The History of Highlights and Lowlights

April 14th, 2014

Beauty School, Cosmetology, Hair

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This is a guest post by Suzanna Acosta, a student at our Chicago Northeast campus.

Highlights and lowlights is the process of changing a person’s hair color using lightener or hair color. There are four basic types of ways to achieve highlights and lowlights: Foil Highlights, Hair Painting/Bayalage, Frosting and Chunking. The product used depends on what the desired outcome is. These four categories include Temporary, Semi-permanent, Demi-permanent, and Permanent. Temporary, Semi-permanent and Demi permanent all use different types of dyes and tones, while Permanent uses bleach or lightener to ensure a lasting result.

Highlights have been around forever, although not used in the traditional sense. Different methods have been used for centuries. Highlights were believed to be first used in Ancient Greece as early as 4 B.C. During this time resources were extremely limited. Ancient Greeks used ointments made of olive oil, pollen, and gold flakes. Then, the person sat in the sun for long periods of time. This method was time-consuming and extremely non-effective. Nonetheless, it was still used for many centuries. During the Renaissance Era 1400 A.D-1600 A.D things changed slightly. Alum, honey, lemons and a sulfur mixture were used. After these components were mixed together, a cap-less wide brim hat was applied to the head and the mixture was applied over the hat onto the head. And just like the Ancient Greeks, the person then sat in the sun for hours. This process was a little more successful due to the sulfur and lemons, although very tedious and nonfragrant.

Modern Highlights were developed in the early 1900’s. During this time period modern caps were first used. With this method the cap is applied to the head and strands are fed through the various holes in the cap. These caps separated the desired strands from the rest of the hair allowing stylist to achieve a look without excessive bleeding. We first see Hydrogen Peroxide used instead of home remedies or elixirs. After the 1920’s, there is a dramatic decline in hair services due to war and economic downturn. Somewhere around the 1960’s and 1970’s we see a return of hair highlighting. At first deemed a fad, by this time the cap is very much in use. Highlights were very monochromatic and not natural looking. During the 1980’s we see a trend explosion in highlights. This is when foils are first introduced into the mainstream. With foils, people were able to place highlights where ever they wanted. This is around the time we first start seeing low lights. Frosting and chunking also popularize during the 80’s.

Highlights and lowlights have come a long way in history. They are still very much in demand and are ever evolving. I am very excited for what the future holds for the industry!

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