Why Everyone Has Gone Ga-Ga for Balayage Hair Color

Get Sun-Kissed Highlights With Hair Painting

Woman having her hair dyed
Balayage is French for "hair painting". Medioimages/Photodisc/Getty Images

Forget foils. One of the hottest hair trends is balayage, which will leave your hair with perfect sun-kissed highlights. It is the secret to the gorgeous hair you see on many celebrities and works on all hair types, lengths, and colors.

Balayage is a French word that refers to the process of sweeping, or painting, color onto hair. This highlighting method gives you more natural results and requires less maintenance than traditional foils.

What Is Balayage?

Balayage means "to paint" or "to sweep" in French and the process is also called "hair painting." It is a freehand method of adding highlights to hair that will add dimension, showcase a haircut, and look very natural. It's almost as if you spent time in the sun, without the damaging UV rays.

The process is quite simple and can be rather quick, depending on how much highlighting you and your stylist decide to go with. The roots are soft and barely receive any highlight color. As the product is worked down each strand, it becomes more saturated and will only fully saturate the hair at the ends. This produces a gentle gradation of color that goes from dark to light.

All Hair Types and Styles

Where other techniques can be restrictive, balayage can work on anyone's hair. Whether your hair is long or short, straight or curly, or anything in between, balayage can look great. It's also popular among both men and women.

The technique gives a colorist the freedom to highlight your haircut and your best features. She may suggest adding face-framing highlights or paint single curls and leave others natural. It can also give thinner hair a little extra dimension and the illusion of volume.

Balayage can be used on all hair colors as well.

It can add dimension to deep brunette tresses with red or golden highlights just as well as it works for the "balayage blonde" look. If you have a few gray hairs coming in, your colorist can even target those and give them a little camouflage.

It's a Quick Process

If you've sat for hours in a chair getting foil highlights, you'll love balayage. In comparison, it's a fast process, but the speed really depends on the amount of hair and the desired effect. 

Experienced colorists in the technique can give you just a few highlights in a matter of minutes, with some salons offering a quick treatment over your lunch break. Then again, you might want something elaborate or have thicker hair that may take an hour or so. Adding more than one color will also require more time in your stylist's chair.

It's Low-Maintenance

One of the best aspects of balayage is how it grows out. Since the color is concentrated at the ends and your roots stay pretty close to natural, it looks beautiful as new growth comes in. That means you don't have to get touch ups as often and can even cut it down to just a few times a year if you like.

Since this is a color treatment that uses chemicals, you will want to use products that will protect your hair.

Be sure to use a shampoo for color-treated hair and ask your stylist about recommendations for your particular hair type that will keep it healthy.

Balayage vs Foils

For many people, it's difficult to decide between balayage and traditional foil highlights. There are advantages to each and which your colorist chooses depends on the style you're after. 

Foils have long been a common way to add highlights to hair and they look great on many hairstyles. However, the technique does not create the most natural look. The colorist must work within the square shape of the foils and it can leave noticeable streaks.

Balayage, on the other hand, allows the colorist to take a freehand approach, adding color strategically as she moves around the head. It can really blend the highlights into your natural color, which contributes to that sun-swept look

Depending on the salon and style you're going for, foils may be more expensive than balayage. You'll also want to consider the maintenance. Foils will require a touchup every four to six weeks to keep up with your roots. Your balayage roots will show no demarcation line as new growth comes in.

Balayage vs Ombré

Ombré is another popular highlighting technique that is often compared to balayage, though there are differences here as well. Ombré is French for "shadow" and it adds a defined gradation from dark at the roots to lighter color at the ends. It does not have the integrated color blends found in balayage.

Sombré is a softer version of ombré that is a little more blended and can look similar to balayage.

Merge Different Highlights

Another option your stylist has is to use a combination of highlighting techniques. Some really fantastic looks can come from a little balayage and some foils or ombré with balayage.

The best thing you can do anytime you're going for new color is to gather photos of the looks you like. Show these to your stylist and she'll be able to choose the right techniques and colors to get the style you're after.