When it comes to my beauty routine, I'm always willing to switch things up. If a blush has gone viral on TikTok, I'm not afraid to shelve my current one, and if a facialist tells me a new moisturiser should be on my radar, I'll pick it up immediately. But despite my willingness to stick any beauty concoction on my face, I've been very reluctant to change my hair. Until now, that is.
Thanks to trends like 'liquid brunette', 'glow lights' and 'tweed blonde' I've coveted a shiny new colour for years. However, fearing that I'd be stuck with an entirely unflattering bleached hue on my very dark hair, I've coddled my virgin lengths far more than necessary. But we've entered a new year and it's time for a change. The shade in question? 'Candlelit brunette', a hair colour trend that promises to lift and enhance dark hair in a subtle way (ideal for beginners like me).
What is candlelit brunette hair?
As the rather beautiful name suggests, the candlelit brunette hair colour (currently trending on TikTok, of course) enlists subtle baby lights (minimal highlights) peppered throughout the lengths to lift the hair to a sort of caramel-esque brunette, as though each strand is bathed in candlelight. This lit-from-within gleam (as seen on the likes of Kaia Gerber) is warm, mellow and soft. It takes the hair's natural colour and lifts it by weaving in thin strands of a much lighter colour. For my first step into the world of hair dye, I entrusted Carmel Blackburne, master colourist at John Frieda Salons, with creating the look.
"Candlelit brunette is essentially a shimmer of colour which runs through the hair, elevated by movement," Carmel told me in the chair. "It illuminates the natural colour and is designed to catch the light to create reflection," much like this stunning result by Natalia Vera, balayage specialist and educator at Live True London. The barely there strands of colour mimic the way hair glistens on an evening by the fire or under soft lighting.
How do you achieve candlelit brunette hair?
Carmel explained how the effect is achieved by creating the most seamless combination of colour. "Backcombing and teasing each section of hair stops the dye going all the way to the root," she said, "which prevents a clear line of colour." This makes the final look far more natural, rather than stripy (typical of most highlights) or too light (like balayage). "It's also important to colour in zig-zag sections," added Carmel, "rather than normal highlight sections [typically painted downwards] as the dye should mainly cover the mid to end sections of hair." This is what creates the shimmering effect.
Carmel used two different shades on my dark brunette hair: one with bleach to lift the colour of certain strands more intensely and one softer tint, a shade lighter than my natural hair. Both of these were used on very small sections of hair, resulting in a flawless blend of brunettes. Carmel uses the 'foilyage' hair colouring technique, which is similar to balayage but uses foils, and is more suited to darker hair. This is because it ensures the colour shows up more clearly yet remains natural-looking.
Who is the best candidate for candlelit brunette hair?
According to Carmel, candlelit brunette would suit most mid-length to long hairstyles and it's easy to adjust the colour depending on the tone of the natural hair. She mentions that for the glimmering look, hair should be shoulder-length or below, as it will need to flow and move for the candlelit, glinting effect. "At the salon, ask your colourist for half a head of baby lights in tones just a few shades lighter than your natural hair colour," advised Carmel.
This look is particularly suited to those who are afraid to dip a toe into the world of colour, as it's far from overpowering. It works on all textures, too, especially curly hair, which lends the multitonal colour more dimension when it moves. Take inspiration from this look posted to Instagram by award-winning afro and textured hair specialist Michelle Thompson, and from this colour on model Lislen A. Mattos.
Depending on the length and thickness of your hair, as well as how light you want to go, the foilyage technique could take anywhere between 45 and 90 minutes to perfect. As it counts as highlights and balayage, your colourist will likely quote you a price over the phone or in person during a consultation. In London, appointments start from £70 but will vary.
How do you maintain candlelit brunette hair?
Carmel told me that a trend like candlelit brunette hair is actually very low maintenance. Music to my ears! By not going right up into the roots, you allow the natural hair colour to shine through. This elevates the hair rather than masking it completely. "As the seasons change," said Carmel, "sunlight will lift the colour and bring new dimensions to it."
Of course, bleach can cause hair to become dry or brittle so Carmel recommended protecting my hair with a solid haircare routine. This includes a replenishing shampoo and conditioner. I've been reaching for Oribe Gold Lust, £50, which smells delightful and rejuvenates hair by balancing the strands and the scalp.
If you have less to spend, R29 rates Garnier Ultimate Blends Argan Richness Nourishing Shampoo, £2.40, and OGX Nourishing+ Coconut Milk pH Balanced Shampoo, £6.99. For even further nourishment, I'll do a weekly hair mask. Ouai Treatment Masque, £32, is packed with moisturising oils plus shea butter and hydrolysed keratin to restore hydration and add shine. Also try Garnier Ultimate Blends Hair Food Banana 3-in-1 Dry Hair Mask, £6.99, and Bleach London Reincarnation Mask, £7.
As a top colourist, Carmel's own recommendation is the brand Virtue. She swears by the Healing Oil, £42, a blend of oils and vitamins that works to smooth lengths and improve hair's body and vitality.
shop 7 products
As well as looking after the health of the hair, Carmel recommended that I use a blonde shampoo to maintain the radiance of the colour. Her recommendation is John Frieda Sheer Blonde Go Blonder Lightening Shampoo, £6.99, used on occasion to lift and lighten.
I've now lived in my new hair for four days and I can honestly say that I am obsessed. I'm chastising myself for not taking this step sooner. The subtle tones catch the light at every angle and whether I wear my hair straight or in waves, I can see the incandescence. This may be the start of a colour addiction.
Refinery29's selection is purely editorial and independently chosen – we only feature items we love! As part of our business model we do work with affiliates; if you directly purchase something from a link on this article, we may earn a small amount of commission.