hair color ideas 10 Gorgeous Highlight Ideas for Dark Brown Hair

From warm ribbons of color to cool, ash tones, we’re laying out the options.

November 30, 2022
Highlights Dark Brown Hair

Highlights on dark brown hair are a stellar way to add shine and dimension to your tresses. 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. 

From ombré hair to rich, auburn highlights, to cool-toned balayage, there’s no shortage of ways to highlight your brunette strands. Check out our 10 favorite ways to spice up brown hair with highlights, below. 

What Color Highlights Are Best for Dark Brown Hair?

The truth is, highlights are not one-size-fits-all. If you want to lighten your dark brown hair, there are 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 highlights. 

Even for the most experienced at-home colorist, it would be wise to visit a professional if you’re thinking about getting highlights. However, if you have light hair and would like a dark base with highlights, you can start your transformation journey with an at-home hair color kit. 

Try the L'Oréal Paris Féria Multi-Faceted Shimmering Permanent Hair Color, L'Oréal Paris Superior Preference Fade-Defying Shine Permanent Hair Color or L'Oréal Paris Créme Permanent Triple Protection Hair Color. All three options offer a variety of brown hues and will leave you with fresh strands that rival glossy, post-salon hair color. 

10 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. Check out our favorite ways to highlight dark brown hair.  

1. Ombré Highlights

Ombré highlights look amazing on brunettes because the gradient color offers brightness and contrast without the routine maintenance of traditional foil highlights. As your ombré highlights start to grow out, you don’t have to book an appointment to touch things up right away because 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.

Editor’s tip: For a more seamless look, try the color melt technique to give your roots the most gradual, dark-to-light transition.

2. Sombré

If ombré is a little too bold for your liking, give sombré highlights — a more subtle, toned-down version of ombré highlights — a go. You 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.

3. Blonde Highlights

If you’re looking to go bold and high-contrast with your color, go for blonde highlights. 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 cool, ashy undertones. If you have warm-toned brown hair, try golden or amber highlights. 

4. Caramel Highlights

When it comes to warm-toned strands, caramel highlights are especially dreamy on dark brown strands. The rich ribbons of color morph together to provide gorgeous dimension and luminosity. A colorist can help you achieve flawless caramel highlights but you can also get the look at home using the tried-and-true L’Oréal Paris La Petite Frost in Creme Caramel.

5. Bronde

As the name suggests, bronde highlights are a combination of blonde and brown hair color. The nice thing is, bronde is completely customizable with the undertones to 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 and 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.

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 15 minutes and rivals a salon glossing treatment. 

6. 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. 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.

7. 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 touch-ups on a routine basis. The balayage technique is typically applied on a darker base to create lighter highlights that are the perfect embodiment of sun-kissed hair color.

Editor’s tip: 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. In just 15 minutes, this deep conditioning mask revives dull, lackluster, faded hair color while infusing strands with moisture.

8. Ashy, Cool-Toned Balayage

The cool-toned balayage technique is exactly what it sounds like: a version of balayage that uses cool tones to provide dimension to the hair instead of warm, golden tones. After the highlights are placed, the hair is toned once again to create ashy, cool-toned color. 

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 to add dimension.

9. 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. 

10. Red Highlights 

Dark brown hair with red highlights is a great option if you’re looking to experiment with vibrant color. 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.

Editor’s tip: Switch it up and opt for a blend of pink and red highlights to achieve a strawberry brunette shade.

Next: The Best At-Home Hair Dye for DIY Balayage

Edited by: Reece Andavolgyi, Photo Credit: iStock