What is Balayage?
What is Balayage?

If you have never heard the word balayage or have never been aware of it, you’re not alone. I didn’t know the term until last year, so sit tight and let me take you through my amazing findings.

What is balayage?

Balayage is a French word meaning to sweep or to paint. It is a technique for highlighting hair in which the dye is hand painted onto the hair with a gentle sweeping motion to create a graduated, natural-looking effect. It allows for a sun-kissed natural looking hair colour that emphasizes your best features, similar to what nature gives us as children, with softer, less noticeable regrowth lines. The principal idea being less is more when creating soft, natural looks.

what is balayage?
what is balayage?

How is it applied?

Balayage is applied on the surface of the section and not saturated through the section until the very tips, otherwise you would have a streak of colour that isn’t very soft at all. When done correctly, the colourist takes a small section of hair and sweeps the colour onto the top. Then, he or she uses a paddle to apply more colour toward the bottom. This method of lightening the ends gives the colourist more control and creates the effortless sun-kissed highlights. It is also called a freehand technique because no professional tools such as traditional foiling, meche or cap highlighting are used to create the highlights.

However, there is no specific order or place to start because each balayage is personalised, therefore the colourist’s creativity is key. The colourist should use a painting technique that will give the result the client wishes to achieve. The colourist may start at the roots or choose to only colour from mid-length. The perfect balayage is one that reflects the client’s personality.

Can any Colourist do it?

Balayage is a skill set that needs to be learned, exactly like any other colour technique. When done right it looks exquisite; when done badly, it looks horrific. So if a colourist is not skilled at it, then they shouldn’t be in the right position to do it.

There are alot of Youtube videos on DIY balayage, but I wouldn’t advise anyone to carry it out. Colouring your hair by yourself is at your own risk though.

 Is balayage more or less damaging than the other colouring techniques?

Each process, foiled highlights and balayage, need not result in damaged hair as long as the colourist stays aware of the processing time required to maintain the healthy condition of the hair and the desired end result.

However, when you do traditional highlights you are generally only lightening the new growth, but when you balayage you continue to lighten the already lightened hair (for those with already lightened tresses) so it is more likely to become damaged.

Have in mind that either technique can lift the hair with minimal damage, that’s why it is critically important to see a professional colourist, someone that can guide you safely to beautiful hair colour that doesn’t leave your hair damaged.

How is it different from traditional hair colouring?

It’s totally bespoke to you! A good balayage expert will be able to place the colour to suit your skin tone, so it will look amazing and really light up your features. But don’t get it confused with layage – a similar but more precise technique.

Balayage is a modern, skilled technique that gives the hairdresser more freedom to place colour where it will fit the best, unlike foils. Foils or highlights will give a uniform finish with more defined strands than a balayage. A balayage will grow out beautifully and very naturally so you don’t get a clear regrowth line.

Traditional balayage takes longer to process (between 30-50 minutes) as it sits in open air compared to foils (20-25 minutes), which hold in heat and processes colour a lot faster. There are many balayage techniques – American balayage or Foilayage combines both foil and painting techniques and this is perfect for anyone wanting to go much lighter than their natural colour. Don’t be alarmed to see some stylists using plastic wrap.

The outcome is discernible between the two no matter how great someone is at foils, you’ll always get obvious lines, but that’s not the case with balayage – it gives you a softer grow out.

Foils will really lift your roots (lifting = lightening) diffusing the colour towards the ends, whereas with balayage, it’s the opposite – the roots are traditionally more diffused.

The main difference however lies in the result; balayage relies on the colourist’s expertise to recreate the natural highlights you would develop after spending time under the sun. It isn’t possible to obtain natural-looking highlights with foils and avoiding the use of aluminium (used to create foils) allows to better preserve the quality and health of the hair.  Balayage starts from the roots of the hair, while ombré generally starts mid-length and goes all the way down to the tip. Ombré really accentuates the light on the lengths and ends.

The grow out is less obvious with balayage, you can go months without touching it up. I feel sometimes traditional foils can look a little patterny and I like a more free style.

what is balayage?
what is balayage?

Does it require a lot of maintenance/How do I care for it?

It is low maintenance and gives off more of a subtle colour. It grows out beautifully and more naturally so you don’t get an obvious regrowth line and and can wear it for longer between appointments (say 3-4 months depending on how ombre you want it to look). All you really need to do is protect it as you would any other colour: use a colour radiance protecting shampoo and conditioner, regular treatments and heat protection products when styling.

Also, remember to deep condition regularly to maintain the hair’s health. If you take good care of your colour, it will always look its best. In addition, if you are going to be doing ombre and lightening up your ends significantly, you might want to consider a split end mender to help with damage. Overall, balayage grows out really well and that’s part of the charm in the technique.

The technique gives you the most natural-looking finish ever! If you’ve never taken the plunge by trying a new hair colour, then the balayage technique might be the perfect option for you. This hair colour process requires very little maintenance which is probably the most low-key option for those who are trying out colour for the first time.


  • If you’re considering balayage highlights, be sure to bring your colourists pictures of hair colour you like. This is the best way to convey how committed you are to the style and will give your stylist an idea of whether you want to go subtle, noticeable or bold with your colour.
  • Balayage always looks best on healthy hair and a healthy scalp therefore use quality products at home that are adapted to your hair and scalp. Do monthly hair treatments to improve the quality of the hair and maintain the shine of the balayage.
  • It makes hair look thicker, our hair follicle is thicker at the top and thinner at the bottom. With it, you are able to create the illusion that the hair is fuller at the bottom by painting thin to thick highlights from top to bottom, never seeing where the colour begins and ends. This visual trick means you can make thin hair look fuller without resorting to mixing and matching styling products and spending extra time with curling irons.


Have you had this colouring technique done before? Do share and comment below

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Inemesit Jimmy

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