Balayage has become one of the most coveted requests in hair salons worldwide. While balayage may have exploded in popularity in the past few years, the dyeing technique has been around for quite some time, only recently sneaking its way into modern hair salons. Over the years, hairstylists have perfected the art of balayage, even going on to make a name for themselves based on their balayage technique and expertise. As celebrities and supermodels alike show off their sunkissed, softly melting hair color, it's safe to say, balayage hair is here to stay.
You may be asking yourself, what is balayage hair? Can balayage be done at home? How do you choose the right hairstylist for balayage? We've got you covered with all these questions and more. Read on to learn everything you need to know about the balayage, why it's so popular, and the do's and dont's to achieve celebrity-status hair.
What is balayage?
Those women with hair that has depth and dimension, looking like they just came back from a vacation in sunny California? That's balayage.
The word “balayage” is a French word meaning “to sweep” or “to paint.” It is a technique for dyeing hair in which the dye is hand painted onto the hair to give it a natural, gradual transition with no obvious or harsh lines. Balayage uses various tones of light and dark to create multiple dimensions of color, leaving the hair with a blended, natural, sunkissed glow.
The most appealing thing about balayage is that the color can be customized completely to your hair color and hair type. By strategically freehand painting the hair, you can highlight or even detract from certain features of your face, and you can be sure that no one else out there has the exact same hair color as you.
Where did balayage originate?
Balayage hair had its fabulous beginnings in 1970s France, at the uber-exclusive Carita Salon in Paris. At the time, the industry standard was to dye hair using frosting caps and foils. Balayage was a revolutionary new technique, using strips of cotton to separate dyed hair from un-dyed hair, leading to that effortless, sun-kissed look. In the 90s, balayage hair came to the US, only just becoming popular among the masses in recent years. Of course, we can thank A-list celebrities like Chrissy Teigen, Jessica Alba, Kim Kardashian, Jennifer Lopez, and Olivia Palermo for popularizing balayage.
What is the difference between balayage and highlights?
Gone are the days of those old-fashioned foil highlights circa Nicole Ritchie in The Simple Life. Today, its all about looking sleek, modern, and effortless. Unlike traditional foil highlights, balayage is freehand painted directly onto the surface of the hair and is not saturated right through the section. Remember those "stripey" highlights that were ever so popular in the early 2000s? Balayage does quite the opposite. Because balayage is painted by hand, the highlights are less consistent. This results in the softer progression of the dye, leaving a beautiful, natural multi-toned color. This also ensures that the highlights work in tandem with your haircut and natural growth patterns.
What is the difference between ombré and balayage?
You may be thinking that the balayage technique sounds similar to the other highlighting styles that have been popularized recently. While this is sort of true, there are some key differences.
Ombré is a French word, which means "shadow"—it's a process that dyes the hair in a gradation from dark to light. The outcome is usually darker hair from the roots to the mid-shaft and a transition to a lighter color from the mid-shaft through to the ends. This technique is meant to look like the hair has been dip-dyed. As mentioned above, balayage means to "paint" or "sweep"—it's a dyeing process that results in natural-looking highlights. For balayage, color is swept through small, triangular sections of hair onto a board or foil, resulting in a seamless blend of the highlights and your natural hair color. With balayage, there is no clear fade line between the darker and lighter colors. As well, darker pieces are left at the bottom to give the hair that extra depth and dimension. Balayage hair also requires less maintenance due to this natural transition.
Balayage dyeing techniques
With balayage, the hair colorist paints the dye directly onto the hair strands, leaving a natural blend. On the other hand, a more drastic color transition can be achieved by bleaching the bottom half of your hair and dyeing a lighter shade on top using foils, a more traditional dyeing method, to achieve that soft blend between the two colors.
Is balayage right for you?
The creative possibilities are endless with balayage—you just need to decide how big of a change you'd like and how daring you're feeling. Balayage is a more gentle foray into the world of dyeing, if you have never had your hair dyed. It is also a good idea to look at how you usually style your hair, as this may dictate whether you opt for balayage or its counterpart. For example, balayage looks beautiful when finished with beachy, flowing waves, while a strong bob haircut or straight hair would show off more drastic color blocking. Regardless, consult with your hair colorist before your appointment to ensure that you are making a decision that feels right for you and your lifestyle.
How can you tell if your balayage hair has been done correctly?
The main goal of balayage is a soft, subtle, seamless blend. Therefore, dyed pieces should be close together and soft at the root, thickening toward the end, with darker pieces left throughout the ends for that natural look. Balayage should also be applied only to the surface of the section of hair, not saturated throughout—this is usually achieved with a thicker clay dye, to avoid harsh streaks of color.
