If you follow any hair stylist on social media, you’re probably aware that new color and styling techniques pop up out of the ether almost every single week. Whether it’s the latest shade to trend (we see you, milk tea hair) or an advancement in getting perfect highlights for ash blonde hair, you’ve got to stay on top of the terminology to achieve your best hair ever.
Case in point: open-air balayage, a term we first learned when a stylist casually mentioned it in an Instagram caption. To determine the difference between open-air balayage and standard highlights as well as whether or not this super soft color technique is for you, keep reading.
What is open-air balayage?
In the hierarchy of highlighting technique, foils long ruled as the best way to achieve a relatively fast, accurate color. These days, naturalistic painted colors like those applied in balayage often depend upon the use of plastic wrap to keep the sections defined while they process. But what about open-air hair painting?
Elizabeth Faye, Redken brand ambassador and hair painting expert, says open-air balayage is a “niche technique” that’s best when it’s used to achieve one specific result: a natural-looking finish and subtle color. Think of it like the way your favorite influencer’s hair always looks like she just got back from laying on a yacht deck for a week.
The way I teach open-air painting is to mimic the way sun would naturally lighten hair. I would describe hair painting as sun-kissed, natural and soft, or as the dry cutting of color. Stylists will dry cut so they can cut the hair where it lives and get a soft blend, and I think of painting the same. It does have a softer effect, but the blend and seamless grow out is worth it!
One of the biggest questions about open-air balayage is whether it’s healthier for your hair than standard highlights and lowlights might be. Faye says it can be, thanks to the type of lightener used to create the blonde pieces.
“Clay-based lighteners like Redken Flash Lift are very gentle,” she explains. “It’s a quicker process and customizable. Clay lightener lifts until it dries out, so that shell being fully dry is an indicator that is has reached its lifting limit.”
Less lifting may healthier for your hair, but it will result in a less dramatic color change. If you have naturally light brown or blonde hair, you shouldn’t have any problem with open-air balayage. Darker brunettes, however, may need to consider alternatives to achieve the maximum result.
Who should try open-air balayage?
If you’re considering asking your stylist about open-air balayage, Faye says your first step should be a long look in the mirror (your front-facing camera will work in a pinch) to consider your natural base shade and ultimate color goals. Don’t expect hair painting to create super bright blonde highlights on dark chocolate hair color the way more traditional foil highlights might.
For those with busy calendars and limited hours to hang out in a salon chair, however, open-air balayage might be the smartest decision you’ll ever make. Faye loves the way the technique grows out seamlessly, so you can go once and not return until next summer if that’s what your schedule allows. Not so big on commitment? Balayage is definitely for you. First time coloring your hair? It’s perfect for that, too.
“Some clients come in only once a year for a hair painting service and some quarterly, which means less lightening and less opportunities for damage,” Faye adds.
Whatever your hair type or history, the pro stylist recommends keeping your color fresh with the help of a specially formulated hair care system like Redken Color Extend Blondage Color Depositing Purple Shampoo and Conditioner.
Ready to go balayage and never go back? Now is your moment.
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