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Babylights vs Highlights vs Lowlights


All too often, clients sit down in the chair, pull up a picture on Instagram, and ask you to transform their head into the image on the screen. They don’t really care how you do it, as long as they walk away looking and feeling beautiful.

But that can sometimes leave stylists at a bit of a loss. Exactly which technique should you use to achieve the best results? As a stylist, you need to be able to create a plan of attack even in those tricky situations.  

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Three techniques that are often discussed together a lot, and which some customers (and newer stylists) sometimes get confused about, are: Highlights, babylights, and lowlights. Here, we discuss each of these techniques, explain how they’re different, and offer some guidance on when you can and should use each technique.


Highlights is really an umbrella term that encompasses many different techniques, but it basically boils down to sectioning out pieces of hair and applying some type of lightener from root to tip to create dimension in the hair. Traditional highlights are usually created using foils, but other techniques like balayage use a freehand painting method to apply lightener instead.

Using a traditional foiling method, a stylist will section off the hair, apply the product, and then wrap the hair in foil for processing. Using foil allows the lightener to penetrate deeper into the hair by conducting heat better than plastic film or open-air processing. Keep in mind that foils can sometimes lead to a harsh line of demarcation, so you may also need to perform a color melt or root smudge to soften the look.

Unlike traditional highlights, balayage does not involve foils. The technique involves painting the lightener directly onto sections of hair, leaving the client with gorgeous, blended highlights. Due to its simplicity and stunning results, balayage is one of the most popular highlighting methods being used right now. Similarly, foilyage blurs the lines between balayage and traditional highlights by merging the two techniques.

If your client wants to add high-impact dimension to their hair, highlights are the way to go. The technique you choose to pull off their look will depend on exactly what they are looking for, so be sure to ask the right questions to guide your decision on which technique to use.


Babylights are another subset of the highlighting technique. Just like traditional foil highlights, babylights are used to create dimension in the hair by lightening small sections of hair. The difference, though, lies in the amount of hair in each section, and the separation between sections. By coloring only micro-strands of hair, the babylights technique results in subtle, naturally sunkissed looking hair.

Babylights are versatile and can work on many clients with various hair types. For example, these superfine highlights are great for clients with thin hair, since they add dimension without overpowering the hair with larger traditional highlights.

Although there are some cases in which they are great on their own, there are also instances when stylists will choose to use babylights in combination with other coloring techniques to round off the look. For example, Babylights can be a great addition to a normal balayage service when used to create more subtle highlights to the part and hairline.


Lowlights use a similar technique to highlights, but with the opposite results: Instead of using a lightening product, a dye that is darker than the base color of the hair is applied to sections throughout the head, resulting in deeper tones that provide depth to the overall look. It is important to remember that there is no lightener or lift process when creating lowlights.

There are many scenarios when you might want to use this technique. Lowlights work wonders when it comes to giving the illusion that hair is thicker and more voluminous, so it can look particularly good on clients with fine hair.

In addition, they can work well on clients who are looking to add depth and dimension to naturally light hair without adding more highlights and risking subsequent damage from bleach.

If your client is looking to go a few shades darker with her hair color but doesn't want to sacrifice any dimension, applying lowlights is an option that allows you to deepen the look without doing an all over color that can appear flat or boring.

So, which one should you use?

The answer to this question will depend on the specific results your client is looking for. Ultimately, you may find that you’ll actually need to employ a number of techniques in order to achieve the look.

What should you do if a client comes in asking for highlights when they really need babylights, or vice versa? Or if they’re asking for lowlights but don’t really understand what the term means? Just do your best to educate them on the difference between the terms and then make the recommendations that you think would be best.

Want more root smudge tips? Download our Root Smudge Formula PDF!

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