How can you tell if your balayage hair has gone wrong at the salon?
Since balayage is a specialized technique it is important to visit a professional hair colorist with experience and knowledge in this area. The hair colorist should use the right products for the color you are looking to achieve as well as your hair type, knowing when to rinse the hair. If the hair is rinsed too early, the hair may not lift correctly, leading to a brassy orange shade. On the other hand, if the dye is not applied and placed properly, you may be left with patchy balayage. Before choosing your hair colorist, be sure to check out their Instagram page and read reviews to ensure that they will be right for the job. If you've had an unfortunate balayage experience, not to worry! Bad color jobs can be fixed with techniques like root melting or toning down the color—again, be sure to book a consultation for any fix-ups.
How much maintenance does balayage hair require?
Although both techniques require specialized hair colorists and a higher budget at first, the biggest draw to balayage hair is how fabulous women can look with little maintenance after the initial visit. Because balayage has no harsh demarcation lines it grows out easily and beautifully, without the need for regular salon touch-ups. If you are a first-timer, you may require two to three visits to the salon to build up the color, as lightening the hair drastically in one sitting can be damaging—you can expect to visit your hair colorist every 6 weeks during this time. Once you've achieved that perfect shade, you can go up to four months until your next balayage appointment, only visiting your hair colorist in between for a toner or treatment to freshen up the color.
What kind of hair is balayage best suited for?
Balayage works on most hair lengths and hair types, however, if you have a pixie cut, you may want to avoid balayage, since there isn't enough hair to create those seamless highlights. Balayage is especially popular on long, textured hair types to create that California sun-kissed red carpet look. If you have shorter hair and yearn for longer, beachy hair, click here to learn how to get long hair in less than 5 minutes!
How to make balayage hair last
Like with any color treated hair, it is important to protect your hair and use the right hair products to maintain your color and infuse moisture back into your hair in between appointments. We recommend using salon quality sulfate-free shampoos to ensure that the color is not stripped away, as well as a purple reinforcing shampoo, to eliminate any brassy tones until your next salon visit. Be sure to speak with your hair colorist before leaving the salon about care tips for your specific style, to ensure that your color is maintained as best as possible.
Is balayage hair just a fleeting trend?
Although many hair trends come and go, we predict balayage is here to stay. Since the coloring technique has been around for so long since its inception in France, we don't foresee a natural, sun-kissed highlighted look going out of style anytime soon. Trends may change from how heavy the gradation is from dark to light, how subtle these highlights are, and how warm or cool the overall effect is, however, the beautiful depth and dimension achieved with balayage hair is timeless.
7 reasons to consider balayage
1. Lighten up for warmer seasons
If you are looking for a bit of a hair change-up for spring and summer, balayage may be the answer to your hair prayers. Spring is the perfect time to add a natural glow and lighter tone to your hair moving into the summer months. Not only will you look like you've spent the early part of the year on a tropical island, but balayage grows out beautifully, leaving you free to change up your hair again if you wish. Having said this, balayage hair is not just for spring and summer. When painted with darker, warmer blonde or chocolate tones, balayage hair can move into fall and winter seamlessly.
2. Grow out your old highlights
Do you have old foil highlights that are growing out? Balayage is the perfect way to blend these old highlights, and grow them out, without the need to continuously re-dye and highlight your hair.
3. Added color dimension
Balayage adds beautiful color dimension to your hair in the most natural way. If you are apprehensive about dying your hair or nervous about a dramatic change, balayage is the perfect way to meet in the middle. You know the way the sun catches the light and dark tones in your hair that you didn't even know your hair had? Balayage does the same thing but, well, permanently.
4. It’s Low Maintenance
Typically, people avoid dying their hair because of the maintenance that follows to keep their hair strong and healthy and to keep the color looking fresh. As mentioned above, because of the way balayage is freehand painted onto the hair, the dye grows out seamlessly and there are no harsh regrowth lines. This means fewer trips to the salon and less need to continuously re-dye your hair! If you invest in some quality color care hair products, you will be all set.
5. It’s Suitable For All Hair Types
What we love about balayage is that works great on all hair types. Whether your hair color is dark or light, or your hair type is wavy, straight, curly, short or long, balayage will most likely suit your hair, as long as you have the right hair colorist working the dye. If you have a great colorist, they will know exactly shades will work best for your hair color and face shape, creating a dye job bespoke to you.
6. It's easy on the hair
Because balayage highlights are placed strategically throughout the hair, you avoid the harshness of all over bleached hair. Hair lightener placed in along your hairline and around your face can instantly brighten your look and achieve a noticeable transformation, with minimal damage to your hair.
