More than just a hair trend, balayage is the perfect dyeing technique for anyone wanting low-maintenance, sun-kissed looking hair.
First came the dip-dye, then came ombre, then came balayage. Essentially a journey from harsh lines to softer-looking streaks of a new colour in your hair, balayage is now the hairstyle of choice for anyone wanting a more ‘my hair naturally goes from brown to blonde, didn’t you know?‘ effect.
The effect is a more natural, sun-kissed and breezy dye job, and has been used with various hair colours over the years, from darker shades to the vibrant, Kylie Jenner-style teals of the world. It continues to be the one of the most popular hair trends even years on, because of its low-maintenance and effortlessly cool style.
Still feeling confused? Here’s all the ins and outs of the technique from Jack Howard, hair colourist supremo at top UK salon, Paul Edmonds.
What is balayage?
“Balayage is a French word meaning to sweep or to paint,” Jack explains. “It allows for a natural-looking effect, with subtle, less noticeable regrowth lines than with regular foil highlights.”
“The balayage pieces should be very close and fine at the root, leading to a thicker highlight at the ends of the hair. Balayage is applied just on the surface of the section of hair, and not saturated all the way through the section until the very tips, otherwise you would have a streak of colour that would look far too harsh.”
Jack goes on to explain that, “It gives the hair a natural, untouched appearance. It’s all about giving the impression you’ve been in the Caribbean for a month or two and have picked up some natural sun-kissed highlights.” And that sounds pretty damn good to us!
Should I use foils for balayage?
Jack is adamant that foils aren’t the way forward. He explains: “Since I came back to the UK in 2010 after years working in the States, I have been saying that foil highlights are dying out – it’s such an 80s look and certainly not something the modern woman wants.”
“Balayage is still a highlighting technique, so it’s not the death of highlights per se. But I prefer the bespoke feel you get from freehand colouring as opposed to a line-up of perfectly-placed foils.”
What is the difference between balayage and ombre?
Ombre is the transition to a light shade from a dark shade. Ombre is a lot more extreme and it involves the top end of your hair being completely dark, the middle is an in-between colour and the ends completely light. However, balayage is more of a natural look and still has dark tones at the end of the hair. It mimics how your hair would naturally get lighter in the sun and looks slightly more unkempt.
Why do so many celebrities have balayage?
“As well as looking much more sophisticated and natural, the big appeal of balayage is that it’s bespoke – a colourist skilled in balayage will look at your face and place the lights to perfectly flatter and light your features. That’s why if you look at most A-listers, you rarely see a classic foil highlight – you see balayage.”
“The stylist can also place the colour wherever suits the way you wear your hair. I give a lot of my longer haired ladies ‘ponytail lights’ – balayage placed underneath the hair so that when they wear it up in a pony, it’s not a flat, one-dimensional colour underneath.”
How long does balayage take to do?
Turns out, it’s pretty speedy work. Jack says, “Normally a full head takes 45 mins or so to apply, so it’s quicker than normal foils for me, but I have been doing it for nearly 20 years and I find when I’m teaching it to hairdressers, speed only comes with practice.”
He adds, “The only time it takes longer is when you’re converting someone who’s had foil highlights to balayage – then you might need to do a root stretch tint first (when you apply tint to the root to fade out the highlighted colour gradually, so you don’t see a harsh line). Otherwise, it’s quick, easy and low maintenance.”
What colours are used in balayage?
Jack says there’s room to get creative. “You can use whatever colours you want – I usually use one or two. Because the colour is feathered lightly at the root and the ends are saturated with colour, you get a rich, textured look.”
How long does balayage last?
Good news, lazy girls. According to Jack, “A little balayage goes a long way, so it definitely costs less over time. You don’t need to visit the salon every 6 weeks as you do with foils – you only need to see your colourist every 12-14 weeks as the highlights will grow out naturally.”
“The exception is if you’re covering grey – then you would need to do a root tint first (sometimes, depending on the colour, you can do it all at once). If you want to keep your greys covered, you’d need to come back to the salon every 4-6 weeks for regrowth touch-up and a balayage appointment every 12-16 weeks.”
What are some common balayage mistakes?
“There are a few. It’s a surface technique (unlike foil highlights, where the colour is saturated from root to tip), so when hairdressers over-saturate it can look very heavy. If the product isn’t applied evenly, you get a mottled effect and, too heavy an application loses the softness and the contrast which makes balayage so beautiful. You just need to see someone who knows what they’re doing.”
WATCH: The Best Celebrity Platinum Blonde Transformations
Can you balayage your own hair?
“Yes you can, though it’s definitely worth going to a colour specialist if you are a bleach-novice or have really dark hair,” Jack advises.
Does balayage work for every hair type?
Balayage is not just for mousey brown hair. “Any age, any hair colour, any hair type can benefit from the fresh, youthful look balayage gives. From teenage girls to Jane Fonda at 75, to dark hair to grey, to curly to straight – they all look amazing with balayage!”
Alternative forms of balayage?
- Fed up of the usual blonde-hued balayage and want something a little different? Why not introduce a pastel pink multi-tonal balayage which is as dreamy as it sounds.
- Alternatively, grey balayage is promising to be winter’s most sought-after hue and we are not surprised. The look is created using grey and lilac tones and the results are sensational.
- The perfect twist on balayage for brunettes, the tiger eye trend takes its name from the Tiger’s Eye rock, echoing its bronze, gold and brown stripes to give darker hair an effortless lift.
Does balayage damage your hair?
Most colourists would agree that balayage is arguably less damaging than conventional colouring techniques which use foils and heat to set the colour, meaning you’re less likely to end up with brassy, over-processed hair. Bleach, however, can prove to dry out your ends. Be sure to consult your hairdresser about treating dry-damaged hair to keep your hair in optimum condition.
To see the best celebrity balayage moments scroll through the gallery below: