original blonde with regrowth… not a good look and not impressed!!


Sunday, November 6/2011 at 1:30 pm

Very good advice! This guy is certainly a hair god!


Tuesday, March 27/2012 at 8:27 am

Sorry but the paragraph about ash is nonsense. There are plenty of children and young people with natural ash blond/e or ash brown hair.


Saturday, April 28/2012 at 3:15 pm

Thanks so much for this post! I’ve always wanted highlights but I shy away from them because I don’t want that stripey look and I don’t know how to request ‘tone-on-tone’ – your post was really helpful. Now I just have to figure out what colour suits me…
I have medium ash brown hair, it’s stick-straight, pale skin, and blue eyes. I’m a “cool” coloured person where blue and red clothes look nicer on me and peaches and beige wash me out. I did a semi-permanent dye before (darkest brown/aka pretty much black) and I loved it. I want to try lighter but I’m afraid it’ll wash me out. What colours do you suggest?


Saturday, May 25/2013 at 2:36 am

Hi! Could you please recomend a good place to do my hair in Houston,Tx? I’m brunette and I’m tired of the highlights! I used to be light brunette when I was younger. I would like to try the tone on tone variation with a very good hairdreser.
Thank you very much.


Monday, August 12/2013 at 7:04 am

Love this post! I just recently dyed my hair for the first time and have been left devastated at the result of skunky, streaky highlights. I feel like my hair is circa 2001! Can you please, please, please do a post on how to salvage your hair back form chunky highlights? Do I just buy a packet of brown dye? HALPPPPPPP S.O.S


Friday, September 13/2013 at 12:09 pm

I can totally relate to all of this. After getting blond highlights for the past 20 years, I decided to go dark and a little ombré. It was great at first and the color faded to a cool reddish color but then I let someone put on an all over color and a few highlights that were skunky and terrible. It was instant “old lady” hair and I hated it. So I’ve desperately been trying to get my blond back but it is definitely a process. You can’t get it back in one day that’s for sure. I will now be blonde to my deathbed…NEVER AGAIN!


Thursday, October 10/2013 at 10:49 pm

My hair was ashy as a kid and my natural hair is still ashy, albeit a git darker. It makes me sad that everyone hates ash hair tones. It’s my natural color… how could it NOT suit my skin tone? It just seems wrong. No one says a certain eye or skin color is ugly.


Friday, October 18/2013 at 11:03 am

What about short hair? I’ve got dark brown hair in a pixie cut. You don’t have much to work with, in terms of drawing lowlights from underneath, as CBS says. I can’t do anything with the sides because they’re so short it’ll look spotted. Any suggestions for how to get eye-catching without being fake?


Saturday, March 22/2014 at 8:51 pm

Hello I was wondering if you could give me your professional opinion on a good hair color or highlights with my skin tone. I have dark hair naturally like in this pic with tan skin and blue eyes. Should I leave it natural or add a few highlights and if so what color? I am also very confused to if my coloring is warm or cool with the mix of blue eyes and brown hair thus leaving me confused about what colors to go with. Thanks so much! Chasidy


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