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Underlights 101: The Complete Guide & Styling Ideas

Are you someone who loves having lots of options and lives for versatility when it comes to hair? If you love keeping things new and fresh on the regular but don’t want to be in the salon every week, underlights may be the hair color trend you’ve been waiting for!

We’ve put together this comprehensive guide on underlights so you can learn about what they are, how to get them, and most importantly how to style underlights.

Quick Facts

  • Underlights are an exciting way to add pops of color to the underneath of your hair.
  • Underlights are lower maintenance than other hair colors and can fit many different lifestyles. They’re also a great way to try out a new hair color without a huge commitment.
  • Your stylist can help you achieve your underlight dreams, bringing them loads of inspirational pics to get the look you love.
  • You can style your underlights in many different ways including braids, half up/half down, or sleek and smooth depend

What Are Underlights?


Underlights are a secret pop of color hidden underneath the top layers of your natural hair color. They’ve become very trendy because of how customizable they are.

When it comes to underlights, the options are endless. You can use a wide variety of colors and there are several options for where the underlights can be placed in the bottom parts of the hair.

You can use vibrant colors such as hot pink or bright blue for your underlights or you can choose more natural shades like platinum blonde or darkest black.

You may gravitate towards a more subtle placement by choosing ribbons of color woven in with your natural hair color or opt for a color block where the entire underneath of the hair is dyed one solid shade or blocks of multiple colors.

No matter what you choose, knowing you have a fun little surprise underneath your hair can really make you feel like a whole new person!

*Keep in mind that when choosing a vibrant hue for your underlights, bleaching the hair first may be required! If you’re choosing a natural shade, the color can usually be applied right to the hair!

Why Choose Underlights?

When there are so many hair color options available, why choose underlights?


This is one of the most popular reasons people choose underlights. Highlights and all-over color can require frequent trips to the salon for root touch ups and toners.

Because underlights are in the lower part of your hair, the roots are less noticeable so you can go longer between touch ups.


Another great reason to choose underlights is lifestyle. If you’re someone who works in the corporate world or you have a big event coming up, having an all-over vibrant color might not be an option for you.

With underlights, you can have a fun color without having to find a whole new career hehe! You can wear your hair down at the office and for a night on the town, you can throw it up in a fun updo and let your wild side shine!

Test Run

Maybe you are considering a new color to wear on all of your hair but you’re not quite ready to take the plunge.

Adding underlights to your hair can be a great way to try out a new color without having to change all of your hair. Take that hair color on a test drive!

How to Get Underlights

how to get underlights

Now that we’ve talked all about what underlights are, we have to know how to get them! Because underlights are in the bottom half of your hair, it can be difficult to do them yourself due to lack of visibility. Getting them done with your favorite hairstylist is your best bet!

Here’s what to expect in the salon:

Step 1: Research and Consultation

After you’ve made an appointment with your stylist, be sure to put in some research beforehand and figure out what colors and placement you’re looking for.

Bring lots of inspirational photos of underlights you love to your appointment. This will help you and your stylist have a successful consultation and come up with a great plan for your new underlights.

Step 2: Sectioning Hair

Your stylist will section out your hair. Leaving the top of your hair tied up so they can work in the underneath sections. They may section out a large block of hair or section out smaller, ribbony pieces depending on the look you’re going for.

Step 3: Color Application

The color is applied. This may have to be done in two steps if you have chosen vibrant shades. Vibrant fashion colors such as blues, purples, etc have to be applied over pre-lightened hair.

Your stylist may first apply bleach, process the bleach for 30-60 minutes, blow dry and then repeat the same steps with your chosen shades. If you opted for a more natural shade, the color can be applied straight away and you can skip the bleach.

Step 4: Processing and Rinsing

Color will process (usually for 30 minutes to an hour) and then be rinsed out of the hair. Your stylist will shampoo and conditioner all of your hair and you’ll be ready for the most important step, the blow dry and big reveal!

Step 5: Blow Drying and Styling

Hair will be dried as well as styled and you’ll be able to see your underlights in all their glory! Your stylist will send you home with products that will help your color last and keep your hair healthy.

Underlights Hair Styling Ideas

Now that you’ve got your underlights, it’s time for the fun to begin! We’ll go over all the best ways to style your underlights. From the subtle to the bold, here are all the ways to show off those underlights.

Sleek and Smooth

straight hair with underlights

This is a great option during the work week. When you wear your hair down and style it sleek and smooth, you’ll only see little hints of your underlights. You’ll leave the people wanting more and we love a little mystery!

