How long does it take to get highlights at a salon?

takes three hours

  • Getting highlights in a salon can take 2-3 hours. The exact amount of time depends on how long your hair is, what color you’re looking for, your base color and the technique that you’ve chosen to do.
  • The two most popular techniques are foil highlights and highlighting with a cap.
  • The cap technique tends to take longer because passing sections of your hair through the holes in the cap is a task that takes a lot of patience and precision. And sometimes when you pull your hair through the holes, it tangles, and you have to try to detangle it, without messing up all the work that you’ve already done so far.


Which of the two techniques is best for your highlights? Cap or foil?


The technique that you end up using for getting your highlights will depend on the professional that does your hair.

  • But, as a general rule, if you have a lot of white or grey hairs, for example, the cap technique is the best way to hide them.
  • If you have dark hair, I’d recommend the foil technique because it looks beautiful on darker shades.
  • And if you have curly or wavy hair, either of the techniques will work great for you.


 I said before that getting highlights can take 2-3 hours.  

But, of course, the exact amount of time will depend on a few factors, as well as the technique that you choose.


  • For example, your hair’s length is another important factor for determining how long it will take to do your highlights.

Let’s say you’re getting highlights with a cap. Getting 8 inches of hair through the cap isn’t the same as getting 20 inches or 30 inches.

The longer your hair is, the longer it will take to do the highlights.


And it’s the same way if you decide to do foil highlights. Wrapping long hair always takes longer than wrapping short hair.

Oh, and another important detail.


  • Are you going to get your highlights done with an experienced hair colorist or with one that’s just starting out?

An experienced hair colorist will do the job faster than one that’s just starting out.


Look, I’m not saying that fast is better. But a professional hair colorist has done this hundreds and hundreds of times. And as they say, practice makes perfect. Coloring hair is no exception to that rule.

Anyway, do you prefer a faster job or a job well done?


 At the end of the day, half an hour extra in the salon probably won’t make a huge difference in the grand scheme of things, while a rushed highlight job will affect you for weeks. 


We already talked about how the technique that you choose, your hair length and the professional that does your highlights all affect how long it will take to get them done.

But, since I’m in a good mood today, I also want to tell you a few more details that I think you’ll find interesting.

For example, did you know that the technique that you choose will determine how often you’ll need to go back to the salon to touch up your highlights?


If you didn’t know, keep reading because I’ll tell you more about that right now.


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Choosing the technique for your highlights (20-30 minutes)

takes longer than foils

Choosing the right technique can take about 20-30 minutes. But it’s not something you should take lightly, because the technique you choose will determine the maintenance that you will need to do on your highlights.

What does that mean?


  • Cap highlights have a maintenance period of 60 days, meaning that you should return to the salon to touch up your highlights every two months.
  • On other hand, foil highlights have a maintenance period of 30 days, which means that you’d need to go back to the salon once a month to touch up your highlights.

That’s a pretty big difference, right?


Going to the salon every month will be more expensive than going every other month. That’s something that a lot of people don’t take into consideration when they decide the best technique for their highlights.

That’s why I’d encourage you to put a lot of time and thought into choosing the right technique for you.

 I always say the same thing: choosing what you want to do to your hair is as important as the actual process of applying the highlights.  


After deciding on the technique, there is another very important preparation step.

Can you guess what it is?


Choosing the color for your highlights (10-20 minutes)

Many women get to the salon with a very clear idea of what they want for their hair.

Others get there knowing that they want a change, but they’re not totally sure which color they should choose. That’s where a professional hair colorist’s experience comes in especially handy.

Because a hair colorist, beside suggesting one color or another, can evaluate which color would go best with your skin tone, the kind of make-up you usually use and even your way of dressing.


Now I want to give you a few general pieces of advice about how to choose the color for your highlights.

Fair warning, these are very generic pieces of advice because I don’t know anything about your hair’s history, your skin tone or what colors you like to dress in. That said, I think there are a few general tips that can help you to start to decide the color you want for your highlights.


  • If you have a lot of white or grey hair, you should choose a blonde color, so you can best hide them.
  • If your hair is more red, then you can go for a more ashy color.
  • If your hair is more ashy and you want to give it more warmth, you can choose colors like caramel or honey.
  • Once you’ve already chosen the color of your highlights, your hair colorist will begin with the technique that you’ve chosen.


Each step can take more or less time depending on if you get to the salon with a clear idea in your head or if you need to define the color that you want to get with your stylist.

Some women have more of a one-track mind when it comes to decisions about their hair, while others are more open to different ideas. Some women say I want this color, and nobody can convince them otherwise, while other women might change their mind several times before settling on the color that they want for their highlights.


Once you’ve chosen the technique and the color for your highlights, what’s next?

The moment of truth.


Placement of the cap or foil (40-60 minutes)

This is generally the longest and most tedious part of the whole process but let me assure you that your patience is well worth it.

Like we said before, the cap technique tends to take a little longer than the foil technique.


 Highlights are a relatively quick technique for changing your hair color, keeping in mind the hair colorist’s experience.  

A hair colorist with years of experience will take much less time than one that was only recently trained.


  • If you choose the cap technique, it will take a little bit longer than the other technique, which is because when the stylist pulls your hair through the cap, your hair oftentimes gets tangled and the stylist will have to detangle it without ruining the highlights.

Once your stylist has finished pulling all of the hair through, they will apply the bleach mix and let it sit for 20 minutes.


  • The foil technique is much quicker and easier.

The hair colorist separates your hair into sections, applies the bleach mix and wraps your hair in aluminum foil.

Then, just like in the cap technique, they will let the mix sit for 20 minutes.


Once that time has gone by, the hair colorist will rinse your hair with a lot of lukewarm water.


The what?

Is it done? Are you ready to show off your beautiful locks?

Not yet, there’s still one step left.


Toning and drying (40 minutes)

Toning is the final touch for your highlights. This step should take about 40 minutes.

What does it consist of?


Once the bleaching process is done, the hair colorist will tone your highlights.

That means that they will apply the color that you’ve chosen for your highlights.


They might do it in the sink, with your hair damp, letting it sit for 20 minutes. Once that time has passed, then they’ll rinse your hair again.

Lastly, the hair colorist will dry your hair and your highlights will be ready.



Whether go for cap or foil, highlights are a technique that never goes out of style.

Remember that you should leave three hours for the entire process.

Many clients say things to me like, “I have lunch at one, do you think I’ll make it?” or “I have tickets to see a show at 7, will I make it?


I always say the same thing.

 The times that we talked about are estimates, they’re not exact. So, if you have another obligation right after coming to the salon, it’s better to make an appointment earlier than you think you need, just in case. 


Many women get to the salon at 11 am and they want us to finish at 1 pm because they have a lunch. Unfortunately, hair stylists don’t make miracles.

If you want your highlights to be perfect, it’s better to come with patience and organize your schedule so your obligations don’t overlap.


And now I’d like you to tell me about your experience. How long were you at the salon the last time you went?

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