I Got ‘Candlelit Brunette’ Hair — & Wish I’d Done It Sooner

When it comes to my beauty routine, I'm always willing to switch things up. If a blush goes viral on TikTok, I'm not afraid to shelve my current one, and if a facialist tells me a new moisturizer 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 color 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. But we've entered a new year and it's time for a change. The shade in question? 'Candlelit brunette', a hair color trend that promises to lift and enhance dark hair in a subtle way (ideal for beginners like me).
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What is candlelit brunette hair?

As the rather beautiful name suggests, the candlelit brunette hair color (currently trending on TikTok, of course) enlists subtle babylights (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 color and lifts it by weaving in thin strands of a much lighter color. For my first step into the world of hair dye, I entrusted Carmel Blackburne, master colorist at John Frieda Salons, with creating the look. 
"Candlelit brunette is essentially a shimmer of color which runs through the hair, elevated by movement," Blackburne told me in the chair. "It illuminates the natural color and is designed to catch the light to create reflection," much like this stunning result by Natalia Vera, a balayage specialist and educator at Live True London. The barely-there strands of color mimic the way hair glistens on an evening by the fire or under soft lighting.
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How do you achieve candlelit brunette hair?

Blackburne explained that the effect is achieved by creating a seamless blend of color. "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 color." This makes the final look far more natural, rather than stripe-y (typical of most highlights) or too light (like balayage). "It's also important to color in zig-zag sections," added Blackburne, "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.
Photo Courtesy of Sidra Imtiaz.
Before
Photo Courtesy of Sidra Imtiaz.
After
Blackburne used two different shades on my dark brunette hair: one with bleach to lift the color 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. Blackburne uses the 'foilyage' hair coloring technique, which is similar to balayage but uses foils and is more suited to darker hair. This is because it ensures the color shows up more clearly yet remains natural-looking. 

Who is the best candidate for candlelit brunette hair?

According to Blackburne, candlelit brunette would suit most mid-length to long hairstyles and it's easy to adjust the color 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 colorist for half a head of babylights in tones just a few shades lighter than your natural hair color," advised Blackburne.
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This look is particularly suited to those who are afraid to dip a toe into the world of color, as it's subtle. It works on all textures, too, especially curly hair, which lends the multi-tonal color more dimension when it moves. Take inspiration from this look posted to Instagram by an award-winning afro and textured hair specialist Michelle Thompson, and from this color on model Lislen A. Mattos.
Photo Courtesy of Sidra Imtiaz.
Before
Photo Courtesy of Sidra Imtiaz.
After
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 colorist will likely quote you a price over the phone or in person during a consultation.

How do you maintain candlelit brunette hair?

Blackburne 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 color to show through. This elevates the hair rather than masking it completely. "As the seasons change," said Blackburne, "sunlight will lift the color and bring new dimensions to it."
Of course, bleach can cause hair to become dry or brittle so Blackburne recommended protecting my hair with a solid hair-care routine. This includes a replenishing shampoo and conditioner. I've been reaching for Oribe Gold Lust, which smells delightful and rejuvenates hair by balancing the strands and the scalp.
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If you have less to spend, R29 loves Garnier Ultimate Blends Argan Richness Nourishing Shampoo and OGX Nourishing Coconut Milk pH Balanced Shampoo. For even further nourishment, I'll do a weekly hair mask. Ouai Treatment Masque is packed with moisturizing oils plus shea butter and hydrolysed keratin to restore hydration and add shine.
As a top colorist, Blackburne's recommendation is the brand Virtue. She swears by the Healing Oil, a blend of oils and vitamins that works to smooth lengths and improve hair's body and vitality. Blackburne recommended that I use a blonde shampoo to maintain the radiance of the color. Her recommendation is John Frieda Sheer Blonde Go Blonder Lightening Shampoo 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 color addiction.
This story was originally published on Refinery29UK.
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