Want to spice up your current brown shade without completely changing your color? Highlights are the answer. Trendy balayage (subtly sun-kissed or bold and bright), ultra-fine babylights, and even classic foils have the power to transform and spice up basic brunette color in an instant.
See the best highlights for brown hair in our guide to give your strands a pretty glow and update your look in a snap!
Spice Up Brunette Tones With Highlights for Brown Hair
- Highlights add dimension and a sun-kissed glow to brown hair
- Wake up dull color with blonde, light brown, or red highlights
- Choose trendy balayage, fine babylights, or classic foils
Have you fallen into a bit of a color rut with your brunette shade lately? Maybe you loved the color at first, but find it a bit dull and one-dimensional a few months later. Maybe it’s your natural color and you’re itching for a more modern change.
Or maybe you’re considering going brown and have highlights in your plan from the start! Whatever angle you’re coming from, getting highlights for brown hair is really exciting.
Highlights have this incredible ability to completely transform and shake up your look without requiring all-over color or major changes. All it takes is a little strategic color application, a quick process to lift, and bam!
Your brunette strands are basking in a new, sun-kissed glow. Highlights for brown hair can do a lot for your hair. They add dimension, brightening up your strands in targeted areas and zones to give your mane an overall lighter look.
The dimension they bring makes highlights great for transition looks in brown hair as you’re moving into a lighter overall color or transitioning into a warmer season.
Highlights, whether you’re going with balayage, foilyage, babylights, or classic foils, are the ultimate antidote to boring, dull brown hair color. You can bring in subtle ribbons of light brown color, strands of radiant red, or sparkling blonde shades that complement and uplift your current color.
Making highlights for brown hair look luxe and trendy means choosing flattering shades that won’t clash with your current color and match the general color temperature you’ve got going on.
We’ll talk more about this in just a bit! First, let’s take a look at some of the different colors and ways you can place highlights for brown hair to achieve a gorgeous glow.
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Best Colors to Use in Highlights for Brown Hair
Choosing your highlight color for brown strands is a really important step. If you want the most flattering highlights for brown hair, you have to pay attention to the shade/color level and the color temperature of your base color and potential highlight color.
Shade and Color Level
Highlights always look best when they’re roughly 2-3 shades lighter than your current base color. You can definitely bend this rule, going for more subtle highlights that are only a shade or so lighter or choosing much lighter shades that create a bolder contrast.
But in general, you should look at highlight colors in shades only slightly lighter than your brown base. It helps to determine your current color level so you can look specifically at colors 2-3 levels lighter.
For example, if your current color is a level 4 medium brown and you’re going with blonde highlights, you’d look for a level 6 dark blonde or a level 7 medium blonde for the most flattering look. You can go with a level 5 light brown for more subtle highlights or a brighter level 8-9 light blonde for a bolder contrast.
The color of your highlights should ideally be the same “color temperature” as your current hair color and undertones. The color wheel can be split in half to show warm colors (yellow, orange, red, pink) and cool colors (violet, blue, and green).
These color temperatures can be used to determine the highlight shades that will look best with your current shade of brown and your skin’s undertone.
While you probably won’t be getting highlights that are actually orange, yellow, violet, or green, you’ll find that these undertones subtly tint different shades of blonde, light brown, and red. Start by identifying the general color temperature of your current shade of brown.
Brown shades are inherently warm, but there are a few cool-toned shades of brown like ash brown and mushroom brown. Neutral brown shades like espresso brown and mahogany have both warm and cool undertones.
Highlights With Warm Undertones
If your shade of brown is warm, look for highlight colors that have warm undertones. Golden blondes and light golden browns have warm yellow undertones.
Light milk chocolate brown, copper reds, and strawberry blondes have a mix of golden yellow and reddish orange warm undertones that suit warm brown hair colors well.
Highlights With Cool Undertones
If your shade of brown is cool, look for highlight colors that have cool undertones. Platinum and ash blondes, pearly champagne blondes, and light ash brown all share silver ash and subtle violet undertones.
True reds and raspberry reds have blue undertones mixed in that make the usually-warm red shades colors cooler. These are excellent highlight choices for cool ash brown and mushroom brown hair colors.
Highlights With Neutral Undertones
If your shade of brown is neutral with both warm and cool undertones, you can really choose any highlight color. If you want to keep with the neutral theme, look for dark beige or taupe blonde colors or light to medium auburn red to create subtle highlights in neutral espresso, mahogany, or mocha brown hair color.
