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photo of women with blonde balayage technique

What Is Balayage? This French Highlighting Technique, Explained

Looking to try balayage? We’re breaking down everything you need to know before your appointment, including how to care for balayage and 40 must-try ideas.

Balayage has been the talk of the salon world over the past few years. Everywhere you look, in magazines or just across the desk at your coworker, you’ll see yet another head of beautifully multidimensional color. All hype aside, what is balayage?

We tapped Nancy Braun, L'Oréal Professionnel brand ambassador and colorist, to break down all there is to know about the balayage technique. No more secretly searching for hair terms online when your stylist walks away!


What Is Balayage?

Balayage (pronounced bah-lee-ahge) is a hair coloring technique that involves creating subtle, natural-looking highlights and lowlights. It’s also possible to customize the process to contour your face shape or create the illusion of thicker hair.

Although balayage made its way onto popular social pages within the last few years, the technique actually dates back to the 1960s. Beginning in France, top tier colorists experimented with hand-painted highlights that looked considerably less artificial than the colors in vogue at that time. By the ‘80s, balayage had grown and spread across country lines to the United States. If you look carefully, you’re sure to spot those trademark highlights on superstar models throughout the past few decades.

Since balayage was a secret of the stars for so long, you may wonder how it’s become so easily accessible today. It all comes down to education, in Braun’s estimation. In the past, many colorists were afraid to paint their clients’ hair, so only the celebrities with access to the best professionals were able to try the technique. These days, color certification programs are much more widespread—meaning your local colorist has access to plenty of training.

Whether you’re a hair color veteran or new to the salon highlights lifestyle, it can be challenging to understand what sets balayage apart from foil highlights, dip dye, or ombre. That’s why it’s crucial to fully understand the technique before booking an appointment with your colorist.

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Good hair day by @aaashleee.

The Difference Between Balayage And Ombre Hair

Balayage and ombre are often compared, but there are a few major differences between the two. While balayage is a technique that subtly blends your root color with the rest of your mane, ombre is a trend with a stark contrast between shades. With ombre, the mid-lengths to ends of your hair are typically fully saturated with color—so if you’re going for a look with more dimension, balayage is the better option.

Good hair day by @hairbykatierose.

The Difference Between Balayage And Highlights

The major difference between balayage and highlights is that balayage is a hand-painted technique, whereas traditional highlights are created with foils. According to Braun, the true appeal of balayage lies in the way it grows out between appointments. Foil highlights often leave wearers with demarcation lines where the bright streak ends and the root begins. That’s not so with balayage.

“The way it grows out from the root area is much more graceful than [color from] a foil or highlighting back in the day when they used to pull hair through a frosting cap,” she explains. “I find that the look of it duplicates nature much more.” 

Good hair day by @konstantinos_hair.

What's the balayage process like?

So, you’re ready to commit to balayage, but you’re wondering how exactly your appointment will go.  Here’s what you need to know. Depending on your desired results and the current color and condition of your mane, your balayage can take anywhere from one to three appointments.

We always recommend booking a consultation with your colorist before you commit to making any permanent hair color change. That way, they can evaluate your hair and tell you what to expect as far as how long your desired look will take to achieve.

Good hair day by @she_runs_withscissors.

How long does balayage last?

We know that the idea of touch-up appointments every few weeks can sound exhausting. If you’re considering balayage, however, you’ll be happy to know that the upkeep is super low-maintenance. Depending on your base color and your specific look, you can go eight to 12 weeks without seeing your colorist again. That is, as long as you have a killer at-home maintenance routine!

Good hair day by @pflaum_sarah.

How much does balayage cost?

The price of a balayage depends on several factors including the salon’s location, the colorist’s skill level, the length of your hair, and exactly what you want done. You can expect the price of your balayage to range anywhere from $70 to $300. Before you book an appointment, be sure to call up your salon or do research to determine a price point that works for you.


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Is balayage bad for your hair?

Depending on your base color and the balayage look you choose, your colorist might need to use bleach to lift your current shade. While bleach will always cause some damage, your colorist can help improve the look and feel of your strands before you leave the salon.

You should also incorporate an at-home hair mask like Matrix Total Results Miracle Creator Nourishing Strengthening Mask into your routine. This formula instantly nourishes, revitalizes, and strengthens hair in just 60 seconds.

