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What is Balayage Color Technique?

Updated: Nov 5, 2023

Glorious Balayage Color
Balayage Color Technique at Ame Salon, Englewood

  • Balayage Creates Soft, Natural Dimension - The hand-painted technique results in subtle, diffused highlights that mimic natural sun-kissed hair for a soft, graduated look.

  • Customization is Key - Balayage allows for personalized placement and tones to complement each individual's complexion and enhance their features based on a consultation.

  • Low-Maintenance Color - Compared to traditional highlights, balayage grows out gracefully and needs less frequent touch-ups to retain a fresh look thanks to its seamless grow-out.

Balayage has become one of the most popular hair coloring techniques recently. With its soft, natural-looking results and low-maintenance requirements, it's easy to see why. This blog post will explain everything you need to know about balayage - from what it is to how it differs from highlights to tips for caring for balayage hair. Read on to learn all about this gorgeous hair-coloring trend!

What is Balayage Color Technique?

Balayage is a freehand hair coloring technique where the dye is painted directly onto sections of the hair without using foils or caps. The result is a soft, graduated effect that looks natural, not stark or stripey.

The technique originated in France and has been around since the 1970s. The word "balayage" comes from the French word meaning "to sweep" or "to paint." It was developed as a way to replicate natural sun-kissed highlights.

Unlike traditional highlighting methods, balayage does not use any wrapping or weaving of the hair. The colorist hand-paints the dye directly on the hair sections. This avoids a harsh demarcation line between colored and uncolored hair. The finished look is understated yet dimensional.

Balayage is a freehand hair coloring technique
Balayage is a freehand hair coloring technique

Balayage vs Highlights: What's the Difference?

Balayage and highlights are excellent choices for adding dimension to your hair color. But there are some key differences between these two popular coloring techniques.



Uses foils or cap to isolate strands

​Freehand painting directly on sections

Defined regrowth lines

Subtle, blended regrowth

Frequent touch-ups needed

Less frequent coloring

Uniform strips of color

Soft, diffused look

Limited color placement


Detailed Comparison

Application Process

  • Highlights involve sectioning off hair strands and applying color with foils or a cap.

  • Balayage is done freehand without any hair partitioning. The colorist paints color directly onto hair sections.

Regrowth Appearance

  • Highlights grow out with defined regrowth lines as the colored pieces contrast against the roots.

  • Balayage blends seamlessly into new growth for a more subtle, natural-looking regrowth.


  • Highlights require frequent touch-ups (every 4-6 weeks) to conceal regrowth.

  • Balayage can go longer between appointments (12-16 weeks) thanks to its blended grow-out.

Hair Damage

  • Highlights often use higher volume developer, which can increase dryness and damage.

  • Balayage uses lower developers and leaves most hair uncolored, reducing strand stress.


  • Highlights cost slightly less per session than balayage.

  • But balayage's lower maintenance needs make it cost-effective in the long run.


  • Highlights create uniform strips of defined color.

  • Balayage appears more subtle, with soft color seamlessly blended from root to tip.

When to Choose One Over the Other

With those comparisons in mind, here are some guidelines for choosing between the two techniques:

Go for highlights if you:

  • Prefer defined, bleach-blonde strips of color

  • Don't mind frequent touch-ups

  • Are comfortable with more damage from high-volume peroxide

  • Want bold, high-contrast results

Opt for balayage if you:

  • Want a soft, natural-looking color that grows out gracefully

  • Don't want a stark regrowth line

  • Prefer low-maintenance color

  • Have damage-prone hair

  • Seek a sun-kissed, multi-tonal look

In summary, it depends on your preferences for maintenance, damage, contrast, and finish. Discuss the differences with your stylist to choose the best technique for your hair goals and lifestyle.

Ombré, Sombré, Babylights, and Balayage

Balayage Style from AME SALON
Balayage Style from AME SALON

Balayage is one of many hair-coloring trends out there. What sets it apart from other popular techniques like ombré, sombré, and babylights?


Ombré features a concentrated dose of color at the tips that gradually fades towards the roots. It creates a clear delineation between dark roots and light ends.

