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Balayage Highlights Vs. Foil Highlights: The Complete Guide To Each

photo of woman getting foil balayage in salon

What’s better, balayage highlights or foil highlights? One doesn’t prevail over the other, but there are key differences to know that will help you determine which coloring technique better suits your hair needs. So the greater question is this: What to use for when? Victor Sergeev, Russian brand ambassador for L'Oréal Professionnel, has the answers.

Traditional usage of aluminum foil allows your professional to precisely separate highlighted strands from the rest of the hair.

“Foils are also used to get a maximum lightening effect,” Sergeev explains. “By isolating different strands of hair, maximum contrast between lightened and ordinary hair can be reached.”

Trendy balayage highlights (balayage means “to sweep” in French) rely on a freehand color painting technique. Colorists can creatively paint ends and front sections with less refined and more natural movements, which means the lightened pieces blend seamlessly with your base shade. This works to create a youthful and effortless sun-kissed effect.

Sergeev highly recommends asking your stylist to use products from L'Oréal Professionnel Blond Studio collection to ensure the most effective in-salon lightening service.

Brighter tones require more power.

Foils are the more powerful coloring option in that they ensure maximum lightening results, whereas balayage creates subtle, natural-looking color transitions.

“Foil usage is required to get cold blondes, which require higher tones of lightening,” Sergeev notes. “Trendy colors like grey and silver almost always require lightening with foils.”

Determine if time is of the essence.

Balayage requires more care and attention from your colorist when painting by hand, which will consequently take more time. If you enjoy your “me” time at the salon and time isn’t an issue, balayage could be the one for you!

For those who are on a tight schedule or get too antsy during any color treatment, go for foils.

“The foils technique allows [the colorist] to lighten hair faster,” Sergeev says. “So, for the client, foils are the more time-saving lightening approach. But there are a few drawbacks: After foils, hair can become more sensitive, so it’ll require more attention in terms of care. The best will be to consult with your hairdresser, because it’s hard for clients to assess their hair’s sensitivity themselves.”

Factor in future maintenance.

Growing out hair colored with foils can be noticeable, which means touch-ups are required. Balayage is lower maintenance because it’s usually on the lower half of the hair, so you’ll have a more natural-looking color transition as your hair grows out—which means fewer trips to the salon!

Foilyage is the best of both worlds.

Foilyage is a fusion innovation that is taking over salons. It creates the sun-kissed, natural-looking effect of a balayage, but added foils give a little more oomph in brilliance. Hand painted pieces are wrapped in foils for brighter accents, while still seamlessly blending with your base shade.

“Balayage can be applied on the mid part of strands, while at the same time the ends can be rolled into foils. It’ll allow[clients] to get a bright blonde with smooth lightening transitions from roots to ends,” Sergeev describes.

Keep this salon guide handy for all of your hair lightening endeavors!