How To Highlight Dark Hair — & Make It Look Natural

Highlights can be scary if you have dark hair: Too many of us have been burned by going into the salon for "subtle face-framing color" and leaving with our roots brassy and our hopes dashed. But that doesn't mean you can never consider a subtle lift — in fact, you should. Highlights can be an instant mood-booster and, when done right, look just like your hair, only brighter and shinier.

According to L.A.-based colorist Katie Cartwright, the key is finding a soft tone of brown to weave into your base shade. "You can brighten a dark hair color with a range of paler tones," she explains. "I often find the best undertones come from your complexion. For example, darker skin or eye colors will look great with bronze, copper, and caramel-colored highlights, while lighter complexions might opt for a toffee or beige-tinted lift."

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Ahead, our favorite examples of the luminous effect a stealthy highlight can have over a dark root — a refreshing, yet perfectly believable, winter pick-me-up.

Cartwright shows how to expertly weave a pale toffee-toned highlight over a brunette root, creating a sun-kissed, lived-in effect.
This caramel color is the result of a warm brown highlight diffused through the ends of the hair.
Celebrity colorist Cassondra Kaeding calls actress Olivia Munn's highlight her signature "smoky gold" color. As you can see, the effect is as subtle as it gets, with a gilded kiss just at the tips.
The warmth of the honey-brown highlight acts as a halo of flattering brightness around the face.
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This reddish-brown, borderline-cinnamon shade of balayage is soft, yet creates so much shimmery dimension over a black root.
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