Aug 28, 2020

How Long Do Highlights Last?

and how can you get the most out of your highlights post-service?

There's really no one-size-fits-all answer for figuring out how long your highlights will last-- highlights come in a diverse array of colors, tones (the darkness/lightness of a certain hue), and patterns. According to the stylists we consulted, touch ups may be needed anywhere between every four weeks to every four months.

Lauren Van Beek, Colorist at Maxine Salon in Chicago, says that a service's longevity is subject to "the technique used as well as how much of a contrast the highlight creates," meaning the frequency of touch-ups depends on the unique needs of the client's chosen style.

"If you're going for a look like Haley Baldwin you will be highlighted with foils and your upkeep will be every 6 weeks", she says. "For a more natural balayage look like Lily Aldridge you could go up to 4 months between services."

NYC-based Wella Master Color Expert Lindsay Loo agrees. Her rule of thumb is that the more complicated the highlight service is, the more work it'll take to maintain (and thus, more time spent at the salon)."The more highlights, the more upkeep," the master stylist shares via email. "The lighter you are compared to your roots, the more maintenance it can be."

So if you currently have to get touch ups once every four weeks, how can you change your style or habits to stretch that to only once every four months?

The technique your stylist uses matters

Loo says that the trick is to "embrace a more grown-out look" while you're at the salon. "A pattern I like to use on my clients who want low maintenance (but still pretty blonde if they want (their hair) as light as possible) is using a pattern under the part. Painting on the ends." Using this technique in-salon has proven to be a huge time saver for some of her customers: "Truth be told; I have clients that come in only twice a year for full highlights."

On the maintenance side of things, it helps to understand some of the science behind hair color, so you can better care for your highlights and prevent apparent fading.

Why brown hair is brown, red hair is red... et cetera

Let's start with the basics: all natural hair colors come from different combinations of two types of melanin: Phaeomelanin causes hair to be more blonde and red, and Eumelanin causes shades of brown and black. Grey and white hair appears when your follicles no longer actively produce melanin -- they are the result of a lack of pigment.

If you want to go lighter (and if you're getting highlights, you obviously do -- they're called highlights for a reason, after all), you'll have to remove the color you've already got. And this is where bleach comes in

Bleaching causes an oxidation reaction in melanin that renders hair functionally colorless. Mind you, it won't actually appear colorless -- even if you applied the strongest bleach known to humankind for several hours over several sessions, your hair (if you've still got any left, because yowza that'd be bad for it) would probably still maintain a slightly yellow tint.

Do bleached highlights fade?

Once hair is bleached, it remains permanently bleached -- they're no going back, unless you dye your hair to match its prior color. That isn't, however, to say that its color will not change after you step out of the salon. Most stylists will apply a toner after a bleaching process, in order to mask the yellowy-ness of the unreacted melanin. But alas, the toner will fade after repeated washing.

Fortunately, you can tone bleached hair outside of the salon by investing in a good purple shampoo that you can apply at home. So if you're running to the salon every few weeks to touch up your ends because they appear muted or yellow-y, you can save quite a bit of cash by switching products -- hurray!

Do highlights fade out?

But let's not forget that not all highlight services end with the bleach -- sometimes, removing color is just the beginning. So, sure, if you have a color applied after you bleach, you will experience some color fading over time.

Why does this happen only when dye has been applied after a bleach? A simple way to think of it is like this: when you bleach, you're not really depositing anything long-term within your hair fiber. Instead, you're altering the melanin that was already present.

When you dye, you're doing all that and then adding something extra under your hair cuticle. And every time you wash, a little bit of this something extra falls out of your hair cuticle, lessening the intensity of the color. So if you want your highlights to last a little longer, try to cut down on your hair washing each week. Perhaps this week you'll wash four times, next week three times, the week after that two times, and maybe you'll even get down to once a week. Heck, a little dry shampoo never killed anybody who's trying to maintain their expensive highlight service!

Wanna keep learning? Here's what else you've got to know to perfect your hair care routine.

How To Tell If Your Hair Is Damaged

Is it time for a trim... or a chop?

How much shampoo to use? Probably less than you think.

We've all been shampooing wrong this WHOLE TIME.

What's a blowout? (No, seriously)

...in which we provide both the literal definition of a salon blowout and also attempt to figure out the gobstopping popularity of professional blowouts.

Hair Secrets: 7 Things Your Hairstylist Won't Tell You

(but totally wants you to know)

Caroline Schmidt