How To Add Highlights to Light Brown Hair at Home

Forget obvious, streaky blonde highlights—here's how to subtly brighten up your colour.
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Thomas Marrington
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Forget obvious, streaky blonde highlights—here's how to subtly brighten up your colour.
Karlie Kloss, light brown hair, Victoria's Secret after-party, 2013

Has anyone else noticed the move towards more natural-looking, "maybe she's born with it" hair colour lately? Women are giving up their blonde highlights in hordes! They've had enough of spending hundreds a month in upkeep, and are choosing to stay brunette all over, in healthy-looking light brown tones. Much lower-maintenance than artificial blonde or red; far less expensive too.

Brown hair is also super-sexy. It's been a recurring theme with the winners of FHM's Sexiest Women of the Year awards, who, more often than not, are brunettes—not blondes. Think: Cheryl Cole, Halle Berry, Megan Fox, Jennifer Lopez, Kelly Brook and Mila Kunis (who this year took the coveted crown). Maybe gentlemen don't prefer blondes, after all!

Kelly Brook, light brown hair, Vivacious fragrance launch, 2008

Most ex-blonde-highlighters naturally fall into a dark blonde to mid-brown colour range. However, light brunettes often have the problem of "wishy-washy" colour—it can't decide if it is blonde or brown.

In this case, a little bit of brightening can be a great alternative to going blonder or darker. Look to Lauren Conrad for possibly my favourite hair colour EVER to exist:

Lauren Conrad, light brown hair, CoverGirl 50th Anniversary Party, 2011

You can get this same effect by subtly lightening the ends and a few strands around your face. It will give you a sun-kissed look that retains your brunette but adds some brightness. (Shame Lauren didn't didn't keep this for longer.)

While I always recommend going to the salon if you want perfect sun-kissed highlights, you can easily recreate this kind of tone-on-tone dimension using a brunette home hair colour kit. It's practically impossible to get wrong—and take it from me, I’ve used pretty much every brand and colour out there.

What you'll need

Garnier Nutrisse Permanent Hair Colour in 70 Dark Natural Blonde (or Almond Creme):

Garnier Nutrisse Permanent Hair Colour in 70 Dark Natural Blonde

Garnier Nutrisse Permanent Hair Colour in 90 Light Natural Blonde (or Macadamia):

Garnier Nutrisse Permanent Hair Colour in 90 Light Natural Blonde

A precision tint brush (since this is a balayage technique, the smaller your brush, the more natural it will look):

Colortrak Super Precision Small Tint Brush

You’ll also want to have:

How to apply the colour

  1. Start with dry hair, styled the way you normally like it.
  2. Mix each of the colour crèmes, 70 Dark Natural Blonde and 90 Light Natural Blonde, with their developer bottles.
  3. Using your precision tint brush, paint 90 Light Natural Blonde in thin strands around the face, creating tiny highlights from near the roots to the ends of the hair. Brush the colour on a few more strands around the head to create a multi-dimensional look. The dye is thick, so you don’t need to worry about it affecting the rest of the hair. Leave this to process for 10 minutes.
  4. After the 10 minutes are up, apply 70 Dark Natural Blonde with your brush to the ends of the hair. Use the brush to feather the colour up slightly, so there is no line of demarcation. (But don’t worry; it’s such a close colour that there will be hardly any contrast.)
  5. Leave the colour to develop for another 25 minutes. This means that the 90 Light Natural Blonde will have been on for 35 minutes total, but do not worry, as it will not go as light on the box—you will just get a subtle medium blonde to brighten the face.
  6. Rinse, then shampoo, condition, dry and style as normal.

Get the products

Have your say

Have you given up highlights for a natural light brunette?
Have you tried this technique for brightening your colour?
Who is your ultimate celebrity light brunette?