Balayage has a more blended, subtle look since the color is painted through the mid-length hair rather than just on the ends.


Sombré (soft ombré) is a more subtle take on ombré. The color gradually fades from roots to ends for a softer look.

The main difference from balayage is that sombré starts heavier at the tips and lightens moving up. Balayage is painted throughout for a seamless blend.


Babylights are delicate, fine highlights applied throughout the hair to create a subtle highlighted effect.

Babylights are similar to balayage but applied in much thinner strands. Balayage has a more deliberate, bold application in wider pieces.

So, in summary, balayage stands out for its ability to mimic natural hair color and grow out gracefully. The seamlessly blended effect is what makes it truly unique.

How to Care for Balayage Hair

One of the biggest benefits of balayage is that it requires relatively simple maintenance. Here are some tips for keeping balayage looking its best:

  • Use a sulfate-free shampoo and gentle conditioner to retain color vibrancy. Make sure only to wash hair 2-3 times per week maximum.

  • Apply a weekly hair mask to boost moisture and smoothness. Focus on mid-lengths and ends, which take the brunt of color processing.

  • Use a heat protectant before heat styling to minimize damage and fading. Limit the use of hot tools.

  • Schedule a glossing service every 4-6 weeks to refresh the color. Ask your stylist to focus gloss on the lighter pieces that need more saturation.

  • Get a toner applied at your touch-up appointments to keep brassiness at bay. Choose a toner that matches your ideal tone.

  • Use a tinted dry shampoo to absorb oil and brighten color between washes. Apply to the crown to maintain a sun-kissed look.

  • Get a trim every 8-12 weeks to remove any split ends and keep hair looking healthy.

Following a balayage-friendly hair-care routine will help maximize the longevity of this freehand coloring technique.

Creating Different Tones within the Same Overall Color

One of the advantages of balayage is the ability to create dimension using different tones of the same color. Here are some tips:

Balayage Color Technique from Ame Salon
Balayage Color Technique
  • Go for a mix of beiges and golds. Ask your colorist for buttery baby lights throughout and spicy copper pieces around the face. This adds warmth.

  • Mix cool ash tones with metallic silvers to create contrast against a neutral base. It comes off as icy and elegant.

  • For brunettes, incorporate caramel ribbons and mocha shades into the mid-lengths and ends. This keeps it rich but not flat.

  • Weave in pale peach highlights around the face for a lit-from-within glow. Keep the roots and ends neutral for cohesion.

  • Go for bold bronze accents against a dark chocolate base for deeper complexions. Strategically paint on tones to accentuate and define features.

The key is choosing 2-3 complementary tones in the same color family. Then balayage them softly from roots to tips for a cohesive dimension that flatters your complexion.

Creating Lowlights (darker pieces) in Uniformly Color Treated Hair

If your hair has been colored to an overall uniform shade, lowlights are a great way to bring in dimension. Here's how to get the look with balayage:

  • Focus lowlights around the perimeter to enhance and frame the face. Keep them within two shades darker than your base.

  • Paint lowlights sparingly through the interior as well. Avoid large chunks for a seamless blend with the base color.

  • Concentrate lowlights on the mid-lengths and ends rather than at the roots. This looks the most natural.

  • For cool brunettes, try weaving in espresso and chocolate browns. For warm blondes, go for buttery caramels. Match the tones.

  • Use a demi-permanent rather than permanent color for lowlights. This allows them to soften nicely into the base over time.

  • Ask for lowlights to cover 15-30% of hair for ideal dimensions. More than that, it risks looking too contrasted against lighter hair.

When done right, lowlights create the illusion of depth and natural growth. The balayage placement softens the regrowth line for a seamless look.

Balayage Style Example
Balayage Style

Understanding the Balayage Trend

Balayage has become one of the most sought-after hair coloring services. Here's a closer look at what's driving its incredible popularity.

Why is balayage so popular?

There are several reasons balayage has become such a huge hair trend:

  • It creates a soft, natural-looking result as the color subtly graduates from roots to tips.

