hair color ideas

How to Do Brown Hair with Blonde Highlights and More Highlighting Ideas

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August 18, 2023
Loreal Paris Brown Hair With Blonde Highlights

Adding Highlights to dark brown hair is a stellar way to add shine and dimension to your strands. The key to giving your dark hair a gorgeous makeover with highlights comes down to color selection and application. While shades like caramel and golden blonde tend to be popular with brunettes, cool-toned, ashy shades look equally as gorgeous and deserve the same attention. 

If you’re new to the world of highlights you can start simple with a subtle brown highlight or soft ombré. Or, go bold with your brown hair, with blonde highlights framing your face and making a statement with every flip of your hair. 


From ombré hair to rich auburn highlights to cool-toned balayage, there’s no shortage of ways to highlight your brunette strands. Ahead, grab inspiration from 13 of our favorite highlighting colors along with the at-home hair kits to pick up if you’re dyeing your hair at home. 

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What Color Highlights Are Best for Dark Brown Hair?

The truth is, highlights are not one-size-fits-all. There are endless shade options and the best color highlights for dark brown hair will depend on your preference. Remember, it’s your hair and you can wear it how you want.

If you want to lighten your dark brown hair, there is a variety of highlighting techniques and shades to choose from. With that said, it’s important to keep in mind that highlighting dark brown hair usually requires bleaching. The darker your starting shade, the more sessions it may require to achieve a brighter color like beige-blonde or icy blonde highlights. 


Can You Highlight Hair at Home with Box Dye?

Highlighting hair used to be a technique reserved solely for the salon. Thankfully things have changed with more people doing their own hair at home with glamorous results. The key to this is the right hair tools and of course, an at-home hair color kit. 

Try the L’Oréal Paris Superior Preference Balayage At-Home Highlighting Kit for an all-in-one set that includes everything you need for one of the hair inspirations shared below. You can choose from three natural shade options — light to dark blonde, medium to dark brown and dark blonde to light brown — for a glossy and bold hair color that rivals salon services. For the specific technique, read the included instructions before painting hair with the dye mixture for a more precise coloring session. 

There are endless color possibilities for highlighting your brown hair. You can try one of the various blonde, brown and red hues from the L’Oréal Paris Feria Multi-Faceted Shimmering Permanent Hair Color or L’Oréal Paris Superior Preference Cool Blonde Fade-Defying Shine Permanent Hair Color for strands that look salon-fresh. If your hair is on the darker brown side, consider lightening strands in your hair  using the L’Oréal Paris Feria Hyper Platinum Advanced Lightening System Bleach before adding a permanent or semi-permanent hair color.
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13 Ways to Highlight Dark Brown Hair

Highlights are a great way to freshen up your hair color while complementing the richness of your dark brown strands. These color options and techniques work for all hair types and protective styles — from wavy and curly hair to box braid extensions and lace-front wigs. Shake up your style with one of these 13 ways to highlight dark brown hair, including the prettiest brown hair with blonde highlights.   


1. Ombré Highlights

Ombré highlights look amazing on brunettes because the gradient color offers brightness and contrast with varying shades to customize your finished hairstyle. As your ombré highlights start to grow out, you won’t have to book an appointment to touch things up right away since your roots are meant to be darker than your ends.  


If you’re a seasoned box dye user, you can DIY ombré strands with the L’Oréal Paris Colorista Bleach in Ombré Bleach. The kit includes an applicator brush to evenly distribute the bleach onto your hair for a high-contrast gradient of dark to light color. For a more seamless look, try the color melt technique to give your roots the most gradual, dark-to-light transition.

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2. Sombré

If a traditional ombré is a little too bold for your liking, give sombré highlights a go. It’s a more toned-down version of ombré highlights for a subtle introduction to highlighting hair. This highlighting technique is also ideal for those who want to add a little color without a lot of foiling or bleach damage. You’ll still get the gorgeous gradient color but with a softer overall appearance. 


To get these subtle highlights, ask your colorist to go just a few shades lighter than your current hair color. Remember, the transition should be gradual when opting for this technique.

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3. Blonde Highlights

Go bold with this high-contrast color that embraces the brightness of a blonde hairdo without the commitment of completely bleaching your strands. To make it blend with ease, pick a highlight shade with the same undertones as your base color. If you have cool-toned brown hair, opt for blonde highlights with ashy undertones. If you have warm-toned brown hair, try golden or amber highlights. This color option can be worn by any hair type, but we especially love how a bold blonde color contours with the curves of curly dark brown hair. 

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4. Honey Blonde Highlights

If there’s one color combination we’re obsessed with right now it’s a honey blonde and brown mix. The shades complement each other for a soft golden hue that embraces the warm-toned side of being brunette. You can recreate this style in the salon, at-home or with an expertly laid wig. The warmth of a honey color melts into brunette colors of all shades creating a glowy hair color.

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5. Golden Blonde Balayage 

Developed by French hair colorists in the '70s, balayage highlights have gained popularity over the decades and especially on social media. Balayage highlights are created with a hand-painted technique for a natural-looking effect and lived-in color that doesn’t require routine touch-ups. The balayage technique is typically applied on a darker base to create lighter highlights that are the perfect embodiment of sun-kissed hair color.

After you leave the salon, keep your balayage highlights looking vibrant as ever with the L’Oréal Paris Le Color Gloss One Step In-Shower Toning Gloss in Clear or Honey Blonde. Each in-shower treatment takes no more than 15 minutes and lasts up to 10 washes. This deep conditioning mask revives dull, lackluster and faded hair color while infusing strands with moisture.

