The History of Highlights

It was a cold, dark rainy January afternoon and I was busy lifting my lovely client Rose from a dull wintery,  mousey brown to a fabulous California blonde. As the foils went in we pondered on the story of where highlights originated, my knowledge only went back to cap highlights in the 80’s, but the subject intrigued me so I decided do some research.

I traced lightening of the hair back to the 6th Century BC when the women of Ancient Greece would lighten their hair using a homemade elixir of olive oil, gold flakes, lemon juice and pollen – sounds more lIke a perfect detox shake to me – and would then sit out and let it bake under direct sunlight.

Move ahead to 1600 and the Renaissance era.  Women applied a paste of black sulphur, alum and honey to brighten their hair in the sun, but by the 1800’s chemists had discovered that hydrogen peroxide would bleach hair without  burning the scalp. In 1907 the French chemist Eugène Schueller created the  first commercial hair lightener, Aureole, later to become the global brand leader L’Oreal.  Thanks to Lawrence Gelb, the founder of Clairol,  the 1950’s  saw the development of a one-step hair dye that could lighten hair without bleaching it which allowed women to lighten their own hair at home.

It was during the 60’s that hairdressers created the ‘highlighting’ process, using the plastic cap technique which involved a tight, plastic skull cap being taped to your face, then punctured with a tiny hook to pull out hundreds of thin strands of hair. It was an innovative technique but a painful experience for the client and thankfully rarely used by hairdressers today. In the 1970’s  hairdressers  experimented with a freehand highlighting technique known as balayage (‘sweeping’ in French) where bleach is painted directly on to the hair by hand.

Hair lightening had evolved and by the 1980’s the foiling method had developed, where slices of hair are painted with bleach and folded Into squares of aluminium foil, and still the most popular menthod of highlighting used today.

Current trends are still the ombre or dip dye à la Alexa Chung where the mid length’s and ends of the hair are lightened, creating a reverse illuminating effect and the balayage has made a comeback thanks to celebrities like Giselle favouring a relaxed, beachy looked to their colour.

The latest buzzword In highlighting is ‘splashlights’ a three inch-thick band of bleached hair that stretches horizontally from ear to ear, what would the Ancient Egyptians have made of that?