How to Highlight Dark Hair Without Bleach

Highlights require fewer root touchups than an all-over hair color.

Photo: Jupiterimages/ Images

Looking to spice up your boring, one-toned dark hair with some sassy highlights, but want to take a pass on the damaging bleach? Getting sexy and subtle highlights with color alone is totally doable, as long as your expectations aren't higher than color can lift your hair. For the safety of your hair, 30-volume peroxide is about as strong as you should use. That's okay, though, as this will lift your highlights to three levels lighter than your base hair color -- more than enough contrast to create some fab depth and dimension in dark hair.


Choose a hair color two to three levels lighter than the one you have right now. It can have red or golden tones, but can't be lighter than three levels, or this isn't going to work.


Divide the hair into four large sections. Part the hair from center front to center back and again from ear tip to ear tip. Use clips to hold and separate the sections.


Mix the hair color with 30-volume developer, according to the product directions, in a color bowl. Blend well with the color brush until all the lumps are gone. Slip on some protective latex gloves -- you're not looking to give your hands a color makeover.


Begin with one of the front sections. Section off a ½-inch-wide section from the top of the large section and hold this section in your nondominant hand. Use the tip of the color brush to weave in and out of the section. Grab the top weaved section and let the bottom section fall.


Place a piece of foil under the weaved section and up against the scalp. Lay the weaved hair onto the foil and apply the hair color to the hair. Really push that hair color into the hair to make sure it gets all the way through each weaved piece of hair.


Fold the bottom of the foil up to the middle of its length. Fold that up to the top so the foil is folded in three. Clip the foil up and out of your way.


Section off another ½-inch section of hair directly below the foil. You're going to skip coloring this section entirely, so just clip it up with the foil piece. Section off another ½-inch section, holding and weaving this section as you did with the first section.


Apply the hair color and fold the foil as before. You're going to get very familiar with this process, as you're going to do it repeatedly throughout all four sections of hair, alternating wrapping up colored and uncolored hair. Have fun!


Once you've finished all four sections, set a timer for 30 minutes. Let the color lift those highlights, and try not to peek too often, or it could disrupt the processing.


When the time has elapsed remove all the foils and rinse the hair thoroughly. Slather on some conditioner to seal the color into the hair and rinse once more. Find the nearest mirror and admire your fab new highlights.

Things You'll Need


1.Hair color

3.Color bowl and brush

5.Highlighting foil


2.30-volume developer

4.Latex gloves

6.Hair clips



Tips & Tricks


To eliminate excessive warmth or brassiness if coloring with a hair color levels six to eight, use an inch of blue drabber to cut the orange undertones. If you're using a hair color level nine or 10, use a violet drabber to cut excessive yellow tones.

This highlighting procedure will only work if your hair has not been previously colored. If you're trying to put highlights in artificially colored hair, there's no way on earth you're going to do that without the help of bleach. Color does not lift color.


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