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6. Ashy, Cool-Toned Balayage

The cool-toned balayage technique is exactly what it sounds like; a version of balayage that uses cool tones (like an icy blonde or ashy brunette) to provide dimension to the hair instead of warm, golden tones like bronzy reds or orangy browns). After the highlights are placed, the hair is toned once again to create a light cool-toned blonde. Since dark brown hair tends to be on the cooler side, this is an especially fitting choice for brunettes who aren’t looking to add warmth to their color but still want dimension.

This coloring option also works wonderfully with protective styles like goddess locs, knotless braids or any style that requires hair extensions. Before braiding hair, pick up extensions with an ashy toned ombré that’ll tie into the hair, giving it a multi-dimensional balayage look.

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7. Bronde Balayage

As the name suggests, a bronde balayage is a combination of blonde and brown hair color. Brown hair with blonde highlights is a good option for all brunettes who want an easy introduction to the blonde-haired lifestyle. The nice thing is, bronde is completely customizable when using undertones that best suit your natural hair color and complexion. If you have a warm skin tone, opt for bronde highlights with subtle golden, amber and honey tones. 

If your skin tone is on the cooler side, pick an icy hue for your bronde highlights like dark ash blonde or champagne blonde. If you want to go for a natural bronde color, choose highlights that are just one to two shades lighter than your base for a balanced blend of colors that look like your hair grew that way.

Once a week, use the L’Oréal Paris Le Color Gloss One Step In-Shower Toning Gloss in Smokey Bronde to revitalize faded, lackluster hair color. It works in as little as 5 minutes and rivals a salon glossing treatment. 

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8. Caramel Highlights

When it comes to warm-toned strands, caramel highlights (or caramel balayage if you want natural-looking color) are especially dreamy on dark brown strands. The rich ribbons of color morph together to provide gorgeous dimension and luminosity that can light up an amber shade during golden hour. Of course, a stylist can bring you to this golden caramel shade in the salon, but you can also achieve a caramel balayage form of this look at home with the L’Oréal Paris Superior Preference Balayage At-Home Highlighting Kit in Medium to Dark Brown.

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9. Light Brown Highlights

Brown hair can still look vibrant and dimensional with brown highlights — just go a few shades lighter. Opt for a shade that can add vibrance to your color, like chestnut highlights or a cool-toned brunette. Overall, light brown highlights will still add plenty of dimension to your dark hair without too much contrast, which is especially ideal if you’re going for a subtler hair makeover. Choosing a brunette shade close to your natural root color will create an illusion of more volume with the dark and highlighted hues radiating in the light. 

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10. Warm Brown Highlights

Amplify your brunette hair with a brown shade a few colors lighter than your natural mane for a subtle definition that highlights do so well. Have your stylist add touches of warmth through your hair with an ombré highlight that you can rock any time of the year. From a warm highlight that embraces a sunkissed look in the summer to a smoky orange hue reminiscent of fallen leaves in autumn, warm brown highlights were made for dark brown hair. This color is similar to —but not exactly the same as  — caramel highlights. Whereas caramel highlights are lighter, veering towards a blonde hue, warm-toned brown highlights embrace the richer brunette color similar to hazelnut or chestnut brown. 

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11. Highlights-Lowlights Blend

Contrary to popular belief, brown hair can totally rock lowlights. Along with highlights, lowlights are a great way to add dimension and depth to dark brown hair. The highlights will help add lightness to your dark brown hair while the lowlights will create shadows, allowing the lighter ribbons of hair to pop. 

Plus, lowlights are a great way to add brightness without damaging your hair with bleach — think of them as reverse highlights. Depending on the colors you choose, this highlighting technique can create a natural blend of colors that’ll grow out beautifully, without the need to go back to the salon.

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12. Rainbow Highlights

Adding rainbow colors to your hair in the form of highlights the perfect introduction to colorful hair without the commitment of an all-over color. Ask your stylist to bleach strands as though you were adding platinum highlights, and then let the creativity begin. Use semi-permanent hair color to add an ombré of blues, purples, greens or yellows. 

If you don’t want to bleach or lighten your hair at all, you can still add colorful highlights with one of the pigmented shades from the L’Oréal Paris Colorista Semi-Permanent Hair Color, which works on light blonde, bleached, medium brown and dark brown strands. Each color has a specific recommendation for your starting hair point so you can see how the pigment will show on your hair color. 

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13. Red Highlights 

Dark brown hair with red highlights is a great option if you’re looking to experiment with vibrant colors. There are plenty of ways to achieve red highlights — from cherry-red to golden copper hair to auburn to rich mahogany strands — the options are nearly endless and ultra-flattering on brown tresses. 

If you already have highlighted brown hair, DIY red highlights with the L’Oréal Paris Colorista Semi-Permanent Hair Color in Burgundy. This temporary color lasts four to ten shampoos making it the perfect way to play with vibrant tones without the long-term commitment.

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How to Take Care of Dark Brown Hair With Highlights

Regardless of how you highlight your hair, when the color starts to get dull use a hair gloss to add a jolt of shine to strands. We recommend the L’Oréal Paris Le Color Gloss One Step In-Shower Toning Gloss which comes in a variety of colors for your specific shade, including a universal clear gloss that’ll add vibrancy to your highlights. Check out the various hair glosses and at-home hair dye kits that we mentioned throughout this story for a color refresh and upkeep for your specific highlighting needs.

Next: Skip the Salon and Try the Best at Home Hair Color Kits


Photographer: Stephanie Price

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