Pros: Cheap, easy to do, good results, fairly quick
Cons: Smell (typical), hard to get close to roots, can get splotches, tough to time
When I was in high school, I started getting my hair highlighted, but the bill was expensive even in cheaper salons (at least for a high school student). In college I decided I was going to do my own highlights, using storebought kits that used the same tools as the salons - cap, hook, and dye. I have used a variety of different kits over the years, and have probably been doing my own highlights at home for about 10 years now.
"Frost & Design Dramatic Hi-Precision Pull-Through Cap Highlights have a new time-saving formula that leaves you with a delectable swirl of creamy highlights for a sun-kissed glow. Pull-Through Cap lets you select the exact strands you want lightened so that you can avoid messy mistakes and unwanted results. Choose from two different styling hooks to create subtle or bold highlights. Finish with a toning rinse to infuse hair with extra shine." (LorealParis.com)
L'Oreal Frost & Design
I have used this kit quite often, although the box has changed since I began using it many years ago. There are three shade kits to choose from - "champagne", "caramel", or "pecan". Over the years my natural color has gotten much darker, so I have been using the caramel kit. I generally buy this kit at the drugstore or places like Walmart, and it costs about $12-14. The kit comes with everything you need to highlight your hair: cap, large and small hooks, mixing tub, gloves, overcap, lightening powder, frosting protective creme, and rinse.
There are a lot of ingredients in this kit, so I am not going to list them. You can google them and find them on sites like drugstore.com.
This kit is very easy to use, and is pretty much the same as other similar kits. You put on the cap, which is tight, and tie it under your chin. There are holes marked all over the cap, and every other one is circled. You can tailor your highlights however you want - pull large chunks through, small strands, pull through every hole, every other, etc. What I do is pull medium chunks through every other hole on the top of my head. Then you comb the hair to make sure there are complete strands pulled through.
The mixture is easy to mix, following the instructions. There is a powder and a creme. Then, (wearing the gloves of course), I apply this to the strands. I am careful to pull up on the strands so that the cap is pulled as close to my scalp as possible. This is the only tough part about the kit: getting the mixture as close to your scalp as possible, but also making sure none of the mix gets pushed through the holes. You end up with either noticable roots, or splotches at the root (from extra mixture). I am able to minimize or prevent both by being careful. I actually recommend not doing highlights right along your hairline, as any mistakes or issues with getting close to the root will be too obvious.
I will admit that there was a time I used the kit and managed to get some mixture through the cap, and of course it was right by my hairline (and therefore pretty obvious). It may sound a little crazy, but I grabbed a brown Sharpie and fixed the spots without a problem! A little strange, maybe.. but I wasn't going to go to work with those light spots!
The mixture does stink, but there has not been a kit I have tried that does not stink. I have tried kits where the mixture has a lot of fragrance added, but it still has a very strong odor. Basically, you can't disguise the harsh smell of chemicals like ammonia, etc.
You put a plastic bag type cap on over your hair while it develops. I'm not sure of the purpose other than to protect it, but it does help to prevent making a mess and reduce the smell. The mixture also gets a little warm, but only a tiny bit.
The tough part is determining how long to wait. There is a chart on the directions to figure out how long to leave the mix on. You are supposed to do a strand test beforehand, but I have always been too lazy to do so! I have left the mix on for too long, but I've only done it probably 2 times in the past 12 years, so lesson learned!
I do have to warn as well that the highlights will fade a little after you first do them, so sometimes in the beginning they will look pretty bright, but then they fade a little.
The results I get now are just right. I would say that practice and caution will get you great results. My hair has gotten progressively darker, which is sad since I was very blond as a child. With the kit, I get nice highlights, and it is a real 'pick me up' for my hair especially during the winter months when the sun no longer is naturally lightening my hair.
I am a busy mom and I hate spending tons of money at the salon. If I were to get my hair highlighted every couple months at a salon, I would be spending hundreds of dollars a year. Using the Frost & Design kit, I only spend a few dozen, and I like the results. If I had the luxury of a high paying job (vs. SAHM), I would probably go to the salon out of convenience and for better consistency in results, but I have used this kit long enough that I feel confident in doing my own highlights, and I certainly can justify saving at least $50 each time I highlight my hair with Frost & Design!
I should mention there are only a few other brands of highlighting kits that have the cap and hook system. There are a bunch of kits that use brush-on highlights, which I refuse to use! The L'Oreal kit is pretty much the same as the other cap & hook kits I have used, but I am giving this 4 stars because I get good results for cheap, so I can't complain!