Walk into five salons and ask for “highlights,” and you’ll get five drastically different looks. Because over the years, the word “highlights” has morphed into a catch-all term for every variation of hair-lightening (and even darkening) technique in existence.
So to help you describe—and therefore walk away with—exactly what you want at your next hair appointment, we broke down every kind of highlight. Check out the seven most popular styles, ahead, and be prepared to fall in love with your next lowlight, babylight, or sombré light (yup, that’s a thing) look.
Foil highlights, like Gisele Bündchen’s, are the traditional O.G. highlights you’re probably most familiar with. Foils give your hair an all-over brighter, fresher look, as if you just spent a week vacationing in Hawaii. They typically require touch-ups every eight weeks.
Balayage, a.k.a. hair-painting, is a technique in which the colorist places color only where the sun would hit your hair for a natural, slightly-grown-out effect, like Halle Berry’s. The benefit of balayage over traditional highlights is that the brightness is concentrated on the ends, more than on the roots, so it doesn’t require consistent touch-ups as your hair grows out.
Babylights are soft, super-fine highlights that are placed around the hairline and the edges of your face—like Jessica Alba’s, here—to mimic the unprocessed highlights you had as a kid who spent time running around outside (some colorists even ask you to bring in a childhood photo). Think of them like tiny strips of bright tinsel, glinting throughout your hair, resulting in a subtle-yet-fresh update.
Ombré hair is the trend that will never die, and for good reason: It’s a drastic hair change that requires no maintenance. Because the look requires only lightening the lower half of your hair while keeping your darker roots intact (see: Joan Smalls), you never need to touch it up. Just grow it out and chop it off when you’re over it.
Unlike babylights, which are placed around your roots and face-framing layers, ribbon highlights are thin strips of contrasting color woven throughout the hair, giving waves and curls subtle-looking depth and brightness. Peep Olivia Munn’s itty-bitty caramel highlights for proof.
If your hair color is feeling blah and monotone, go for some lowlights, like Julianne Hough’s. Essentially the opposite of highlights, lowlights add depth to one-note hair shadeswith strategically placed strips of dye a few shades darker than your natural color. The effect: Incredibly pretty dimension that doesn’t feel drastic.
Sombré, which is short for subtle ombré (I know, I know), is exactly what it sounds like: an even softer, less drastic take on the trend. It’s especially wearable on darker hair colors, like Beyoncé’s, thanks to its ultra-blended effect that obscures any harshness.