The swatch that matches your haircolor will more than likely have a code that the manufacturer uses to classify the shades available, and you may have to consult the package of
color to get the information you need. In some cases, the code is pretty easy to decipher. For instance, Clairol, tends to use an alpha-numeric code that has a numeral with one or two letters to signify the color
being represented. A “6N” would refer to the color being level 6, with neutral base color. Likewise, a “10GN” would be a level 10 with gold and neutral base colors.
Of course, nothing is ever simple and the classification system can sometimes breakdown, given that the haircolor industry has tried for decades to find a way to refer to certain
tones of color in pleasant and more-marketable ways. I’m referring to the Drab/Green color bases that are important and do occur naturally. I personally think that using the actual color name would be appropriate, but
often people see “green” in regard to hair and it frightens them. And I believe that the term “drab” fell out of favor because it sounds dull.
Unfortunately, this means that we are left with a variety of tones of haircolor that are referred to in myriad ways and we have to figure out which of them are appropriate. The
“matching swatches” method helps if your hair is naturally of these shades and tones, since you can refer to the packaging of the color formula to get the terms the maker uses to define the colors.
When you are selecting a natural-looking highlight color you want the color to be 2 to 3 levels lighter than your starting color. This will allow you to add depth to the starting
color without having a glaring contrast between the two shades. It will also give you more control over the color you are introducing, since it will require less lifting action to create the highlighting effect.
So, take your starting color that you’ve determined from comparing the swatches to your hair and look for colors that are two or three steps lighter. If your starting point is 5,
look at level 7 and 8 colors, if it’s a 2, look at levels 4 and 5, etc. The differences won’t be dramatic, but they will be effective. And most importantly, they will give you more natural results.
Now that you have the levels you need, look at the shades that use the same base color as in your starting color. This gets tricky, since you want to have a compatible color but
you don’t want to over-do it. If the color you start with and the color you want to use as a highlight both have a red base, think about how “bright” the highlight color is. Is the highlight color a brighter red than
you are comfortable with? If the tone of the color is more vibrant than your starting color, it may be that the color has more of the base color in it and could mean that the color results would be redder than you
want. So keep the tone of the highlight color slightly subdued.
Now, you will also find in the mix of colors those who have “neutral” color bases. These are generally safe to use with any starting color. The place where you’ll find trouble in
using neutrals is in lightening a color with a strong base so much that the base color starts showing through. Neutrals won’t usually help to mitigate such results very much. But since we aren’t planning to do a lot
of color-lift in these highlights we should be pretty safe. You can read more on color conflicts and correction here.
Once we’ve found our highlighting color, the next thing to address is the way in which the highlights are applied. If you have shorter, wavy/curly hair, you can feel free to use a
cap for the highlighting process. With longer hair or straight hair types, the foil method works better. (Read more about foil highlighting here.)
Whichever method you go with, you need to think about the balance of the overall look before you start. If your hair is really thick and full, you’ll need to use thicker slices of
highlights. If your hair is very curly and falls naturally into coils and ringlets, keep the ringlets in mind as you pull the hair though a cap or slice it for highlighting with foils. (Avoid making slices so thick
that you create single color ringlets.)
And of course, with straight or mildly wavy hair, you can always opt for a balayage application. Simply brush the hair smooth and paint your highlights on to the hair as you see fit.
The results will be more subtle, and you generally focus on the forward edge of the hair around the face, but the effect can be flattering and can look extremely natural.