A Guide to the Different Types of Hair Highlights

Changing up your hairstyle, whether it's with a big haircut or a fresh color, can make a huge impact — not just on the way you look, but also on the way you feel. But if you're apprehensive about dyeing your entire head a new color or trying one of the hot yet polarizing haircut trends of the year (bixie, anyone?), then highlights are a good way to go.

If you're not well-versed in the world of hair, you may think that there's only one option out there, but similar to bangs and bobs, there are many different types of hair highlights. From '90s chunky highlights and money pieces to the ever-popular balayage technique, there are a handful to choose from.

Types of Hair Highlights

There are also three main highlighting techniques: foil, partial, and full. No matter what type you go with, the objective is the same. Highlights will lighten certain strands on your head to contrast with your base or natural hair color. This helps add dimension to your existing color while brightening it up. That's one of the reasons boxed hair dye can look so harsh — the result lacks any depth and can feel very flat. Meanwhile, blond, black, or brunette hair with highlights done by a professional will look expensive and multidimensional.

Highlights are often subjected to trends — like "tennis" and "halo highlights" — so keeping track of what's what can be a job in and of itself. Luckily, you don't need to sign yourself up for cosmetology school to get an idea. With the help of some of our favorite hairstylists, here's a lowdown on techniques, complete with pictures of highlighted hair.

Money-Piece Highlights

Money pieces were all the rage in the '90s, and now they're back. Similar to chunky highlights, this style involves a heavier strip of color that's not as blended as traditional highlights. Where the two differ is in placement. Money pieces frame either side of the face.


Balayage is a highlighting technique that involves hand-painting the color so it's light and feathery at the roots and thicker at the mid-to-ends of the hair. "Balayage is applied on the surface of the section and not saturated through the section until the very tips," Jack Howard, a London-based celebrity hairstylist, previously told POPSUGAR.


First things first, let's clear up one common misconception: balayage is a coloring technique, whereas ombré is a trend that is accomplished through balayage. You've likely seen — or maybe even tried — ombré before. It's described as a gradual change of hair color.


Think of this technique as the little sister to the traditional highlight. Babylights involve using foils to add small sections of lightness to your overall hair color. "Because they are so small and delicate, they are really seamless and grow out really beautifully," Rachel Bodt, a celebrity hairstylist and Matrix brand ambassador, previously told POPSUGAR.

Chunky Highlights

Exactly as the name suggests, chunky highlights are thick, high-contrast sections of color added throughout the head. The look was ultra popular in the '90s — picture Kelly Clarkson's striped strands back then — but they've been updated for a modern feel.

Halo or Ring Highlights

Halo highlights, also known as ring highlights, are all about subtlety. "[It] gives a lighter face-framing effect by adding highlights closest to the face, leaving the rest of the hair darker," George Papanikolas, a celebrity hair colorist and Matrix brand ambassador, previously told POPSUGAR. The technique is similar to money pieces, but much lighter with less contrast. It'll make you look like you have a soft spotlight on your face at all times.

Midlights Highlights

Midlights are a type of subtle, barely-there highlight. "A midlight is the 'in between' color that connects your base color to your highlights," celebrity colorist Matt Rez says. "They are woven and placed in tandem right below a highlight foil packet." The color is typically no lighter than two levels from your base.

Ripple Highlights

Ripple highlights are a low-maintenance dream. This style combines traditional highlights with balayage. "Ripple highlights is a fusion of the two — larger slices of color but painted precisely in foil right up to the root," Tom Smith, celebrity hairstylist and international color creative director for Evo Hair, previously said. The final piece of the puzzle is a shadow root to help blend everything together and camouflage new growth.

Tennis Highlights

Tennis highlights don't require any athletic ability, but they will make you look like you just spent a few hours running around in the sun. The color is subtle and natural-looking. "Fine babylights a few shades lighter than your base color are beautifully blended throughout the hair to create an ultranatural, sun-bleached look," Sharon Dorram, master colorist at Sharon Dorram Color at Sally Hershberger, previously told POPSUGAR. "This multidimensional technique is extremely versatile since it simulates how hair naturally brightens in the sun."

Airtouch Highlights

Airtouch highlights use a hair-coloring technique that provides seamlessly blended color. They take longer than traditional highlights, but the result is super natural-looking. "Airtouch highlighting is a coloring technique where you take slices of hair and use a blow dryer to blow away the newer growth of the hair, leaving behind the older growth, so that you only highlight the oldest strands of hair," Papanikolas previously POPSUGAR.

Ribbon Highlights

A common problem with highlights is that they can look one way when your hair is styled, but totally different when air-dried. That's where the appeal of ribbon highlights comes in. This technique involves panels of highlights that are applied to air-dried hair, so stylists can see the best natural placement.