7. It can make fine hair look thicker and fuller
Because of those strategically placed highlights in a variety of colors, balayage can give thin or fine hair the illusion of thickness and fullness. Not only that, since hair color actually causes the hair shaft to expand, it physically does cause hair strands to thicken up, resulting in fuller hair overall.
Ready to get balayage'd? Here's what to do before going to the salon
1. Creep your hairstylist on Instagram
Instagram has now become the unofficial portfolio for most hairstylists and hair colorists, so you can be sure there's no guessing game to your stylist's talents before booking. If you notice that every client’s balayage application looks exactly the same, this may not be the right salon or hairstylist for you. Balayage is supposed to be bespoke to each person based on hair texture, color and style of haircut. This is why that first consultation with the stylist beforehand is so important.
2. Gather inspo photos (or videos!)
Ever wonder why hair salons have a multitude of magazines lying around? They're not just to keep you busy with Cosmo quizzes while you wait for your appointment, but for you to be able to show your hairstylist just what you're looking for. A picture says a thousand words, so if you're able to show your hairstylist a photo of your desired style and color, they will be much more likely to give you exactly what you're looking for.
3. Book a consultation
Consulting with your hairstylist before making the commitment to dye your hair is extremely important, to give them a chance to advise you on which shades to go with, as well as for you to get a feel for them. Most hair salons offer free consultations, so don't be afraid to ask for one. Some questions to ask right off the bat include what kind of application is unique to your hair type, where they will start dyeing or bleaching the hair, and what colors they see working well for you.
4. Dress the part
Just like a wedding hair trial, be sure to dress and wear your makeup like you usually would on most days. This will ensure that your stylist gets a full feel for your personal style, as well as chooses a color and style that work best with your regular makeup.
5. Ensure that your highlights are spaced out enough
This will ensure that regrowth is smooth and easy. Highlights that are placed too close together may result in loss of contrast, requiring frequent trips to the hair salon.
6. Request a perfect balance of warm and cool-toned highlights
Brassy hair appears to be the enemy in the hair world, however, if your highlights are too cool-toned, they may appear almost grey. Instead, work with your hairstylist to find the perfect balance between warm and cool-toned highlights that work with your natural hair color and skin tone.
7. Choose highlights that are two to four shades lighter than your natural hair color
Anything lighter may loose that all-natural sun-kissed look you are going for.
8. Choose chunkier highlights if you have curly or thicker hair
Babylights or very subtle balayage may get lost if you have curly hair or very thick hair. Be sure that your hairstylist works with your natural hair's texture, applying a heavier balayage if needed.
9. Consider highlights and lowlights
Remember, balayage is all about creating depth and dimension in your hair. This can be achieved not only with highlights hand-painted, but with strategically place lowlights as well.
10. Inquire about a bond enhancer
Have you ever wondered how celebs keep their hair looking healthy and strong while constantly dyeing it? Chemically dyeing hair alters its structure, therefore, a bond enhancer like Olaplex will ensure that the hair strands are protected during the dyeing process and prevent additional damage from occurring.
How to achieve balayage without dyeing
Yes, it's possible!
If you're hesitant to take the plunge to dye your hair, you can achieve this look with some strategically placed clip in hair extensions. Remember when we mentioned earlier that you can transform your hair from short to those long beachy, textured waves? Luxy Hair offers a full range of balayage hair extensions, to achieve beautiful, natural-looking balayage hair in minutes. All balayage clip-in hair extensions are available in the Seamless line, with a silicone base. This ensures that the extensions lie completely flat against the head with no extra bulk at the roots. Not only are balayage clip-in hair extensions a great way to test out balayage before committing to dyeing, but can be saved for a special night out to transform your look in minutes.
How to get balayage hair at home
Can't make it to the salon or nervous about dyeing your hair? Hair extensions are a perfect way to achieve balayage hair at home without a trip to the salon. The best way to get the look is to match your natural hair color to the base shade of the balayage hair extensions to add color and dimensions to your natural hair instantly.
Alternatives to balayage
We've spent quite some time talking about balayage, but there are a few alternatives if you're looking for something different.
Sombre achieves less of a contrast between light and dark, with a softer blend—basically, a "soft ombre." Sombre starts higher at the head, closer to the roots, with some highlights almost reaching the root of the hair for that softer gradation of color and a more natural-looking transition. Instead of just applying hair lightener, your hair colorist can also add darker tones similar to your natural hair color for added depth and a more natural look.
Think of babylights like balayage-lite. Babylights are very delicate highlights placed around the face to resemble the subtle dimension of color usually seen on children's hair. Babylights are the most subtle type of highlight, only placed in small, strategic sections to add dimension. These highlights grow out easily and naturally, just like balayage, without as big of a commitment.