How to Style:

Start by applying a heat protectant to wet hair. Blow dry hair with a paddle brush. Use the tension from the paddle brush to blow dry down the hair shaft, getting it completely dry and as smooth as possible.

Go back through dry hair with a flat iron to get that glossy, perfect finish. Take small sections when flat ironing to ensure that hair will stay smooth all day.

Beach Waves

beach waves with underlights

When rocking beach waves, you’re taking it up a notch! The texture of the beach wave will allow your underlights to pop just a little bit more than when wearing the hair sleek and smooth. A beach wave is still great to wear to a meeting but you can also wear it out to a concert on the weekends!

How to style:

Start out with clean, dry hair. Use a 1-inch curling iron to curl small sections of hair (½-1inch), alternate curling the hair towards your face and away from your face.

The key to beach waves is to leave the ends of the hair straight, be mindful to leave the last inch or two out of the curling iron. Finish with a sea salt spray for a beachy texture!


braided hair with underlight

Braids are always a great way to show off dimension and the underlights will really add a surprising pop to any braid style. A French braid or fishtail braid are great options for letting your underlights have their moment in the spotlight. We love this look for festivals, brunch, and a day at the farmer’s market.

How to style:

Start with dry hair and gather three separate pieces of hair where you want your braid to start. Instead of crossing the pieces of hair over each other, cross the strands under each other, giving a waterfall effect.

Do the same from the other side. When you get to the end of the braids, secure them with an elastic. You can also do one big braid.

Once the braid is secured, pull on pieces of hair throughout the braid to get a chunkier look (pulling gently on the underlighted pieces will give them an extra pop!).


ponytail with underlights

Ponytails may seem basic but having those underlights really elevates this style. A slick backed pony is taken to the next level when you see your natural color cascading right over those fun pops of color added by your underlights.

A high pony could be used to really show off the underneath of your hair while a low pony could show off just a touch of the color.

How to style:

For a high ponytail that will really show off your underlights, start off by slicking back the front and sides of your hair. After slicking back the hair with a brush, gather all of your hair at the top of your head and secure it with an elastic.

For a finishing touch, take a colorful strand from the ponytail and wrap it around the elastic. Secure it with a bobby pin. Hairspray the ponytail to prevent flyaways.


updo with subtle underlights

A classic French twist with an underlight edge. We love to see a classic updo style but with fun pops of color. It brings new meaning to business in the front party in the back.

There are so many different updo styles you can play with to find the ones that really show off your secret hair color. Wearing an updo with underlights to a formal event could spice up any outfit and really make heads turn!

How to style:

For a classic french twist with a modern edge. Start by brushing all your hair to one side of the back of your head. Use bobby pins to secure the hair to the side you brushed the hair too.

Use one of your hands to scoop up the bottom of your hair and use the other hand to twist the hair up and over the previously pinned hair, again pinning the hair up as you twist.

When you get to the top of the twist take any loose hair at the top and pin those hairs under and into the twist. Hair spray and you’re out the door!

Half Up/ Half Down

half up hair with underlights

Now we’re talking! A half-up or half-down hairstyle is our top choice for really showing off those underlights. This is such a cool look for any underlight placement and color, but it’s especially eye-catching with color-blocked underlights.

The contrast between your natural and the block of color is stunning. You’ll definitely turn heads with this one!

How to style:

Using a tail comb, section out the top of your hair. Be careful to leave all of your underlights out of this top section so you can really show off the contrasting colors. Once you section out the top of your hair, secure it with a clear elastic.

From here you can get creative! You can tie the top section up into a cute top knot, wrap hair around the elastic for a classic look or do a simple half ponytail. You can curl the half down portion or leave it smooth!

How to Maintain Your Underlights

You’ve learned how to achieve those underlights and how to style them. We can’t forget about maintaining them!

1. In Salon Touch Ups

maintaining underlights hair

Although you don’t have to touch up your underlights as often as other hair colors, you’ll still want to see your stylist every 3-4 months for a refresh depending on the colors and placement you chose.

The color block underlight placement will probably require a little more maintenance as well as some of the more vibrant colors.

2. Shampoo and Conditioner

Just because your hair color is sometimes out of sight, doesn’t mean it should be out of mind. To maintain vibrancy and healthy hair, using salon-quality shampoo and conditioner is important!

3. Heat Protection

This goes for heat styling too. To maintain your underlights using a heat protectant when you plan to blow dry or use hot tools is a must; using a heat protectant is another great way to help your color look great for longer.