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If you’re unsure whether to go for foilyage vs. balayage, here’s what you need to know before booking a salon appointment.

What Exactly Is the Difference Between Foilyage and Balayage? Here’s What Colorists Say

If you’re unsure whether to go for foilyage vs. balayage, here’s what you need to know before booking a salon appointment.
What Exactly Is the Difference Between Foilyage and Balayage? Here’s What Colorists Say

Maybe you woke up, took a peek in the mirror, and realized you’re bored with your current hair color. Or perhaps, you’re ready to get a haircut and decided to opt for a full transformation while you’re at it. Either way, your realization leads you to the Internet, where you start scouring social media for inspiration. There, you come across the terms “foilyage” and “balayage.” Not only do they sound similar, but filtered pictures on social media make it harder to tell which is foilyage vs. balayage—or how they differ at all.

But while they may sound (and even look) similar, foilyage and balayage are two different hair highlighting techniques with differing benefits. To explain the differences between foilyage vs. balayage, we tapped L’Oréal Professionnel artist Rebecca Murphy and Oklahoma City’s self-proclaimed low-maintenance hair stylist Allie Dorr. Keep reading to learn how foilyage and balayage differ from traditional highlighting, what results may look like, and some tips on what to expect when you head to the salon.

What Is Balayage?

Balayage is a freehand highlighting technique that creates a natural-looking transition of color from your roots to ends. According to Murphy, the technique involves hand-painting bleach or lightener onto individual strands of hair in a sweeping motion, targeting areas the sun would naturally hit. (Fun fact: The word balayage comes from the French verb for “to sweep.”). This hand-painting method allows for a gradual color lift and results in a soft, subtle ombré effect, with darker roots and lighter ends.

What Is Foilyage?

Foilyage, like balayage, involves hand-painting lightener onto specific strands of hair. However, the hair is typically teased prior to the application of the bleach. Additionally, Dorr says, foilyage involves wrapping the lightened strands in foil (hence the name) “to intensify and accelerate the color processing.” This, she adds, can result in a lighter, brighter blonde than traditional balayage. Murphy loves using foilyage vs. balayage for clients who need extra help with lift and more precise pieces. “It allows control of the level [I want] to achieve,” she explains.

If you’re unsure whether to go for foilyage vs. balayage, here’s what you need to know before booking a salon appointment.

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What Is the Difference Between Partial Foil and Balayage?

Partial foils (in other words, partial highlights) involve lightening the hair just around the face and part line then wrapping the strands in foil to process. Wrapping the hair in foil helps amplify the color processing, so hair may lighten several levels. Balayage, by contrast, doesn’t utilize foils, and the lightener is usually painted throughout the hair for a softer, sunkissed effect.

Good hair day by @lexxy_hermosa and @mizani

What is the difference between highlights and foilyage?

Highlights typically start at the roots, with lightener applied onto select strands over the entire head for an all-over brightening effect. With foilyage, the lightener is hand-painted a bit further down to create an intentionally “lived-in” look. Because the lightener is kept away from the roots, Murphy says, “foilyage will have a softer grow-out, allowing you to go longer between appointments.” Whether you get partial highlights or foilyage, opting for root blending can also help stretch the time between touch-ups.

Good hair day by @debpalaciohairstylist and @redken

Should I Get Foilyage or Balayage?

When it comes to deciding between foilyage and balayage, it’s ultimately a matter of personal preference. Both of these techniques can be adapted for any hair type, color, or texture, and a stylist can help determine which technique is best for you. But there are a few factors you should consider before making a decision, such as the overall look you’re trying to achieve, how often you’re willing to return for touch-ups, and, of course, the amount of money you are willing to spend. We’ll dive a bit deeper into these considerations below.

Color goals

Foilyage and balayage yield similar results, but your stylist can help you determine which technique is best aligned with your color goals. When you book a color consultation, Murphy suggests bringing inspiration photos with you. You’ll also want to “share [details of] your past color history,” she says, as prior chemical treatments can affect the end result.


Both foilyage and balayage require between two and three hours to apply and process. However, maintenance for the two services can vary. Murphy suggests balayage for those looking for a hair color that requires minimal maintenance, as the highlights typically start midway on the head and grow out seamlessly, requiring fewer touch-ups over time. However, factors such as your hair type, texture, and color can all influence how often you need to visit the salon. Your stylist can help determine which option is right for you.


Your desired look, how much hair you have, and your current hair color can all affect how much your color service will cost. The price may also depend on where you live and how experienced your colorist is. As such, it’s hard to accurately compare the prices of foilyage versus balayage—it varies. Chat with your stylist about your budget and expectations, and they can come up with a plan that suits you.

Good hair day by @hairbynoah and @redken

How Should I Prep My Hair for Foilyage and Balayage?

There are a few things you can do prior to your appointment to help set your service up for success.

First, wash your hair. Murphy recommends using a clarifying shampoo (we love Redken Hair Cleansing Cream Clarifying Shampoo) to ensure your strands are thoroughly cleaned and free of debris that can interfere with your color.

You’ll also want to dry your hair, but don’t put any product in it (this includes leave-in conditioners, styling aids, and gels). Ultimately, you want your stylist to be able to see your hair as it is naturally so they can tailor a plan that works for your locks. Following these simple steps can make a noticeable difference in the results you get from foilyage and balayage.

Good hair day by @redken

Is Foilyage or Balayage Better for Curly Hair Textures?

Both foilyage and balayage can work on curly and straight textures. However, both Murphy and Dorr prefer balayage for curly hair. The technique results in a soft, sunkissed look, with contrast that emphasizes your natural curl pattern. That being said, you can certainly opt for foilyage if you want a brighter, more intense lightening effect—just be sure to chat with your stylist about any hair concerns you have prior to your appointment so they can adjust the technique for your curls.

Good hair day by @themaliaelaine and @matrix

How Do I Maintain Foilyage and Balayage Hair Color?

Whereas traditional highlights require regular touch-ups to hide root growth, foilyage and balayage are relatively low-maintenance. “Some of my clients [only] come in for a full refresh once a year,” Dorr says. “The lighter clients who like to keep up with their color come about once a quarter.”

To keep your color fresh between touch-ups—however often those may be—you’ll want to cultivate a solid at-home haircare routine. Murphy is a fan of the Redken Acidic Bonding Concentrate Complete Set because it contains a concentrated bonding care complex that reinforces weakened bonds to improve hair strength and protect against color fade and heat. She also loves the Matrix Food for Soft line, which includes a Rich Hydrating Treatment Mask and Multi-Use Hair Oil Serum, as she finds its avocado oil and hyaluronic acid-infused formula “very nourishing for the hair.”

For her clients who have hard water at home, Murphy recommends using L’Oréal Professionnel Metal Detox Sulfate-Free Shampoo every few shampoos to help brighten highlights and remove buildup from minerals in the water.

The one product that Dorr believes everyone should have is Pureology Color Fanatic Multi-Tasking Leave-In Spray because it has 21 benefits, including heat protection, moisture, ease of detangling, and enhanced shine.

Foilyage vs. Balayage: The Bottom Line

Both balayage and foilyage are excellent techniques for brightening and adding dimension to the hair. Whichever option you decide on, setting up a consultation with a professional is the first step towards making your hair color dreams a reality. Find some inspo pics here, then set up that appointment—a blonder, brighter you awaits.

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