It’s only one month into 2022 and the nostalgic hair trends are already rolling in. First, it was the money piece highlight trend (where a colorist adds a face-framing accent color to the hair) that reentered the scene, and then Y2K-era hairstyles like face-framing tendrils and baby braids. Now, it’s underlights that celeb hairstylists say are having a moment.
Opposite from traditional highlights (which catch the light on the top of your head), underlights consist of a contrasting color typically placed at the nape of your neckline, always on the underside of your hair. “They can be highlights or a solid single process color in natural tones to bright bold colors,” explains Richard Marin, who works with Cindy Crawford and Kaia Gerber. You usually can see the color play best when your hair is down and in front of your shoulders, half up half down, or up in a ponytail.
“I used to call this “peekaboo” lights in the late ‘90s, early 2000s,” recalls Biolage Global Ambassador and celebrity hairstylist Sunnie Brook. For those jonesing to switch up their look, it’s much less of a commitment than a full-on bleach or dye job.
“It's popular because bold statements are in right now…and it’s a fun way to change your look completely without having to color all of your hair,” says Nine Zero One Stylist Emily Cable, who works with Selena Gomez and Sarah Hyland. The lower maintenance style also helps to keep your hair healthier, according to celebrity hairstylist Kiyah Wright, and it can minimize the number of color appointments you have on your calendar.
There are a few factors to consider before putting hair to foil for some underlights, however. TZR asked five celebrity colorists their thoughts on the freshly revived style, how to get it, and what modern color combos they think will bring new life to the look.
How To Get The Underlights Look
“The technique involves strategically adding splashes of color using foiling techniques or freehand painting,” notes Jeremy Tardo, who does Miley Cyrus and Jared Leto’s hair. The pros all agree that underlights blend better on medium to long length hair. “Underlights work best [if you have] minimal layering, but just enough to help the color peek out from underneath,” explains Brook. If you do have shorter hair, it can work, but it’s all about placement. “It’s mostly [about] coloring the under ends of your bangs, or strategic chunks of color placed at where you and your stylist decide,” says Marin.
What Color Combos Can You Try?
While the pros agree that there are no rules when it comes to the underlights trend, there are three color combos they say to look for this season. “When choosing a color for your hair, decide whether you want to complement your existing hair color or contrast it,” says Tardo, as a starting point. From there, you can choose from three main categories of color.
Low Contrast Underlights
The most approachable way to pull this look off is with a low contrast color pairing (as seen here on Hailey Bieber). It has a similar look to ombré (with grown out roots), but with more concentrated highlights (or lowlights) on the underside. “You can play with going two levels lighter or darker than your own natural hair color,” says Brook. Think about it as staying in the same color family. “If you are a brunette who wants to complement your dark hair, opt for lighter browns like chestnut tones,” suggests Tardo. “It will feel like a significant change without the maintenance,” Brook adds.
High Contrast Underlights
If you want to channel ‘90s grunge glam, lean into the contrasted look like singer and TikToker Cray. “The most popular [combo is] brunette with platinum underlights or blonde with dark underlights,” says Cable. Since this look teams together two very opposite colors, just note it is a little more high maintenance since the roots will be more obvious.
If you’re currently rocking your natural hair color, the experts suggest mixing in a pop of color to reinvent your everyday look. After all, Y2K beauty is all about taking risks, and that rule absolutely translates to hair color. “Browns and the beige-y blondes are a great duo, but the primary colors, pastels [and] icy whites combined with your natural color work nicely, too,” says Wright. Try a cobalt blue with peeks of platinum like Simi Haze or a pastel pink like Kaia Gerber. (Both opted for random placements, since their haircuts are on the shorter side.)
What Is The Maintenance?
One of the selling points of underlights is how low maintenance they are, especially compared to traditional highlights. “You don’t need to do underlights as often as a full head of color,” says Wright. That’s because the regrowth is not exposed. But still, it depends on what look you’re going for. “If you don’t like a shadow at the root of your underlights, and you wear your hair up a lot, the maintenance would be about every six to eight weeks,” explains Tardo. Otherwise “you may only need to go once or twice a year depending on the layering in your haircut,” says Brook.
Tardo adds that if you seeking very pale underlights that are much lighter than your natural color, there will likely be some bleaching involved in the process (and therefore more damage). To decide what will work best for you, be sure to consult with a professional who can help you determine what will work with your current haircut and color. Most importantly: Don’t be afraid to experiment this season.