Should You Get Balayage or Foil Highlights?

Find out who's a good candidate for both

Close-Up Of Woman Looking At Hair Against White Background
Pongsak Tawansaeng / EyeEm / Getty Images

When it's time to get a few highlights in your hair, you have a choice between traditional foils and balayage, or hair painting. There's a difference between the two techniques and each has their own advantages, depending on the style you're going for.

A natural sun-swept look is easier to obtain with balayage. If you're going for straight streaks, foils are your best bet. Then again, you do have the option to get both at the same time.

Many stylists and colorists are skilled in both and can help you decide which will achieve your desired look. And yet, it's also fun to explore your options before you hit the salon. Let's explore what's possible with these two popular highlighting methods.

Foils vs Balayage

It's very likely that your colorist will recommend highlight foils if you want a big color shift. Taking dark hair four or more shades lighter tends to work best with this technique. This is also true if you want hair that has a lot of contrast and are thinking about both highlights and lowlights or an even distribution of color.

If you are looking to add non-uniform chunks or sweeps of color, balayage is a better option. The method offers your stylist more freedom to add color that fits and highlights your cut, face shape, and, of course, your personal style. So, if you have more of a carefree attitude, she can make your hair match.

Balayage is also great for face-framing highlights. Where foils often target the full shaft of hair, including the roots, balayage is frequently used to highlight hair's the mid-section and ends. For that reason, it's definitely the best method for getting those beautiful and funky ombré highlights.

If you prefer to avoid the maintenance of getting your hair colored every six to eight weeks, balayage may be your better bet. Foil highlights have an obvious demarcation, so any new growth is obvious. Balayage is less obvious and allows you to go longer between salon visits—even just three to four times a year—and it grows out beautifully.

The Best Candidates for Balayage

You may have heard of the term, "balayage blonde," but balayage isn't just for blondes. New York City stylist Eva Scrivo told Allure magazine that she uses the technique on brunettes and redheads as well. It's also a good choice for anyone who is new to highlights, whether it's your first dye job or you're looking to ditch the single-color process.

Balayage is a gentle, subtle way to cover grays because the stylist can paint just the gray strands rather than having to color your entire head. Likewise, if you're in a transition phase and want to grow out your roots without making it obvious, balayage can be a natural-looking and temporary solution.

Your Balayage Options

Because balayage gives the stylist freedom to paint color where she wants to, your stylist has many options with balayage. For instance, she may suggest giving you just as many highlights as she would with foil, or she may suggest a gentle sun-kissed look with just a few natural streaks here and there.

Some stylists are also using a combination of balayage and foils. One technique is called "American tailoring" and it begins with foils. Balayage is then painted in between the new highlights to soften and blend the color. Another popular approach is "foilyage," and it's just the opposite: starting with painted color and finishing up with foil accents.

Go With More Than One Color

You've probably noticed that natural hair color is not a single shade and that each strand is a different color. You can do the same thing when getting either balayage or foils by asking your stylist to use more than one color to get highlights that look even more natural.

You can also consider getting lowlights—a color that's about two shades darker than your highlights. When these are woven into the hair, it adds dimension and depth for some fabulous looking locks.