Should You Highlight or Get Single Process Color?

I rundown your options and your best bets

Here is an example of single process hair color
Here is an example of single process hair color. ONOKY / Getty Images

When it comes to hair color, you basically have 3 options: highlighting, single-process color or double process. But which one is best for you? Here are a few tips to help you sort out the best option for your hair.

Book a Consult

We always recommend getting a hair color consult with a professional if you aren't sure what you want. Bring along pictures of hair color you like or want to achieve. Your colorist will know what to do and will be able to find the right shades of color to flatter your skin tone.


During your consult, be sure to mention any other hair processing you've had done (think hair straightening using chemicals and at-home dye jobs). Even though salon hair colors are much easier on hair than box colors, you don't want to over-process hair.  

To Color or to Highlight, That's the Question

If you have a great base hair tone, you're better off with highlights. You don't want to mess with nature; what you want to do is enhance it.

Here's when to opt for single-process color:

  1. You want to go several shades lighter or darker than your natural hair color. 
  2. Your base color washes out your skin tone or is "blah."  

Single-process color is cheaper than highlights.

Highlights look best when the stylist uses at least two different shades. Ask for more around your face, they can brighten your complexion.

"With highlights, your colorist should be using more than one color, not just bleach. Great highlights should be layered to produce tonal variations.

There should be lights, mediums, and darks to create depth and translucence in the hair. Highlighting should be like painting a masterpiece and you can’t do that with just one color," says stylist Darren Anderson.

Keep in mind that due to root growth, all-over coloring will need to be touched up every four to eight weeks, while highlights can last up to two or three months.

Ask your stylist about a gloss treatment following your color. Gloss boosts color and makes hair shinier.

You're Going for Highlights, But Which Kind?

There are basically 4 types of highlights: basic foil highlights, balayage or "hair painting," chunking or "piecing" and low lighting.

Foil highlights are the most traditional of highlighting methods. Foil highlights add strands of color to hair. You can get up to 5 different shades in hair for a more natural look.

Balayage, or "hair painting," allows the stylist to add natural stripes of color to hair in large or smaller swaths. This is best for women with a great base color who want to go just a couple shades lighter. You won't need to get roots touched up as much with balayage as you do foils.

Chunking (also known as piecing) is when thick stripes of color are painted onto the hair. It was popular back in the 90s and is experiencing a bit of a resurgence

Lowlighting allows the stylist to add darker shades to hair. This gives color more contrast and dimension. Read more about it here.

Should You Do Your Color At Home Yourself?

Some people are so busy that they color their own hair at home. The good news is home color kits have come a long way in the past few years.

If you want a drastic change, don't do it yourself. Definitely go to a professional. But if you are dying your hair 2 shades lighter or darker than its natural state, you can do your own color.

Some great hair coloring kits include:

You can even highlight your own hair, although we recommend enlisting the help of a friend. Highlighting is not something you want to try on yourself by yourself. 

Here are instructions from L'Oreal on how to DIY hair chunking.