Underlights: for added volume, contrast and interest.

As I mentioned recently, arrogantly and in a way that assumed you cared, my natural, colour-free hair is fineWay too fine. Floppy, flat, dirty-in-two days, fine. I enjoy its colour very much, but its texture can suck a doz.

So I decided to have some “underlighting” done, a word I have coined (heck, let’s say dollared) which refers to having highlights painted on around the head, but with the following provisions:

They must not create the issue of “roots”

They must not be applied to or visible on the top layer of hair, but rather, underneath

Maintenance must be at an all time-low

The colour of the highlights must be very close to the natural hair colour

There must be enough of them to create a marked improvement in hair texture, “grip” and body

And so, with that list of cool and easy going rules, (written out helpfully here today in a way that you can use/remember them should YOU be interested in this technique) I slithered into the salon* of one Barney Martin (whose idea it was for me to boof up my hair with highlights for texture inspired all of this) and after a consultation with colour king, James Pearce (who got me from all-over blonde back to convincing brunette in a swift two-hour seating last year) I was lovingly given my underlights.

James explained that they would use two shades of high lift tint, (so, ammonia not bleach), one that was two shades lighter than my base, and one that was a shade or two darker. This meant, James explained, that there would be plenty of contrast, but it would look extremely natural. I liked this. Stephanie, a very talented colourist with the kind of wash-n-go texture that permits her not only short hair, but also a fringe (show-off) applied the colour masterfully, and an hour and a half later it was done.

In the continuing quest for volume, however, I had James cut my hair. There were still some layers in there, which is a shame since I’d had two blunt one-length cuts in the past three months, (the ones around my face I can handle – adds some softness) but the thing about layers is that they cling on to your hair like the scent of fish after cooking. And layers, you see, are the last thing fine-haired dames need, especially when the hair is long, and there are curls lurking around, smoking ciggies until they’re next allowed to roam free.

So, we cut it all one length, and quite a fair amount shorter. I instantly felt more me, and more stylish with the length. To me, long hair feels “pretty,” but slicing it off on the collarbones or above feels more … chic.

Here’s the “before” shot. What a godamn mess.
All that bleach ruining the last few inches of hair, all those limp curls…


And now, here are a bunch photos taken by either me or Mario Testino, I can never remember, in order to show the different lights of the colour.

It looks, overall, a touch lighter, but so very, very genuinely naturally coloured, as if I just happened to be born with the most awesome, flecky, contrasty shade of brunette. It looks like the same natural brunette colour I’ve worked so hard to grow out, but there is all this excitement hiding underneath. If I was being unashamedly braggy, I would say that I feel a bit like I just got the hair colour of a bird in a ’90s Ralph Lauren ad, or Ms Brooke Shields in her Blue Lagoon days. And that’s all I could ever hope for.

More importantly  it FEELS thicker, it’s got a lot more texture (the haircut assists this greatly) and I just got almost five days out of it (not even from the salon blow-dry, from my own!)





If you’re a fine haired Shezzi who craves texture, contrast and body but NOT regrowth, then you may just enjoy this underlighting biz.

*Speaking (“writing/reading”) of salons, have you added your favourite salon to the fruitybeauty Personal Beauty Army post?

Responses to this drivel: 29 Comments
Responses to this drivel ( 29 )
  • Erin

    Looks great. I too am a fine haired lass (even if I do say so myself). I currently have my hair cut blunt and it sits very nearly at my collarbone with lighter ends which are growing out painfully slow. I think after they are grown out I will get these underlights you speak of. Cheers
    Ps have you seen the Cadbury fingers ad? The bride in the ad looks suspiciously like you…..

  • Sarah

    Spooky. My hairdresser did almost the exact same thing to mine last night – cut and colour. I’d take photo to show the similarity but I’m at work and my colleagues might think I was a bit odd if I started taking selfies at my desk.

  • Elise @ Stuff That I Bought

    Barney did exactly this technique on me last year to beef up my limp locks and I LOVED it. He’s a very clever man.

  • Emma

    Need to know how you get 5 days out of it!!! I can’t get two days out of mine!

    • fruity

      Shampoo x 2
      Condition only mid-lengths to ends
      Lightweight mousse on damp hair
      Blow dry until thoroughly dry (damp hair left on scalp increases “lankness”)
      Dry shampoo on days three and four

      • Karen

        Any mousse you could recommend? I know mousse is suppose to be a fine haired girls best friend. But I have had a fear of all gel like products since I was 8 and had a mullet and side burns with a gelled up spiky fringe. (Oh yes and sometimes that gel had glitter in it) help Zoe… I can’t go back there!

  • Jess

    Holy moly missy! This is EXACTLY the hair-spiration i was looking for!
    I shall be printing out this very post and presenting it to my hair dresser at my next appointment. Thankyou times infinity! 😀

  • Sophie Brown

    can you recommend anyone in Melbourne who would have the ability to give me this – its absolutely amazing and im jealous of your perfect mane.

  • Ellie

    I will be visiting my hairdresser this afternoon with this exact post.

    I grew my colour out over a very long time and have had natural hair for 7 or more years, this is exactly what I am looking for as I love my natural colour!!

    Thank you Zoe!!

