Anyone who has decided to take the plunge and spice up the color of their hair probably knows there are tons and tons of looks, colors, techniques, and processes to choose from.
These range from rainbow hair, to mermaid hair, sunset ombre, and even rainbow prism hair.
When you do your research you probably get caught up with all the hairstylist lingo like “highlights”, “lowlights”, “ombre”, and “balayage”.
Not to mention whether or not to use foils, and why cap highlighting is frowned upon by stylists.
It can be incredibly difficult to understand what each term means and how they differ from each other.
In fact, some of these terms actually describe techniques that use one or more other techniques or terms.
Take for example, “balayage” as one.
This can make it even harder to understand and keep all the information straight in your mind.
For now, we are going to dive in and take a close look at balayage.
What is it? How it is done?
We’ll all look at how to take care of balayage hair.
We’ll also be answering a question I hear asked a lot: Does balayage damage hair?
This post seeks to clear up any confusion and misunderstandings, and help you decide whether or not balagage is right for you!
Table of Contents
What Is Balayage?
So the word “balayage” is French in origin, and it holds the meaning “to sweep” or “to paint” which explains how the color is applied to your hair.
It does not explain any specific color or color patterns, rather just the technique used.
When doing balayage, the colorist will apply free-hand painted highlights in specific placements.
These highlights allow your hair to have a very natural gradient look using soft highlights.
It allows you to showcase your natural base color while giving you much more dimension with your color, as well as flattering lighter hair strands that frame your face.
Typically, there are fewer at the roots and more highlights towards the bottom of your ends.
The goal is to create a very natural “sun-kissed” look.
Think back to when you were a child, and you played outside in the sun all summer long.
If you’re like me, you probably had your parents and relatives constantly comment on how the sun has given you lovely natural highlights.
This is what balayage recreates.
It is a common misconception that balayage and highlights in general only work on hair that is naturally blonde.
This is not the case at all.
Balayage can be done to any hair color, whether it is a dark brown with caramel balayage, or auburn with strawberry blonde.
It can also be done on straight, wavy, and curly hair.
The combinations and possibilities are endless and a good colorist will help you choose a highlight color that will best suit you and give you exactly the look that you want.
How Is Balayage Different From Ombre?
So, we now know that balayage is the actual technique used for natural-looking hand-painted highlights; and like ombre, it usually results in a nice gradient that gets lighter towards the ends of your hair.
However, unlike ombre, balayage hair is done to look as natural as possible and to give the appearance of naturally lightened hair from the sun.
You may be wondering, what exactly then is ombre?
So, looking at the root of the word “ombre”, again we have a French term that means “shadow”.
So, while balayage refers to the technique used, ombre refers more to the end result.
Ombre generally has a more dramatic look and is much more noticeable.
Ombre results in a strong gradient look, starting dark at the roots and getting lighter towards the ends.
Balayage, on the other hand, is applying highlights throughout the hair freehand, wherever the colorist thinks they will look best.
So, while there is a little bit of a gradient with balayage, it is not intended to be as noticeable as ombre.
How Does Balayage Differ from Normal Highlights?
Now that we have established how balayage is different from ombre, you may be wondering why it isn’t the same as just getting your hair highlighted.
While balayage is a type of highlighting, normal highlights are much more structured and uniform.
Foil highlights strategically take small, uniform sections of hair, apply bleach to them, and then wrap them up in the foil to allow for the bleach to process.
However, balayage has a much more organic and freehand application so it is more subtle and natural.
The colorist will evaluate the hair and choose where to place the balayage to best flatter their client.
Often, you will see lighter strands upfront to frame, flatter, and accentuate facial features.
Balayage also gives different levels of lightness, unlike normal highlights which should lift evenly.
The different shades give the client’s hair much more dimension, and as a result, it looks more natural, because if you think about it, when your hair lightens naturally in the sun, it isn’t uniform.
Balayage on Dark Hair
The best thing about balayage?
It can be done on almost every hair color, type, and length.
The exception is with short pixie cuts, as there is not enough hair to work with to create the desired effect.
It is commonly thought that only blonde or light brown hair looks good with balayage or highlights in general and that is just not the case.
You can easily have balayage in your dark brown or black hair, and your hair colorist will help you pick out the perfect color to create the look you want.
A good choice for dark brown hair would be warm caramel balayage, which will give it a natural sun-kissed vacation look.
Now, depending on what your end goal is, it might not be so easy.
The darker your base color is, and the lighter the highlights you want, means much more work than only lifting a shade or two.
Not to say that it is impossible, but when you make the appointment with your colorist, you may want to have a consultation first, or at the very least give your colorist a heads up.
This may be labor intensive and take several applications to get the desired highlights.
If you are starting for dark brown or black hair, then you may want to start with darker highlights.
How To Balayage Dark Hair
Advantages of Balayage
You may think that this seems to be a lot of effort for just some fancy highlights, or that balayage is just another trend that will come and go.
Actually, in addition to being timeless, this look has a lot of positives surrounding it, even for those of us who like to be on the low-maintenance side.
So what are all the positives?
As mentioned, balayage is easy to care for.
You will need a color-protecting shampoo and depending on the color of the highlights, maybe a blonde shampoo.
When it comes to growing them out since they are hand-painted, and natural-looking they will grow out seamlessly as well with no harsh lines or contrasting color changes.
If you want a touchup, that is also relatively easy for your colorist.
So, if you do not want to worry about keeping up with your roots, or fading colors, balayage may be the perfect look for you!
Brings Life And Dimension To Your Hair
A good balayage technique can make your hair look healthy and give it a multi-dimensional look, on top of adding gorgeous color to it.
