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Do Highlights Damage Hair? Here’s What You Don’t Know

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‘Damage’ is a very strong word, but trust me, there’s hardly a better word to describe what happens to your hair with excessive bleach or lightening.

Since nobody wants to encounter the tragedy of damaged hair, most people tend to ask: do highlights damage hair? The question is fair, since highlights only color a section of your hair, and aren’t usually as permanent as regular hair coloring.

But do highlights damage hair? Highlights can cause negligible to considerable damage to your hair, especially when done wrongly or in excess. However, by following recommended techniques and best practices, you can enjoy the benefits of highlights, while bypassing its damaging side effects.

Caring for hair can be complicated and tricky sometimes.

Most YouTube DIY/tutorial videos are cool, but when it comes to practices that involve technical changes, like hair bleaching and highlighting -If you are just starting; Don’t DIY at home.

If you’re after the best possible result for your hair, I can assure you that extra buck your neighborhood stylist charges is worth every penny. Apart from the main coloring work, a professional colorist applies coloring techniques that will help maintain your hair health and strength for extended periods.

But if you insist and want to highlight your hair by yourself at home, here’s a DIY video to help you achieve that:

With that out of the way, let’s get into our ultimate hair highlights guide:

do highlights damage hair what you need to know

Things To Note Before Highlighting Hair Strands

When it comes to styling your hair, you’re always a silly mistake away from a full-blown disaster, which is why you need to prepare before diving in.

To help you prepare, here are essential things you must note before applying highlights to your hair.


1. Only Use Highlights on Healthy Hair

The main reason many hair highlights fail and hair cause irreparable damage to is because the hair strands are not healthy and strong enough to undergo the process.

Your hair’s texture will change after highlights, and it isn’t always for the better. While there’s only so much damage the procedure can do to relatively healthy hair, imagine just how damaging it would be to weak, unhealthy locs.

I can’t give you a first-party account, but I can assure you it wouldn’t be any less than brutal.

So it’s best to avoid or cut down on the the use of heat styling tools and give your hair time to regain its lost strength and integrity (if not damaged beyond repair) before attempting any highlighting.

If it appears like the hair is partly or wholly damaged beyond repair, I recommend boycotting the highlighting and going for trimming or a haircut to chop off the split and damaged ends.

You can as well try out mask treatments. Check out our article on how often you should do mask treatments and how to make your moisturizing hair mask at home.

2. Understand Your Hair

This should be the first thing to take note of, else every other thing you are doing or about to do is going to be like guesswork.

Understanding your hair type, porosity, what it likes and hates guides you toward the right path of beauty.

From the time being, we all expect a well-trained and professional colorist to know everything about hair type, what kind of care, and products; they all need to be healthy.

That’s true.

But there’s only so much the professional can know about your body, and most importantly, your hair, making them prone to mistakes you generally don’t want someone to make on your hair.

Like a notebook before an examination, it’s essential to read and familiarize yourself with your hair, so you can share the right information your stylist needs to make crucial decisions.

Building this bond helps you understand when your hair isn’t healthy, what it needs, and even help your stylist decide if getting a highlight is the right option for you to consider at a given time. 

3. Choosing Damage-Free Highlight Colors

The chemicals present in dyes used for highlighting can sometimes lead to damage, making it generally safer to avoid them. However, some highlight colors won’t work without some of these damaging colors, so you want to steer clear of them completely.

Before applying any highlights or letting any be applied to your hair, consider discussing its safety with your colorist to see if it’s worth using. If the color you want doesn’t appear to be achievable damage-free, you should be considering a compromise.

It’s also worth noting that the permanence of highlights can also influence their safety. Short highlights are generally less damaging than permanent ones; so let that sink in.

Also, see the reason why your scalp itch after applying hair dye.

Do Highlights Damage Hair?

Like many other hair styling techniques, you must understand you’re making a compromise when you decide to apply highlights on your hair. Highlights can damage your hair, especially when you’re applying it constantly and excessively, but most of that damage would be thankfully reversible.