  • The technique allows customized placement and tones to suit each client's features and style.

  • Balayage grows out beautifully and blends in new growth seamlessly. Lower maintenance is a huge draw.

  • The dimensional results lend a sun-kissed, lived-in look that flatters all different hair textures and complexions.

  • Celebrities like Jessica Alba, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Khloe Kardashian popularized the technique. Their stunning balayage styles inspire others to hop on the trend.

How is balayage achieved?

There are two primary ways balayage can be done:


  • Performed by a trained colorist using professional lighting and tools. This is the best option for ideal results.

  • Typically done using Demi- or semi-permanent hair color applied completely freehand for soft, diffused looks.

  • Allows the colorist to tailor placement and tones to each client's unique coloring, face shape, etc.


  • Using balayage highlight kits found at drugstores or beauty supply shops.

  • Features pre-sectioned tools like caps or stencils to guide application.

  • Uses permanent box dye, which can appear harsher than professional options.

  • Difficult to customize or tailor results to your unique features.

Professional balayage is recommended for the most seamlessly blended results, though at-home kits can hint at the look when done carefully.

How much does balayage cost?

On average, expect to invest:

  • $150 to $350 for your first professional balayage service. The initial application takes the most time.

  • $100 to $250 for follow-up balayage touch-ups every 12-20 weeks. Quicker appointments cost less.

  • $65+ for at-home balayage highlighting kits bought over the counter. Professional kits cost more.

  • Added costs for a haircut, blow-dry, or toner. Consider bundled service packages at some salons.

Pricing varies widely based on your hair length and thickness, the complexity of your customized look, and the technicians' experience level.

Can every hair type try balayage?

The balayage technique is versatile enough to work on most hair types:

  • Straight hair: Loose waves can be created with a curling iron to complement balayage dimensions.

  • Wavy or curly hair: The diffused look of balayage works beautifully to define curls and texture.

  • Thick hair: More sections may need lightening to allow the color to show through density.

  • Fine hair: A lighter touch prevents over-lightening. Gentle babylights soften the demarcation line.

  • Dark hair: To show up on brunette manes, vivid copper and magenta balayage pops nicely.

  • Damaged hair: The gradual look avoids further over-processing of compromised strands.

  • Short hair: Color can be painted on the ends and key face-framing pieces.

The technique is genuinely customizable for all lengths and textures. Have an in-depth consultation with your colorist before beginning.

What to Know About Balayage Hair

Balayage offers gorgeous dimensional color when done correctly. But there are essential factors to consider before taking the plunge. Here's your guide to pros, cons, safety, prep, and care.

The Benefits of Balayage

When performed by a skilled colorist, balayage offers many advantages:

  • Subtle, soft color that appears seamlessly blended from root to tip

  • Mimics natural sun-kissed highlights and growth

  • Less damage than traditional highlighting thanks to lower volume developers

  • It grows out beautifully without the harsh regrowth line

  • Ability to customize tones and placement for your features and preferences

  • Movement and depth in the color dimension add fullness and volume

  • Longer-lasting results compared to foiled highlights

The Drawbacks of Balayage

There are some potential downsides to consider as well:

  • More expensive initial investment than some highlighting methods

  • It still requires touch-ups to refresh (though less frequently than highlights)

  • Not ideal for extremely uniform or vibrant colors from roots to ends

  • Requires an expert colorist to create a seamless look; poorly blended balayage can look stripey

  • Doesn't work well on hair that's already been heavily highlighted from root to tip

Overall, balayage offers significant advantages, making it a worthwhile investment for natural-looking dimensions. Just set your expectations that some maintenance is required.

Is Balayage Safe for Natural Hair?

Balayage can be safely done on natural hair, but there are necessary precautions:

  • Avoid lightening more than 2-3 shades lighter than your natural base. This minimizes damage to delicate curls.

  • Use semi-permanent demi-gloss rather than permanent color. Demi-gloss washes out gradually and avoids harsh lines.

  • Opt for balayage on the mid-lengths and ends to leave new growth unaffected. Keep hair healthy.