As a result, your hair will look thicker, fuller, and more voluminous.
You will have all the tones pop out in different lighting, and your hair will be the envy of your friends.
It Is Customized To Flatter You
Balayage is hand-painted by your colorist, so they will choose exactly where the highlights will be.
A good colorist knows how to accentuate flattering features while neutralizing ones you may not be too keen on showing off.
Letting your colorist know what features you want to bring out and what you want to hide, will give them a better idea of how to approach the balayage.
They may focus on the hair around your face and make it lighter so it will better frame it, or paint the highlights in a way that will make the hair on the thinner side look fuller.
Just be sure to talk to your colorist and let them know what your expectations are.
It Is Suitable For All Hair Types And Colors
Even if you have very curly or dark hair, you will be able to have balayage done to your locks.
It is possible to do it on virtually all hair types and colors, although the results will be based on your starting hair color, the color highlights you choose, and how the colorist applies it.
You Can Experiment With Different Color Trends
You don’t have to stick with just natural colors.
There are tons of balayage color trends gathering popularity such as rose gold, pearlescent, sunset, peach, and blue.
Balayage is a great way to try a new color.
The Challenges Of Balayage
Let’s now look at the not-so-good side of balayage.
It Takes Practice and May Be Costly
As mentioned, balayage is a technique, and not really a description of the end result.
To properly apply balayage, and get consistent and predictable results; you must take some training courses and have a lot of practice.
That means when looking for a good hair colorist, you might not want to go with the most inexpensive.
I am a firm believer in “you get what you pay for”, and I would personally recommend paying an experienced colorist more, so you know you are having high-quality work done.
It Is Time Intensive
Your hair colorist will be hand painting your highlights in precise places.
This will take time and patience, especially if you have a high hair density.
Rushing this process will mean uneven results that bleed and are spotty.
So, if you are looking for a quick dye job that’s an in and out, I would recommend another choice, or to come back on a day where you have a huge chunk of time free.
Previously Dyed or Coated Hair May Not Take to Balayage Well
It is much, much harder to lift hair that has been dyed before as opposed to virgin hair.
The lightener will have to work through more tones, and it can take several rounds of lifting and cause much more damage.
It is also difficult to do several rounds of accurately placed balayage.
Perpetual Brassiness In Your Hair
If you are someone who has tried to lighten their hair, only to have orange and yellow brassy tones all throughout and nothing really helped; then you may want to opt for foils instead.
The foils will work with the lightener to help process and lift your hair, which you might not get with the balayage technique.
Does Balayage Damage Hair?
Yes, balayage damages hair. However, as a color specialist, I’d say balayage is less damaging than the usual coloring techniques such as bleach.
While balayage is significantly safer than other color processes, anytime you lighten any part of your hair, you cause some amount of damage to it.
Weakens Hair Strands
Dyeing your hair darker colors only deposits dye and coats the outside of the hair shaft.
However, lightening your hair causes the chemical process of oxidation to occur, which dissolves the color pigment out of the hair strand.
When you apply lightener to your hair it works in two steps:
First, an alkaline agent causes the hair cuticles on the hair shaft to open.
Then, the bleaching agent enters the open cuticles and oxidizes, and the color dissolves.
When you open the hair cuticles, it can weaken the hair strand and make it more prone to damage and breakage.
The good news is that since the highlights are painted on specific spots, the damage should be relatively minimal.
This could be a different case, however, if you have previously dyed hair though since it may take several rounds of lightener, although it all depends on what you want the end results to be.
This along with not needing regular touch-ups to the highlights, and balayage is one of the less damaging and more cost-effective color choices.
Hard To Moisturize
Balagaye can also make it harder to keep your hair moisturized.
However, there are products that can help close the cuticles such as Olaplex that you can use.
What To Do After Balayage
Like any dye job, you want to listen to your colorist’s recommendations for maintenance and after-care for your balayage hair.
Since lightened hair can have the tendency to turn brassy, it will be a good idea to invest in a shampoo made for blonde hair.
Usually, these are purple or blue-toned shampoos.
You want to be sure that the products you are using are specifically made for lightened or dyed hair.
The shampoo that you use should be sulfate-free.
I would also recommend occasionally using a clarifying shampoo, and make sure any conditioners you use are silicone-free since silicone can build up in your hair and weigh it down.
Another good product to look into is a moisturizing hair mask for blonde hair.
This will not only deep condition your hair, but it will keep the color of your highlights bright and vibrant.
If you are planning to go swimming, whether it be a chlorine or saltwater pool, be sure to either apply a leave-in conditioner or at the very least wet your hair before swimming.
Immediately after swimming be sure to wash your hair with a clarifying or swimmer shampoo.
The hard metals present in pool water such as copper which is common in anti-algae products, can oxidize your hair and cause the blonde color to change to green.
For this reason, also try to limit UV exposure and heat styling.
Always use a heat protectant spray beforehand.
Whether you are looking for a small change in hair color, want some unique and flattering highlights, or are dyeing your hair for the first time, balayage may be the perfect choice for you.
This free-hand painting technique is extremely versatile and can be customized to match your style.
It works great – whether you want a subtle change, or you want to try a more bold and unnatural choice of color.
Balayage is a unique twist on traditional highlights that will be complimentary to everyone.
Balayage can be flattering to anyone, despite your hair color, texture, type, and length.
It’s low maintenance and gives a natural appearance.
As always, do your research and make a consultation appointment to talk over the options and costs with your hair colorist.
If you are unsure about what will look best, your colorist will provide you with professional recommendations.
If you are not comfortable with a certain colorist, do not hesitate to shop around and ask for recommendations.
Ultimately the goal is for you to love your hair.