Colorists reveal their tricks for prolonging highlights.
Every year around summertime, we find ourselves wondering if we should go lighter with our hair. Maybe it's the excitement of sunnier days ahead, but we aren't the only ones. Salons are brimming with clients of all hair colors asking for everything from subtle highlights to a full head of highlights. Regardless of how you choose to color your new hair, you want to keep it fresh—without it getting brassy or losing its tone—for as long as you can. To weigh in on how to maintain your new highlights, we spoke to colorists and asked for their advice, product recommendations, and expert tips for how to prolong highlights on every hair color.
How to Maintain Highlights
It's worth remembering that maintaining highlights can be pretty time-consuming—depending on what you decide to do for your hair. Firstly, let's discuss what you can do at home. "Wash in colder water to avoid any bleeding from colored hair at home," explains Graham Nation, UNITE Hair Ambassador and celebrity hairstylist. While washing in cold water isn't exactly doable, lukewarm water is OK too—just as long as it's not too hot. "How often you wash your hair will play a huge part in this as well—the more you wash your hair, the more the toner will be released, which will cause it to lighten and/or expose warmth quicker, says Nina Rubel, master colorist at Rob Peetoom Salon Williamsburg. This is why using color-specific shampoos and conditioners and a color-depositing mask—at least once a week—is crucial. You should also avoid using hot tools like irons, blow dryers, and straighteners, as much as you can. "Using excessive hot tools will put out any toners that were put on," explains Ryan Pearl, celebrity colorist and Redken brand ambassador.
It's important to remember that lightening hair can result in damage. "When we remove the hair's natural color through bleach or lightener, we can also lose strength, moisture, and suppleness in the hair, causing it to be dry, frizzy, and potentially prone to breakage," says Rubel. A routine and proper products are imperative to prevent the loss of these things as much as we can. "To keep hair healthy, make sure to use products at home that replenish the level of protein and lipids in the hair to keep it strong and soft," explains Rubel.
There are a few things you can do in the salon too, if you aren't looking for high-maintenance highlights. "In the salon, make sure to pick a foil pattern and keep with it every time so you aren't over-coloring dyed hair every time, as lifting new pieces every time can be damaging," says Nation. Some low-maintenance foil patterns include a shadow root—a blending method to soften where the base color meets the highlight. If you are able to go to the salon often, maintaining a dense amount of highlights is doable. However, the bulk of us aren't, so ensure you discuss this with your stylist. "The best tip is to find a stylist that will assess your hair and lifestyle and customize your look and product recommendations to your hair's exact needs," explains Jes Jewel, an L.A.-based colorist.
Since brown hair is darker, expect to have more maintenance on it with highlights, since you'll be using bleach in some form. "Generally, maintaining highlights on dark and light brown hair involves going into the salon to get the highlights brought up every two to three months, depending on the look," says Jewel. She recommends using a toning mousse like Amika's Bust Your Brass Violet Leave-In Treatment Foam—because it'll tone and nourish your hair at the same time. Jewel also recommends trying some "no-heat styling techniques" like braiding damp hair, leaving it overnight, and applying Olaplex no. 7 oil to smooth it in the morning.
Maintaining highlights on blond hair is no easy feat, as it's super prone to brassiness. "Every two to three weeks, you should use a purple shampoo—like Joico's Color Balance Purple Shampoo—to keep the blond highlights bright and full of life," says Tzipi Benmaier, Bumble and bumble senior colorist. Furthermore, you should also make sure you mask. "Masking will keep the hair healthier, brighter, and moisturized." One unique thing she recommends to her clients is to use dry shampoo. "The best trick to do when maintaining highlights on blonde hair is to use a colored, light dry shampoo—it'll help the blond root look ashier," she says.
Let's be honest: We all love a shiny redhead, but red can be quite tricky to maintain. Always make sure you double-check the shade and maintenance before adding highlights. "When I do redheads, I like to make a color a bit darker and richer to give the color more longevity, as it fades quicker," says Pearl. On the other hand, Nation advises to highlight and tone as you normally would if your hair is naturally red. "But if you are highlighting overdyed red hair, make sure to keep the highlights separated from any red dye to avoid any bleeding." As with any color, communication with your stylist is key.
When discussing highlights on black hair, it's important to note that not all hair is the same. "With black being the darkest hair color you are exposing the most amount of warmth when lightening the hair," explains Rubel. The key when discussing color maintenance is really diving into what you can handle with your hair—salon maintenance, hair washing, styling routines, texture, and more play a role here. "When thinking about maintaining highlights on black hair, it's imperative to remember to get toners in between highlight visits," says Pearl. Toner prolongs the vibrancy and tonality of your highlights. "The number of times you wash your hair and how often you color it are huge factors when determining how often you should come in for a toner. Along with your hair wash and care routine, your styling routine, and sun exposure can cause your hair to fade faster," says Rubel. "So, it's very important to use a heat protectant for optimal color results."