How to Add Highlights to Dark Brown Hair at Home

Step-by-step instructions for adding subtle, tone-on-tone highlights to your colour.
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Step-by-step instructions for adding subtle, tone-on-tone highlights to your colour.
Mila Kunis, dark brown hair, Ted premiere, 2012

From Mila Kunis to Katie Holmes to Victoria Beckham to Selena Gomez, many celebrities who are considered to be the most beautiful women in the world are especially famous for their long, dark tresses. Brown has become the new blonde, and shiny, long and glossy are all words that come to mind when thinking of these A-list manes.

Katie Holmes, dark brown hair, Dead Accounts photocall, 2012
Victoria Beckham, dark brown hair, Great British Film Reception, 2012

Here in the UK, Cheryl Cole became the nation’s sweetheart and the most photographed woman in Britain during her three-year stint as a judge on The X Factor. Her hair was arguably as famous (if not more) than her show was! It’s fair to say those bouncy chestnut locks were lusted after by pretty much anyone who laid eyes on them.

Cheryl Cole, dark brown hair, Brit Awards, 2010

The thing about having naturally dark hair, however, is that it's notoriously challenging to highlight. A bit of subtle, tone-on-tone dimension looks great—but in general, women with dark hair should steer clear of anything lighter than dark blonde highlights (unless it's a deliberate statement/fashion look).

Megan Fox's hair is a perfect example of dark hair with warmth and dimension, but without compromising the richness of the brunette:

Megan Fox - Golden Globes 2013

Want to get this look at home? I'm going to show you a technique for adding subtle balayage (hand-painted) highlights to dark hair. This method is super-easy and gives a slightly sun-kissed and summery look to dark hair.

What you'll need

Garnier Nutrisse Permanent Hair Colour in 63 Light Golden Brown (or Brown Sugar):

Garnier Nutrisse Permanent Hair Colour in 63 Light Golden Brown

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.
  2. Using 63 Light Golden Brown, mix the developer with the colour creme in your plastic mixing bowl.
  3. Starting around the face, use your smaller brush to paint a few thin highlights down from near the roots to the ends of the hair. These shouldn't be too thick, as you're only creating movement and dimension, and some light around the face—but NOT super-obvious streaks.
  4. Going around the sides and back of the hair, start from the mid-lengths and brush the colour down to the ends in strands. You can make these a little thicker, as they will imitate a sun-kissed look.
  5. Leave the colour to develop for 25 minutes.
  6. Rinse with cold water until it runs clear, and then shampoo and condition. It's a good idea to leave your conditioner in for about two minutes.
  7. Rinse again, and then dry and style as normal.

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Have your say

Have you struggled with highlighting your dark hair?
Have you ever tried a tone-on-tone balayage technique like this one?
Who is your dark brunette celebrity inspiration?