  • Shampoo minimally (1-2x per week max) with sulfate-free formulas to retain moisture. Always deep condition after shampooing.

  • Prep hair with a protein-rich treatment before balayage to fortify and protect.

  • Adjust heat styling to the lowest effective temperature. Always use a heat protectant.

When handled with care, balayage can let natural curlies experiment with color in a low-risk way. Just take the necessary steps to prevent dryness or damage.

How to Prepare for Balayage

Proper prep is vital to achieving beautiful balayage results. Here are some tips before your appointment:

Hair Health

  • Shampoo with a clarifying shampoo several days before to remove residue

  • Deep condition and use a repairing hair mask for added moisture

  • Get a trim if needed to remove split ends for healthier coloring


  • Look at balayage photos online or in stylist portfolios to find your perfect look.

  • Think about how much maintenance you're willing to invest moving forward

  • Decide if you want an all-over lift or subtler highlights focused around the face

Salon Consultation

  • Arrive with freshly washed hair to allow the colorist to see your natural base

  • Discuss your hair goals, preferred level of lightness, and any damage concerns.

  • Be open about your routine to determine the optimal timing between appointments.

Thorough prep and consultation will help ensure you and your colorist create the perfect balayage look tailored to you.

What to Expect During the Process

Here's an overview of what happens during a balayage service:

  • A colorist will start by analyzing your hair in its natural state, considering thickness, texture, and elasticity.

  • Sections of hair are separated and painted by hand using a brush saturated with dye. No foils or wrapping is used.

  • Lightener or color is applied more heavily through the mid-shaft, ends and left to process for 20-45 minutes, depending on the desired lift.

  • More subdued balayage is also created by painting hair that isn't pre-lightened with gloss or demi-permanent shades.

  • Toners may be applied after rinsing to cancel unwanted brassy undertones and refine your overall tone.

  • A blowout and styling complete the service. Photo documentation helps monitor progress between appointments.

Your colorist will check on progress and watch development closely. They may test strands first to judge how the color lifts on your hair. Feel free to give feedback on your preferences.


Maintaining your investment in balayage requires diligent at-home care:


  • Use sulfate-free shampoo and lukewarm water to retain vibrancy—only lather roots to keep ends fresh.

  • Shampoo no more than 2-3 times weekly to prevent dryness and fading.

Conditioning & Masking

  • Always use a moisturizing conditioner each time you shampoo, focusing on mid-lengths and ends.

  • Weekly use a hydrating mask or deep conditioner for 5-10 minutes.

Heat Styling

  • Allow hair to air dry when possible to prevent heat damage.

  • Always use a thermal protectant if blow drying or hot tool styling. Keep the heat low.

Gloss & Toner

  • Have a gloss or toner treatment every 4-6 weeks to keep color vibrant and tones fresh.

  • Use a purple shampoo 1-2 times per week to prevent brassiness.


  • Get a trim every 8-12 weeks to remove split ends and allow tones to refresh.

Sun Protection

  • Limit sun exposure which can fade color. Wear a hat and use a UV-protecting spray.

Following professional aftercare guidance ensures your balayage stays beautiful between salon visits.


Balayage has become a go-to technique for creating natural-looking, sunkissed highlights. Expertly painting on color by hand, balayage achieves a soft, diffused look that flatters all hair types.

While more labor-intensive than foiled highlights, balayage offers long-lasting dimensions with less frequent maintenance needed. The results appear seamlessly blended with no harsh demarcation lines as your color grows.

When performed by a highly trained colorist, balayage allows clients to achieve customized placement and tones to enhance their complexion and features. While still an investment, the longevity of balayage makes it cost-effective in the long run.

Balayage is certainly worth considering if you're seeking to gradually lighten your hair with subtle, multidimensional results. Do your research to find an experienced colorist. Go into your initial consultation armed with inspirational photos and ready to discuss your hair goals. With proper technique and aftercare, balayage offers a lit-from-within glow that feels as natural as the sun's kisses on your hair.

Ljupka Arsovska is the owner of Ame Salon and a master colorist with over 20y of hair styling experience.

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