20 Pretty Highlights for Brown Hair for a Gorgeous Glow
Getting highlights for brown hair is a lot more fun when you’ve got tons of pretty examples to help you find a great highlight color and shade! Check out highlights for different shades of brown hair with varying blonde, red, and light brown tones that brighten up a basic brunette look.
1. Light Brown With Golden Dark Blonde Balayage
A subtle dark golden blonde balayage looks soft and natural with a light brown base color. These warm shades bring out peachy or golden undertones in your skin and are so easy to maintain with off-root dark blonde color along the midshaft to ends.
2. Mahogany With Auburn and Dark Strawberry Blonde Gradient Highlights
A rich, dark mahogany brown has reddish violet undertones that make it a neutral color. If you want to try a bright highlight shade like dark strawberry blonde that’s more than 2-3 shades lighter than your base, use the gradient color trick!
Auburn red makes a pretty transition color that eases the contrast between the lighter strawberry blonde tone and the rich mahogany base.
3. Dark Mushroom Brown With Medium Ash Balayage
Dark, cool, and rich, a deep shade of mushroom brown makes for a great color base to add in a cool-toned highlight color. Stick with the silvery undertones and choose a medium ash brown color to highlight and accent the ends in a subtle balayage color.
4. Light Brown With Golden and Beige Blonde Highlights
Dark golden blonde is a warm color that suits a light brown base shade nicely, but it’s not super bright. If you want a little touch of brilliance, go with a few light beige blonde highlights near the ends to lift the color without creating a stark contrast.
5. Medium Brown With Light Copper Foils
Foil highlights are still the best way to bring a brighter color into your base shade all over. These light copper highlights reach all the way up to the roots to splash warm coppery tones throughout the hair from root to tip. The red tones are muted near the ends to create a blonder copper shade for these warm, bright highlights.
6. Dark Chestnut With Golden Copper Blonde Highlights
Chestnut brown is a rich, warm brunette shade with red undertones. It makes perfect sense to pair it with dark and medium golden copper blonde highlights that are also warm colors. These chunky highlights are painted from the midshaft to ends in a bold balayage look that really brightens a deep chestnut brown.
7. Light Ash Brown With Champagne Blonde Balayage
Light ash brown is a gorgeous base color, but it can feel a little dull and plain on its own. Adding in glistening champagne blonde highlights that weave up through the midshaft and around the face brightens the color up.
8. Mocha With Subtle Light Golden Brown Highlights
Light golden brown brings out the warmth in the base mocha shade, especially as it lightens to a dark golden blonde near the ends. This makes a great highlight color that won’t clash or create a stark contrast, keeping the color natural-looking and subtle.
9. Medium Brown Base With Dark Golden Blonde Highlights
This is a warm-toned look that accentuates the rich golden undertones in the medium brown base shade and dark blonde highlights. You get a nice color contrast with this highlight without making it too stark by staying within the 3-shade rule. Curls showcase the color even more!
10. Espresso With Light Blonde Ribbon Lights
If you want bold, high-contrast highlights for brown hair, choose a light blonde shade with a dark brown base color. This neutral espresso brown gets warmed up a bit with pale golden blonde ribbon lights that weave up through the style for a bold color impact.
11. Dark Brown With Light Golden Brown Foils
A very dark brown base color is so rich that lighter blonde shades can create too much contrast and appear stripey. A dimensional light golden brown color gives you the brightness without jumping all the way into blonde territory. Leave the foils off the root to make your natural base color look like a purposeful root melt!
12. Medium Mocha Brown With Light Champagne Highlights
Brighten up a neutral medium mocha base color with some shimmering champagne blonde highlights. This neutral-cool color combo looks great on skin with cool or neutral undertones, and with the champagne blonde highlights painted off the roots, it’s much lower maintenance.
13. Rich Auburn Brown With Medium Copper Balayage
Taking a reddish brown base color like this rich auburn brown and brightening it up with slightly-lighter copper balayage is such a pretty option. Copper highlights for brown hair bring a ton of warmth and mirror the red tones in the base color for a cohesive, subtle look.