This isn’t to say you should go ahead bleaching your hair with reckless abandon; there’s usually some permanent damage with highlights-damaged hair, but it also doesn’t mean a healthy dose of highlights is a no-no.

As long as you’re doing it in moderation and treating your hair to offset the effects of the highlights, you should generally be fine.

Does Your Hair Go Back to Normal After Highlights?

Generally, your hair doesn’t just ‘go back to normal.’ Since the bleach coloring typically used for highlights replaces the pigment in your hair, it retains the new color until you trim and regrow or color over the highlights.

However, it’s possible for the highlights to fade back to your normal hair color if you used a non-permanent hair dye for the highlights, but you don’t want to count on that. Your best option remains trimming it and waiting for it to regrow if you want your ‘normal’ hair back.

If by normal, you mean your regular, strong locks, no, it doesn’t. Trimming the highlights, dialing back on heat tools, and stopping the color treatment might help your hair go back to a more natural state, but unless you’re taking active steps to regrow your normal hair, don’t count on it happening naturally.

Best Treatment Tips For Lightened Hair

Lightening your hair isn’t nearly as damaging as not caring for your lightened hair after the fact. The magnitude of care you shower to your hair after highlighting is what will decide, for the most part, whether or not it’ll suffer considerable damage afterwards.

If you’re wondering what these care tips are, don’t. Here are the best treatment tips for lightened hair:

1. Go For Special Hair Products

The treatment for highlight and color-treated hair is always special; it requires buying a new set of products, as you must now be deliberate about what makes it to your scalp.

The shampoo, conditioner, mask, and other products you need to wash, moisturize and hydrate your hair after lightening will need to change, based on a couple of factors.

Thankfully, you don’t need to learn all of those factors, as manufacturers now make special hair products for color-treated hair.

Before introducing new products into your hair care routine, consider checking in with a professional or consulting your colorist to ensure it works well with your hair.

Also, you need to use these products appropriately and when required. For instance:

  • Don’t wash hair often and if hair strands were recently highlighted. An expert will advise waiting for at least 24 hours before wash (this waiting period creates space for the new color to penetrate and balance)
  • Make sure you wash hair thoroughly because buildups aren’t friendly with color-treated hair.
  • Lightened wet hair strands are delicate and prone to breakage. Just make sure you handle everything with care.
  • Don’t wash your hair with warm water if you want the color to last.

2. Be Creative with Styling Tools

Your hair becomes more fragile as you lighten it; now, simple mistakes can lead to damage or breakages.

While it may be difficult to achieve certain hairstyles without some heat styling tools like the nearly ubiquitous blow dryer, flat iron, and curling iron, it’s a sacrifice you’ll have to make before lightening your hair.

Nobody’s asking you to abandon your tools; you just have to understand the fragility of your locks and adjust your usage frequency to match. When you’ll use them, you also want to adjust the blow dryer temperature to a low setting while maintaining a distance between your hair and the dryer to be on the safe side.

While you do that, you should also start coming up with new hairstyle routines that’ll phase those tools out of your life completely; you can’t keep using them on such fragile hair.

Trust me; the slight change will always be worth it. Also, make sure to read my post on early signs your hair is bleach damaged.

3. Create Your Routine

Your hair routine should be what guides your hair care decisions on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, and it’s indispensable once you’re highlighting or lightening your hair.

So, you’ll need need to map out a routine that will keep hair strands healthy, hydrated, moisturized, and protected. This part can be tricky; this is also the stage most people fail to understand and execute properly.

As hinted earlier, you are the only person that understands your hair matters (From A-Z), i.e., you are in the position to know how to manage it properly and effectively, putting you in the prime position to come up with a routine.

So, how do you achieve a perfect routine that will work for your hair when you don’t know where to start?

A good way to start is by buying the recommended hair products for lightened hair (shampoo, conditioner, mask, and oil) to replace the older ones; especially essential if this is your first time.

You also want to keep the following tips in mind to guide you through the routine creation process:

  • Don’t wash lightened hair with hot water.
  • Trim hair once in a while, that is; when needed.
  • Use a Wide-Toothed Brush, when and where it works for you.
  • Add these tips to your routine.

