What happened when I tried natural highlights to colour my hair

Once you go bleach, can you go back...?

natural highlights wet lights
(Image credit: Getty)

When it comes to hair colour, I find myself stuck in a constant battle between wanting fresh, bright and revived colour, and striving for lush, shiny and healthy-looking locks.

Up until a few years ago I hadn’t yet begun on the descent into bleaching my hair and my naturally charcoal black locks were strong, thick and boasted a dazzling reflection even the darkest of winter days.

But the colour just wasn’t for me. I yearned for the chocolate hues, toffee blends and even ashy blondes of those around me. So I decided to take the plunge, foolishly convinced that a rare bout of bleach couldn’t do that much harm.

But after just one dip into the ombré life (which left me rather more orange than I had aimed for), I was plagued with dry, brittle and impossibly tangled locks. And with consequent balayage followed by a tumble into full-on highlights, the situation wasn’t made any better.

Even with a strict rule of only two trips to my colourist a year, weekly hair masks or a pre-wash soak in coconut oil and all the nourishing conditioners, creams and serums I could get my hands on, that natural pre-bleach shine continued to elude me.

MORE: How to dye your own hair and achieve a salon-worthy finish

So when I heard about Wet Lights, a type of natural highlights that leave a natural look and claim to leave hair 50 per cent stronger, healthier and glossier than traditional colouring, I was first in line.

The treatment, carried out by renowned colourist Francesca Dixon at Chelsea’s Hari’s Hairdressers, sees colour painted freehand onto wet strands, restricting the amount of damage done to locks as the hair cuticles are already open.

So I couldn’t wait to give it a whirl and see if it could finally answer my prayers for shiny, nourished and expertly blended coloured hair.

Here’s what happened when I gave it a try...

Natural highlights: how do Wet Lights work?

While Wet lights don’t use an all-natural formula, the free hand painting method, where a lifting formula mixed into a bonding treatment is painted onto wet hair, makes for a more natural look than stark highlights – and they even claim to leave your hair healthier.

The two products work together as a nourishing and hydrating bleach formula, creating a cleaner, less brassy lift than traditional colouring.

‘”The Wet Lights lightening technique ensures cuticles are open, restricting extreme damage, to leave hair stronger, smoother and healthier looking,” explains Hari's Creative Colourist, Francesca Dixon.

“Damage to hair is prevented thanks to our tailored combination of the new L'Oreal 9 Levels of Lift with the L'Oreal Professionnel SMARTBOND treatment”.

Natural highlights

L'Oreal 9 Levels of Lift contains nourishing oils, which mean that the bleach used is not only healthy and conditioning for the hair, but gives a more defined and less brassy result than traditional colour.

This combined with the L’Oréal Professionnel powerful SMARTBOND treatment, which strengthens hair and helps to prolong tone while also stopping further breakage and leaving a lovely shine, makes for a transformative treatment for the locks.

Explaining that the nourishing formula is kept on the hair for between five and 15 minutes, Francesca points out that “with the cuticles open, colour lifts quicker and processing time is more than 50% faster than traditional colour techniques”.

What happened when I tried natural highlights

Showing up for my appointment, Francesca took one look at my naturally raven locks and made it clear that I may not see drastic results from the treatment. However, any attempt, however futile, to try lift the dark brown highlights that I already had with a touch of the ashy blonde was worth giving a shot – so we crossed our fingers in the hope that an ashy toner on top of the wet lights would give me some sort of results.

After one shampoo to open up my hair cuticles, Francesca applied the wet lights formula to my locks, taking time and effort to paint on the treatment in the places she thought would give me the lift I was looking for.

natural highlights

“We add the Wet-Lights only where necessary explains Francesca, “either round the hairline or onto a few pieces to break up the mid lengths to end”.

“The technique is similar to a balayage painting technique, but Wet Lights works on lightening face framers which will break up the harsh hairline”.

By combing my hair until it was completely slicked back and then fanning out my ends Kendall Jenner style, Francesca ensured she was able to paint with maximum precision for a “sun-kissed glow” look.

She left the formula to work its magic for around 15 minutes (a fraction of the time it takes for traditional highlights to absorb), before applying powerhouse nourishing hair colour treatment Olaplex for a soft and lasting finish.