  • Kelly


    Oh mannn. I feel really stupid and I get how the second lot of shots looks MUCH BETTER but what did they exactly doooo? I feel like when people put up a picture in front of your face and scream at you, ‘old woman or young woman?! Which do you see?!’.


    • fruity

      Fret not. I basically snuck in some subtle highlights underneath my top layer of natural brown hair colour, and now my fine hair has more body, texture and contrast.

  • Sarah

    Ohhhhh fun! I love the end result, it looks fantastic!!!

    I’m currently growing out my hair colour because I”m so very very lazy and just gave up maintaining it. Although, I know once I get there (My hair is LONG so I’m a year in, with another year or two to go…) I’ll just get bored and want to dye it. Well, you’ve just given me a solution. I can’t wait to jump on the UNDERLIGHTS bandwagon.

  • Matilda

    As a gal with mousy-blondep-i’m-not-sure-what-anymore curlyish but fairly fine hair that I’ve let grow to about boob length that is fairly flat and lacklustre and boring, would you suggest a snip and a rich brown + underlights to revive and make it happy and thick again?

  • Bella

    Looks fabulous Zo. May I ask a q – my hair is medium-thick textured, and at the moment pretty much my natural dark blonde colour. I want to oomph it up with a bit of lightening or some nice warm golden/honey hues, but never know what sort of colour would be best – just highlights? Are they still a good thing to do?? x

  • Tina

    There is hope for my fine/limp follicles yet, thanks Zoe. I would love to know if you have found anyone you can trust with your eyebrows in Melbourne town.?

  • Kate

    Zoe, can you please tell us whether your colourist used foils, or some other super duper sneaky way to get the natural looking underlights?

  • lauren

    Hola! I’ve been eagerly awaiting the results of this new trick you’ve conjured – and me likey!
    Now…I too have fine, flat, brunette hair, but it is dead straight. I’m lucky as I don’t have anything close to a cow lick to deal with, but I’m yet to hold any sort of curl or wave longer than about 20mins (on a good day). WILL this lovely look work on my boring, straight head or does it need the lil kick of a curl give it the extra oomph?
    Next quandry: I live in London. Does Barney have mates over here that I can hassle about it? If not, could you possibly recommend a salon that will know that I’m on about?
    Thankyou kindly.

  • michelle

    Ho zoe,
    I love this blog so much, I have picked up so many tips, tricks and recommendations. What shampoo and conditioner do you use for your fine hair?
    keep up the good work

  • Karen

    Oh and while I’m here i may as well clear up all my confusion. (Ive never really liked my hair- even post mullet. It’s fine, almost blk, shoulder blade length, massive cow lick, greying from 16, now 30. I kind of just ignore it but know I shouldn’t, I just never know what to do with it! )

    So just to clear up
    .Blunt cuts ARE good for fine haired girls? Hairdressers keep telling me layers (not just near the face) are good for fine hair to give it body. No?
    Shoulder length hair is better for fine hair? So it doesn’t look so lanky?
    If I have a massive cow lick I can never have a fringe?

    I am at a loss. There is also so much dark colour build up with years of hiding greys that last time I tried to get a hair dresser to lighten my hair only the top part lightened. I would really love to change things up but have no idea what to do… Got a clue?

    (Yes I just made that last little rhyme to amuse myself..)

  • Kiss & Make-up

    Hmmm, maybe I should do this. My hair is straight and fine, and it lacks volume.

  • Dominique

    Dear Zoe, I’m doing this. I am taking my dank lame-o limp bisket dry old brisket balayaged ends and cutting them orrffff and under lighting them. It’s going to be like a well lit theatre set under there. Thatisallbye.

  • Hannah Syropoulo

    Hi Zoe,

    I love the cut and colour it’s really lovely. I have very thick hair and must say it is really such a pain if I get layers it looks to choppy and then just flat when it’s all one length. That’s why I really agree with the ‘chic’ shorter look it adds a bit of flavour. Love your wedding dress btw 🙂

  • Hannah Syropoulo

    Hi Zoe,

    I love the cut and colour it’s really lovely. I have very thick hair and must say it is really such a pain if I get layers it looks to choppy and then just flat when it’s all one length. That’s why I really agree with the ‘chic’ shorter look it adds a bit of flavour. Love your wedding dress btw 🙂

  • Rachel

    Hi Zoe,
    I absolutely love this. My colourist Sally from Wilson Marz did this exact thing to me. I had old ballayage I was wanting to grow out, just got a little too light and this was a great way of softening the blonde. I had been trying to grow out the layers in order to hide the colour a little but because of the underlights my stylist Alicia could add some layers which really showed off the different colours. Really really happy now, highly recommend it for girls who want some texture or to grow out the dreaded old Ballayage!

  • Lauren

    I just had some under lights put through my natural blonde, very fine hair and I love it! My hairdresser called it a ‘veil’ technique. Looks very natural but just a bit more interesting and thick. I also had it cut in a choppy lob style which has added to the look of thickness too. Thanks Zoe!

  • fruitybeauty | Hair colouring: Are you a contraster or a blender?

    […] I explained to Dani I was enjoying my underlighting, but was feeling like I might like a slightly darker brunette shade around the face. Keep seeing […]

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