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Dear Color Crew: Can I Balayage My Dark Hair?

by June 19, 2019

dark hair with highlights

Image by J. Dey

Dear Color Crew is a recurring blog post where we answer hair-related questions—no matter how hairy they may be—from readers like you. Got a question? Email our team of professional colorists at

Dear Color Crew,
I really want balayage highlights, but I’m a little nervous to get them because my hair is a darker brown. How do I balayage my dark hair so it looks natural and doesn’t damage my hair?

We love this question because we believe balayage highlights aren’t just for blondes. On the contrary, adding highlights to darker hair can give it beautiful depth and dimension. So first things first...let’s talk about our Light Works® Balayage Highlighting Kit. If you’re not yet familiar with Light Works, this is an ammonia-free kit for natural-looking balayage highlights that you can easily do at home. It uses the same two-step process that you get in a salon, first lightening, then toning to refine the color for natural-looking, balayage highlights. Plus, it includes a bond building cleansing treatment to strengthen your newly highlighted hair, helping to prevent future breakage. 

How Light Can Brown Hair Go in Dark Balayage?

If your hair is color-treated, you can expect 1-2 levels of lift. If your hair is not color treated and is naturally darkest brown to medium brown level 4-6, you can expect 2-3 levels of lift. If you need help understanding what level you may be or what levels mean in hair color, visit our hair blog!

Dark brown hair to medium brown hair with balayage highlights
medium brown hair to blonde hair with balayage highlights

How to Set Your Tone

As important as the act of lightening your hair is the act of toning those highlights. That is, when lightening hair, you are exposing underlying pigment, or color. When lightening dark hair, you almost always expose warmth such as reddish/copper tones. If you do not want your hair to be this warm, you need to counteract it with a cool toner such as Lazio Cool Toffee. A cool toner will neutralize and balance your tone, refining your new highlights. However, if you welcome the warmth, try toner in Ardenza Warm Caramel for a soft, golden honey tone.


woman with brown hair and highlights before and after hair toner
Before And After With Hair Toner


Remember: not only is toner important for refining the tone of your highlights, but it also helps smooth and close the hair cuticle after lightening, making your highlighted hair look and feel soft and healthy.


Photograph of Madison Reed Hair Color boxes for blondes, red heads, and brunettes.

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How to Do Balayage Highlights on Dark Hair?

We know it can be nerve-wracking to color your hair yourself, let alone highlight it. If you’re nervous, we recommend doing a test run on the application process using conditioner. That’s right—a day or so before you highlight, test out how you might apply Light Works using your regular conditioner. Not only will it condition your hair, but it will give you confidence for the real deal.

Seeing is believing, so we created video tutorials for Light Works application to show you how to do it yourself. Watch a tutorial before you begin, then have fun with the process. Make sure you always hold the section of hair you are highlighting straight and taut, and apply enough Light Works that there is a visible layer of white lightening cream on your hair to achieve sufficient lightening.


woman with brown hair applying hair toner
Applying Hair Toner


How to Care for Your Highlighted Brown Hair

No matter how gentle the process or how healthy the hair, highlighted hair needs a little extra TLC. We recommend using a bond builder once a week to strengthen hair and prevent breakage. Also try to minimize the use of flat irons, curling irons and blow drying, and maximize moisturizing treatments and deep conditioners. If you notice your highlighted hair is turning too brassy or the tone has turned, you can always use Light Works Toning Glaze to correct it. You can also use Color Reviving Gloss—try Crema to neutralize unwanted yellow tones, and Prosecco or Miele to accentuate warmer golden tones. 

So there’s your long answer to a great question. Yes, you can put balayage highlights on dark hair, and yes, it will look gorgeous! Please keep your Color Crew questions coming...we love answering them!