Allure April 19, 2022



How Babylights Can Transform Your Hair Color


We asked some of our favorite colorists to explain this perpetually popular hair-dye technique.

​​There are several techniques a colorist might employ when they're dyeing your hair. They might give you a set of highlights to brighten up your hue, add lowlights for dimension, or create something fantastic and multi-tonal with a little balayage.  But right now, we want to give a special shoutout to babylights, the unsung hero of any natural-looking dye job.

Babylights, a.k.a. finely-woven highlights placed throughout the hair, can make a huge difference in your color's overall vibrancy. They are brilliant yet subtle; you may even mistake them for really good natural hair color. These micro highlights tend to be brighter at the crown and the ends, in the color pattern reminiscent of something a small child might have.

Speaking of childhood, you may have recently heard babylights referred to as "playground highlights," a term that's trending in 2022. But no matter what you call it, the goal of this dyeing technique is to essentially emulate sun-kissed virgin hair in the summer. No matter the season, this easy-to-maintain dye job can freshen up your look if you're searching for a change that's not too dramatic.

Another thing: babylights are versatile since they can be applied to pretty much every hair color and length. Straight hair types with a fine texture can especially benefit from adding babylights as they can give off the appearance of thicker strands with more depth (more on that soon).

"If babylights were a pasta, they would be angel hair," says Mark DeBolt, New York City-based colorist and co-owner of Mark Ryan Salon. They're super thin, fine, and delicate, but on the right hair textures, they can truly make a bold statement. 

Allow us to give you the rundown on babylights, their benefits, and how they differ from highlights, lowlights, and balayage techniques you may be more familiar with. Of course, we tapped a few pro colorists to lend their insight on the best tips and tricks for maintaining babylights, plus everything else you may want to know about this technique. Let's get into it.

Meet The Experts:

Kristin Ess, a Los Angeles-based hairstylist, colorist, and founder of her namesake hair-care brand.

Lorena M. Valdes, a Chicago-based colorist who works at Maxine Salon.

Mark DeBolt, a New York City-based colorist. He and Ryan Trygstad are the founders of Mark Ryan Salon.

Rita Hazan, a New York City-based colorist and founder of the Rita Hazan Salon. 


What are babylights?

Babylights are actually a very old-school highlighting technique that seems to have made its way back under a new alias, Los Angeles-based colorist Kristin Ess explains. "It used to be called a 'superfine weave pattern' because the sections you grab are extremely thin and the way you weave your highlight comb in and out creates a tiny, tight pattern," she says. With babylights, your eyes don't register it as an intentional highlight so much — the lighter pieces look natural and blended in the end result.

How are babylights different from highlights, lowlights, or balayage?

"Babylights and balayage are both highlights," explains Ess. "They're just two different techniques of highlighting. Babylights use foils, whereas balayage is painted on and processed in open air or under plastic."

Lorena M. Valdes, a Chicago-based colorist at Maxine Salon, agrees and emphasizes the fact that babylights create much thinner highlights than balayage does. She adds another key difference: "With babylights, you wouldn't be able to get the ribbons and pops of color."

Babylights typically aren't added to the hair to create visual contrast. Instead, they illuminate the overall background color. "For example, a natural brunette with dark brown hair could have babylights placed throughout to create the look of a medium brown," says Mark DeBolt, a New York City-based colorist and co-founder of Mark Ryan Salon. Because the highlights are so delicately woven and placed closely together, the all-over color appears lighter. Lowlights, on the other hand, are the opposite of highlights. Instead of lightening, they make strands darker to add depth and dimension.

Who are babylights best for?

Valdes says that babylights are a great option for "people who don't like the size of traditional highlights," noting that straight hair allows you to better see the color without it getting lost in the texture and curls.

Rita Hazan, colorist and founder of Rita Hazan Salon in New York City adds, "fine hair is the best for babylights because it is a subtle technique, but [delivers] high impact. Thicker and coarser hair requires more of a heavier highlight to be visible."

As an added bonus, babylights usually create less damage than other dye techniques. Why? "Because the thinner a section you have inside of a foil, the quicker it will process. That means the lightener is sitting on your hair for less time than it would on a thicker section," says Ess.

And the benefits don't stop there for fine-haired folk: When they're placed on the crown and hairline, the sides and back of your hair remain a bit darker which creates the illusion of depth and thickness.

How much do babylights cost?

Prices for babylights vary depending on your colorist but will typically be more expensive than traditional highlights, notes Valdes. Why? "Time, possible extra product, and additional treatments will be the reason you will see an upcharge," she says.

Babylights are a precision technique that involves a delicate application to maintain the integrity of the hair. Getting them may add at least 15 minutes to an hour to your salon session if you're used to getting traditional highlights. Also, bonder treatments (such as Olaplex, B3 Brazilian Bond Builder, or K18), and multicolor gloss application may be needed to achieve your desired look.

At Maxine Salon, where Valdes works, highlights start at $170 and go up to $235 or more. "I would recommend consulting in person with your stylist to get an estimate since prices vary drastically," she recommends.

How to maintain your babylights

The good news is babylights don't take much effort to maintain. "They can grow out a bit more seamlessly than an average or chunkier highlight," says Ess. With babylights, you don't end up with a heavy line of demarcation or such obvious regrowth, so you have a bit more freedom in scheduling a touch-up. "I have clients who get it done twice a year and some who come every six to eight weeks. It's really a personal preference," she says.

Ultimately, how long the color will last depends on the babylights and the rest of the hair. "Higher contrast will require more maintenance," says Valdes. In between salon appointments, Hazan recommends using shampoo and conditioner for color-treated hair to keep your babylights looking fresh. Also, using a hair gloss makes a huge difference in helping maintain the color.

Like anything, babylights have their pros and cons. To recap the good parts: it gives off a natural yet elevated appearance, it's lower maintenance, and can give off the appearance of thicker strands.

And the catch? Well, if you're looking to define the shape of your haircut, babylights won't do much for that. Unlike traditional highlights, babylights don't create as much visual contrast to enhance the hair's shape, notes DeBolt. Also, since it's such a precise technique, a session typically isn't cheap — but still obviously, so worth it.