How to Repair Highlights Damaged Hair

The first step to repairing highlights damaged hair is determining if your hair is actually damaged in the first place, and that involves knowing how damaged hair looks like.

For that, we’ll need Katerina, a pro colorist to explain highlights-induced damage in its simplest form, and she said:

“Your hair is damaged if after showering, your hair dries almost instantly. That shows just how porous those color chemicals have made it.”

Did you see that? and Are you in that position?

If yes.

Sorry for the damage ( whether little or big) that happened to your hair during or after the processing.

Now that you know your hair might be damaged, it’s time to take action to actually fix it, and there are two ways to go about it.

For one, you can repair color damaged hair by visiting an expert for professional treatment that’s often expensive and time-consuming, or you can consider applying some effective home remedies (that’s sometimes ineffective).

Here are some of our remedies plus tips for highlight damaged hair you can try at home:

1. Mix Coconut Oil and Aloe Vera Juice

Get some pure coconut oil and Aloe Vera juice. Take one small cup of the coconut oil and mix with one or two tablespoons of the Aloe Vera juice. If you’re making the solution for more than one person, mix in that proportion, but enough to apply on the affected scalps.

Apply it to every corner of the damaged hair then leave it on hair for about 30 to 50 minutes. Consider covering it with a shower cap while you wait for the time to elapse.

After the recommended time, rinse hair with your usual shampoo for colored hair and apply your leave-in conditioner.

Repeat this process for at least 3-4 times a week, until you start seeing significant positive results. If you can’t get your hands on Aloe Vera juice, eggs, avocado, or banana can also work, as they’re all rich in proteins and vitamins.

2. Use Healing Masks and Butter on the Hair

Healing mask and hair butter is a perfect combination for hair healing, especially after it has undergone significant damage through highlights or lightening.

Just apply butter or mask to your hair and work through the damaged strands dutifully. Cover your hair with a silk scarf or hair net for half an hour or overnight and rinse it off in the morning to see the results.

Mind you am not talking about bread butter but Shea butter or hair butter. Unrefined Shea butter from Africa works wonders for hair generally, and is perfect for this treatment.

4. Use Protective Formula Next Time

If you’re yet to bleach or color your hair, applying protective formula before moving on with it should help protect you from the damaging effects.

The reason why this solution isn’t further up is because it’s already too late for most people. If it isn’t for you, then don’t even consider highlights without it.

So on your next appointment with your hair colorist, insist on applying protective products before or during the coloring process to protect your hair.

Other Helpful Treatment Tips

  1. Some healing hair mask work fine, but you still need to follow other recommendations to protect your hair.
  2. Trim your hair split and damaged ends regularly.
  3. Use leave-in conditioner for daily conditioning and always hydrate hair as much as you can.
  4. While waiting for repair mode to get completed, avoid combing or brushing your hair while it is dry.
  5. Protect the hair from the sun and other harsh environmental factors with hat, scarf, or any other wears.
  6. Keep your hairstyle or cut simple.
  7. Lastly, take one tablespoon of patience and try out some of the tips mentioned here and see if it works for you.

Also, before applying a drop of bleach or hair color on your hair, always put this inevitable truth at the back of your mind: you can never get your hair back as healthy, strong, and as natural as it used to be, unless you’re willing to cut down and regrow your hair.

Now I would love to hear from you:

Did you find our article on the question; do highlights damage hair helpful.

Or maybe, you have something in mind, maybe a question or something that worked for you and wants to share with us.

Either way, do let me know by leaving a comment below right now; it’s free!

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I am Stanley. A Unisex Hairstylist, Writer, and book lover. After 12 months of the apprenticeship program as a stylist, I started working with my boss for an extra one year. This time frame made me accumulate knowledge and experience in the hair industry, of which I will love to share with friends all over the world through my blog.

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One Comment

  1. I highlighted my hair using a cap. Beleive it was frost & tip l’oreal for light blonde. Followed directions numerous amount of my hair came out when removing cap etc now the next day my scalp feels like needles poking perhaps small bruises and it’s really hurting I have baby fine hair what’s left of it. Anyway any suggestions or tips pls help

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