Natural highlights: before and after

After Francesca’s first reaction at seeing the colour of my hair, the results were relatively as expected.

While the treatment didn’t give me a drastic colour change, it did lift my dull old yellow-stained highlights to a fresh, richer brown with a few bronde touches – and it even had a tint of ash to it.

Natural highlights

As for the condition of my hair, there was none of the post-bleach knottiness or brittle flaky strands that I’m usually plagued with after a colour appointment. So in that regard the treatment got a big green tick.

Can Wet Lights replace traditional highlights?

While the treatment won’t make waves when it comes to colouring dark hair, working with the parts of my hair that had already previously been bleached allowed me to make a subtle change to my look without going the full nine yards.

I expect for someone with lighter and easier-to-colour hair the treatment will be able to leave a more drastic-looking result. And without the usual damaging effects of traditional colour, it’s really a no-brainer for someone with lighter hair.

As for those with darker locks, if you want an actual colour change rather than a subtle lift, stick with traditional colouring, but a Wet Lights session in between each hair colour could make one bleach session last a bit longer by refreshing your colour.

As for how to avoid the harsh line in colour difference when your regrowth starts, ask your colourist to give you a softly blended balayage - rather than bleaching right up to your root - as the regrowth will look just as natural and blended as when you first walk out of your appointment.

The Wet Lights treatment is available at Hari's Hairdressers, with prices starting at £95.

How to avoid highlights looking brassy

Extend time between appointments even more by playing around with your tone at home and doing everything you can to keep locks in good condition.

Invest in a good purple shampoo

SHOP NOW: Charles Worthington ColourPlex Toning Ultra Violet Shampoo, £7.99, Boots

Use purple, blue or silver shampoos to avoid the telltale yellow and orange tinge of old colour.

Charles Worthington’s ColourPlex range includes blue, violet and even ultra violet shampoos to refresh even the brassiest of colours.

Try a colour tint

SHOP NOW: Josh Wood Colour Shade Shot Gloss, £15, Boots

And an at-home hair tint can give you a rich colour that looks salon done.

We recommend Josh Wood’s Colour Shade Shot, which comes in four different shades for whatever you’re aiming for, including, smoky and chestnut for brunettes and champagne and icy for blondes.

Not only does the colour last up to six washes, but it leaves your locks with a glossy sheen worthy of a GHD model.

Use a weekly hair mask

natural highlights

SHOP NOW: Oribe Gold Lust Transformative Masque, £62.50, Space NK

Infused with oils, vitamins and hair-friendly moisturisers, hair masks can transform your tresses after just a couple of uses.

Oribe's deep conditioning treatment uses moisturising powerhouses Shea Butter, Jasmine and White Tea Leaf to infuse hydration and leave hair nourished, while skincare favourites Niacinamide and Collagen repair damage by strengthening the hair cuticle, stimulating scalp circulation and rejuvenating hair follicles.

The mask even provides UV protection for the locks and contains vitamin-rich Baobab Oil, which provides a shot of antioxidants and protects from damaging free radicals.

Condition with Olaplex

Natural highlights

SHOP NOW: Olaplex Hair Perfector, £26, Look Fantastic

To keep your hair health in check, remember to ask your colourist to use Olaplex every time they bleach your hair. The bond builder repairs broken bonds in the hair that are caused by chemical, thermal, and mechanical damage, i.e. bleach and heat.

Plus if you keep up the treatment at home with the line’s Hair Perfector, Bond Smoother and Maintenance line, you’re sure to see results. So while my search for the perfect hair colour solution still beats on, I may be booking in for a few top ups of that subtle sun-kissed glow.

Aleesha Badkar
Digital Beauty Editor, woman&home

Aleesha is Digital Beauty Editor at woman&home, where she gets to share her expertise into all the best techniques, sharpest tools and newest products—with a particular savvy in skincare and fragrance.

Previously, she was Deputy Editor and Beauty & Fashion Editor for My Imperfect Life, where she headed up the beauty, fashion and eCommerce pages. In the past, she has worked as Shopping Writer at woman&home, gained an AOP awards nomination after working on their news team, contributed to Women's Health, Stylist and Goodto and earned an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London.