I've never highlighted my hair, but I've considered it more times than I care to admit to any hairdresser who has ever brushed through mine, asking, "Is that red your natural color?" It is, and I've grown to love it. But there are some times when I think about brightening it with a teeny-tiny strawberry blonde highlight for a change that, really, only I would notice.
The internal dilemma always ends with the same line of reasoning: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Still, the back and forth has helped me solidify an opinion on the merits of a good blonde highlight, a subtle brightening of your natural color hitting the baby hairs around the face for an effect that reads as God- (or UV-) given.
For the tone, colorist Sienree Du encourages a "warm and rich" blonde, something with leaning toward golden or wheat. There are two benefits to this: First, warm tones reflect light and comes across shiny, whereas an icy or cool-toned blonde can skew dull or dry. A warmer shade also picks up the warmth in your complexion, which can be especially nice when heading into the cooler, darker months.
According to L.A.-based colorist Bianca Hillier, who I consider to nail the dark-to-believably-blonde lift, balayage is a great option. She talks about painting "ribbons" of blonde through the hair, which gives a high-contrast color that's seamless for a nice grow-out. "A chunkier highlight is in right now," Hillier says. "I like to explain the color as 'ribbons' of blonde, instead of little spaghetti pops of light. These are ribbons lighting through the hair. Thicker ribbons are blended but they are high contrast — still, nothing that's going to look unreal."
My personal favorite piece of advice hinges on placement for a highlight: right around the face. Not only is this the area with the most visibility, but according to Hillier, a little "money-piece" highlight will keep you out of the salon for a good six months to a year. "The baby hairs around the face tend to grow slower, so they stay brighter longer," Hillier says. "When you bump up those baby hairs a little bit, that blonde will really last."
Another tip for highlight longevity: purple shampoo and regular hair treatments. "Olaplex 0 and 3 are great for blondes," Hillier recommends. She admits that my natural red hair might not benefit much from a treatment designed to help lock in chemical color... but if I ever do pop in some strawberry blonde, there's an easy maintenance plan at the ready.