5 Highlighting Techniques That Will Give You the Best Hair Color of Your Life

Just in time for spring.

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Highlights are evergreen, but as hints of spring, and even summer, begin to present themselves, our desire for ripples of glittering dimension tends to grow tenfold. And because great hair color can be a process (pun very much intended), it's never too early to start finessing it for the season to come. Here, we've looked to a slew of our favorite colorists to play show and tell with their go-to highlighting techniques.

1. Lived-In Color. Meant to mimic that perfect, sun-kissed color you had when you were summering as a kid, Johnny Ramirez, who is one half of L.A.'s Ramirez-Tran salon, was originally inspired by the tones in his daughter's natural blonde hair when he created his signature "lived-in color" method. Ramirez begins by analyzing a client's skin tone and eye color, then depending on the season, decides how light or dark they should go.Then, he meticulously highlights the entire head, creating a fake root in the process. Particularly if the client has virgin or darker hair, he will gradually take them blonder as opposed to doing it one sitting.

"Nine out of 10 times, my client will call within a month and ask to go lighter," he tells us. "From there, I will bump up the baby blonde highlights around the face. The secret to my technique is all about blending and making my client look the most natural."

2. Surfer-Inspired Balayage. This beach-bum-inspired technique is more sporadic and free-flowing. Not to mention, a cool route to go if you've got virgin hair color and you want to break up the solid color palette.

"True surfer hair, to me, is how extreme the sun would lift the natural pigment over a long course of time," says Mèche Salon's Matt Rez, adding that darker virgin hair will pull more red, while lighter virgin hair will pull more golden. "It takes a few appointments and overlapping existing highlights to reach the lightest your hair can go with this technique."

3. Tipping. For megawatt brightness, Rez takes the "tipping" approach by adding glowing pops to the ends. "A combination of balayage and foiling is done on selected locks of hair to create graduated highlights going from darkest to lightest," he explains, adding that it works great for clients who want immediate results with max lightness. Rez also uses it for color correction, as well.

4. Hair Painting. Forget the foils—Hairstory's Roxie Darling likes to stipple with an actual paintbrush. "It's a freehanded technique and allows you to be really, really subtle with your approach or create something really contrasted," says Darling. Another way to acheive the lightened-by-the-sun-effect, it tends to be more pared back in the root area then bright at the ends and around the face. "There's not that much technicality about it, but it does take a lot of experience to know how much prodcut to use and when to use it." (Pick up a Hairstory promo code before you grab yours.)

5. Freestyle Painting and Foils. L'Oréal Paris Celebrity Colorist Kari Hill doesn't have a one-size-fits-all formula for her technique. First, she looks to her client to see if they have a preference between foils or balayage. Regardless, she often looks to isolate every section she's working with cotton balls to ensure there's no bleeding. "I like to do foil on very delicate and fine hair," she explains. "Balayage is a heavier application because you're not using the fine tooth end of the comb to section the hair, but rather the brush. Therefore, you do get more of a deliberate application."

If you're doing your color at home with a kit, like L'Oréal Paris Superior Preference Glam Lights, Hill recommends looking for one with a fine-toothed applicator, which allows for more control over the amount of color you're depositing. For a natural-looking balayage effect, color the hair in small sections and paint little babylights around the hairline.

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Lauren Valenti
Beauty Editor

Lauren is the former beauty editor at Marie Claire. She love to while away the hours at coffee shops, hunt for vintage clothes, and bask in the rough-and-tumble beauty of NYC. She firmly believes that solitude can be a luxury if you’ve got the right soundtrack—that being the Rolling Stones, of course.