I get the most requests from new hair guests for balayage. It usually comes with a ton of questions as well.
What is Balayage (Bah-lay-age)? Is it right for me? Why do so many pictures of balayage look so different?
Balayage has been around for years and years. It comes from the French word meaning “sweeping” or “to sweep”. It’s a way of creating depth in the hair by sweeping a lightening agent (usually bleach) throughout the hair to create a natural sun-kissed look. It’s great for someone who doesn’t want to actually change their natural hair color, but only add some interest to it.
So let’s start with the process.
Balayage is applied with a brush to hair with more saturation at the ends and becoming softer at the root. Ends naturally lighten from the sun so this keeps it looking natural. There is no foil involved with traditional balayage, therefor, minimal “lift” meaning more of a natural look. It’s suppose to mimic what the sun would do. Putting your hair in a foil allows the bleach to work it’s best, both by keeping it warm and wet. When your hair is out of a foil, it dries faster and doesn’t get much heat. That’s why with traditional balayage, you can only expect about 2-3 levels of lift on average. Which means if you come in with a level 5 natural base, you WILL NOT be a bright ashy blonde on your ends. That’s not what balayage was created for anyway…. There are some great tools out now like foam foils or plastic wrap specially made for hair to keep the heat in, but it’s still not “traditional” balayage and is more work. This picture below is a traditional balayage.
Her hair is a natural level 4. We were able to lift her balayaged pieces to a 7.
*Keep in mind that these levels of lift will vary, sometimes MAJORLY, when you have artificial color on your ends. Never lie to your stylist about what was put on your hair previously. The truth always comes out during the lifting process.
That brings us to, “Is balayage for me?”
If you want to be a blonde with only some dark roots, then no, balayage (traditional at least) is NOT for you. Not unless you are ok with multiple sessions to get you there. If you want a big change, your stylist will do a combination of balayage and foils. When I have a guest who is pretty dark and wants the most change, I will full foil their head and then balayage some of the leave out. Then at the bowl I will take a root color and “tap” their roots to give a shadow effect. That look is often labeled as balayage, all though it’s really not.
The root “tap” or “stretch” is also used when someone has previously highlighted hair and wants to transition to a balayage look or a softer, more natural look. I have created my own technique for this which took a lot of trial and error. It’s NOT as easy and just putting a darker color on your roots and blending it down. Dark color shows up WHEREVER it touches and will leave dark spots or shadows if not done correctly. I can do a post on that technique if any of my stylist friends would be interested, just let me know!! This is a great option though for my blonde clients that are happy with their end color and want to take a break from highlights. See photo below, this guest had a root stretch from a full foil
A question I get A LOT is “What’s the difference between balayage and ombré?”
The short answer is “Ombré is a look, balayage is the technique”. Ombré is dark into light, with no depth in the bottom. It’s much more noticeable and also more upkeep. It leaves none of your natural or dark throughout the mids and ends of your hair. Balayage is sometimes how I get to the ombré look, but not always. It depends on how much lift the client desires. Below is an ombré that I achieved by darkening her roots and balayaging her entire head with no hair left out and saturating her ends completely and then wrapping in plastic wrap to get the desired lift.
So now, who is this NOT right for?
I think this “look” is great for all ages, but not all hair types. If you have grey, just know that this blonde will not camouflage the grey like traditional highlights will. A lot of my grey clients love that highlights help the blend when your roots come in. Most of my grey clients that tried balayage ended up going back to highlights. Also, if you have very fine, straight hair, just know that balayage shows best with movement. It’s hard to see dimension and depth when you wear your hair straight. We can’t see all of that beauty that’s going on throughout or underneath the blonde surface, balayage shows best with a soft curl in my option. Also, if you wear your hair up most of the time, it’s just going to look like you have roots. So if you are a ponytail lover or head band wearer, this may not be for you.
Balayage is bleach, and it’s hard not to overlap each session, and sometimes over lapping of the lightened pieces are necessary, so if you have fragile hair with foiling…. balayage will not help your ends at all. Use good products and get yourself a deep conditioner for inbetween sessions as well as basic maintenance. I never understood how someone can spend so much on a color and cut only to go home and put $5 shampoo and conditioner on their hair.
Balayage and similar looks are my absolute favorite things to do, no two looks are the same. It allows me to be creative and problem solve. It challenges me on occasions which I actually do NOT enjoy (I don’t enjoy a challenge like most)… but seeing a great outcome and a happy guest makes all of the stress worth it.
If you have any specific questions feel free to ask me, and feel free to share this post to help other woman thinking about trying this trend.