14. Medium Brown With All-Over Blonde Foils
All-over foils lighten up your hair a lot more than basic face-framing or T-zone foils. Going with a heavier foil creates a more dramatic color change and is a great way to transition into a lighter blonde shade without bleaching all of your hair. This look has a ton of dimension with medium brown interspersed throughout the blonde.
15. Milk Chocolate With Golden Blonde Ribbon Lights
A medium shade of milk chocolate brown is a beautiful base shade to pair with medium golden blonde ribbon lights. Ribbon lights or ribbon balayage are thicker sections of highlights that weave up through the hair and stay off the root. These warm colors are a gorgeous combo for warm-toned skin.
16. Medium Brown With Light Auburn and Wheat Blonde Ombre
If your medium brown shade feels a little one-dimensional and dull, a bright ombre color will highlight and liven up the color with tons of dimension.
Light auburn is the transition color at the midshaft and melts into a light wheat blonde at the ends for a warm-toned look that perfectly suits golden or peachy undertones.
17. Dark Chocolate Brown With Subtle Milk Chocolate Highlights
This subtle balayage look pairs sweet dark and milk chocolate tones together for a soft but beautiful highlight. Dark chocolate brown is generally a level 4 color, while milk chocolate is a little lighter at a level 5. Keeping the shade differences subtle makes for a naturally sun-lightened look.
18. Espresso Brown With Auburn and Dark Copper Blonde Foilyage
Espresso is a neutral brown shade with warm and cool undertones, so you can make it warm or cool depending on the highlight colors you choose. Rich sparkling auburn red and dark copper blonde shades are ideal to warm up an espresso base with off-root foilyage color.
19. Dark Chestnut Brown With Rich Copper Highlights
Cascading waterfall layers accentuate the rich copper highlights in this dark chestnut brown look really nicely. Chestnut brown has a deep auburn red undertone, so copper is a natural companion color to use for highlights if you’re a big fan of red.
20. Cafe Noir With Medium Auburn Highlights
Cafe noir is a brown-black color that sits around a level 2 with rich, inky depth. You don’t want to go too light with a highlight shade on this color, so a radiant auburn red around a level 5 is the perfect pick for warm undertones.
Things to Consider
Highlights for brown hair will always turn out better if you do a little planning first and know how to take care of your new color. Here’s what you need to know before you get your glow on.
- If your hair is slightly damaged, go with darker highlights. Dark blondes, light browns, and medium red highlights will all require less processing time than medium and light blonde highlights. If you notice any signs of damage, stick with darker highlight colors to avoid over-processing your hair. And take steps to fix the damage while you’re at it!
- Try off-root highlights for less maintenance. Traditional foil highlights extend up to the roots, but that makes root touch-ups necessary more often. Opt for foilyage, balayage, or ombre gradient highlights that are painted down away from the roots to reduce your maintenance level and achieve beautiful, trendy results.
- Get familiar with the cost of highlights. If it’s been a while since you’ve been to the salon for highlights, it’s a good idea to think about how much your highlights will cost. The price can range from around $60 to over $150 depending on the type of highlights you get and how long and thick your hair is. It’s one thing you don’t want to be caught by surprise on!
- Don’t overdo it. One of the benefits of highlights for brown hair is that it doesn’t take much to really brighten and transform the look. It can be tempting to go all-in with tons of highlights or a super-light blonde color, but remember that less is more here. A few strategic highlights around the face and down the T-zone might be all you need to make a big impact – plus, fewer highlights will save you money.
- Take care of your highlights for lasting color and tone. Once you’ve got your pretty new highlights, you can make the color and tone last longer by making a few changes. You should use sulfate-free shampoo on colored/bleached hair to avoid stripping the color. Using purple shampoo once a week can help keep cool-toned blondes from turning brassy. Blue shampoo is great to tone brown highlights in dark brown hair.
Highlights are one of the best ways to reinvigorate a dull color, update your look, or brighten up your color with new, flattering tones. If you’ve been dying to do something different with your brown hair, highlights are the obvious answer – and a lot less daunting than going in for a big chop.
Choose the type of highlights that will work best for you and create the look you want! From subtle balayage and gradient ombre highlights to classic foils, ribbon lights, and foilyage, you have tons of options to add in the color of your choice.
Try to choose a color and shade that’s the same color temperature as your current color and you’ll achieve flattering results that take your base shade to new heights. With all the tips and inspiration examples you’ve gotten here, you’ll be able to dream up a highlight look that gives your strands a gorgeous glow!