Good hair day by @themanemichael.

What is the best way to try balayage?

As with all hair colors, two crucial steps should come before you ever sit down in the salon chair: choosing the right colorist and compiling inspiration for your new ‘do. Find a trusted professional by scrolling through social media profiles, identifying the ones who regularly engage with their clients and post colors similar to what you want.

Once you’ve locked in your appointment, bookmark images that look like the hair color you’re imagining. It may seem like describing the look will do the trick, but your version of honey balayage can be miles away from what your colorist is picturing. Bring photos and you won’t have to risk miscommunication.

When it comes to achieving your dream shade, it’s also important to remember that your hair color constantly shifts as the light changes.

“I think sometimes women see a picture and they just see the hair set in one way,” Braun says. “The hair’s constantly moving, so one day it may look a little brighter—it depends on where you part it. You might have a little more contrast another day.”

While many women are afraid of their hair looking too dark, those roots help create the contrast that makes balayage so remarkable.

One last thing to keep in mind: You’ll have to separate trends from the technique of balayage. Braun sees many clients and even some professionals who get a little confused about the difference.

“Many hairdressers and a lot of clients don’t really understand the difference between ombre and balayage. They think it’s the same thing, but ombre itself is a trend, and balayage is the technique,” she explains.



How To Care For And Maintain Balayage Hair Color

To keep your hue in tip-top shape for as long as possible between appointments, use a shampoo and conditioner system like Matrix Total Results Color Obsessed Shampoo and Conditioner. This system gently cleanses and conditions to help protect against fading and extend your color vibrancy.

If you have blonde or gray balayage streaks and want to keep them from turning brassy over time, pick up a color toning shampoo and conditioner like Matrix Total Results So Silver Shampoo and Conditioner. It neutralizes brassy warmth and corrects yellow tones on blonde and gray hair.

If your colorist lightened your brunette strands to create your balayage, pick up a system Matrix Total Results Brass Off Shampoo and Conditioner. This system neutralizes brassy tones while refreshing your hair with cool tones.

Searching for balayage ideas? Keep scrolling for 40 inspiration photos to bring to the salon. 

Balayage Color Ideas

Good hair day by @_madebyashley.

Cream Blonde

Struggling to decide between cool-toned and warm-toned blonde? Cream blonde falls somewhere in the middle and flatters any skin tone. 

Good hair day by @shelbyweatherholtzhair.

Bronze

If your summer tan were a hair color, it might be bronze. This brunette shade with notes of red, caramel, and gold is stunning.  

Good hair day by @hairladykatie23.

Sandy Blonde

Whether we're experiencing the warm, carefree days of summer or the chillier winter months, we never say no to sandy blonde hair. This beach-inspired dark blonde hue is perfect year-round. 

If you really want to channel beach hair, apply a few spritzes of texturizing spray like Pureology Style + Protect Beach Waves Sugar Spray throughout your mane to create effortless beach waves

Good hair day by @maryh.ott.

Ash Blonde

Ash blonde is a light, cool-toned hue that’s a go-to for fair skin tones. If you want to minimize the maintenance a bit, ask your colorist to keep the roots slightly darker than the rest of your mane. 

Good hair day by @bobbiepiins.

Balayage With Dark Roots

While we used to throw on a hat at the mere sight of our roots growing in, we’re officially embracing dark roots. Opt for a blonde balayage with intense contrast to your roots for a look that’s on-trend for 2021. 

Good hair day by @valea_acconciature.

Soft Brunette Blend

Sure, blonde balayage is insanely popular, but brunette balayage is equally as stunning. If you want to stay true to your brunette roots, opt for a subtle dark to light brown balayage. 

Good hair day by @hairbymarissaangela.

Ice Blonde

Not afraid of a bit of maintenance? You’ll be obsessed with ice blonde, the lightest (and chilliest) of all blonde shades. 

Good hair day by @makeupbyfrances.

Champagne

Get ready to pop a bottle of champagne—this bubbly-inspired hue is worth celebrating! Champagne blonde is a soft, creamy hue with high-shine that's reminiscent of the favorite party beverage. Use a few spritzes of Redken Shine Flash Hair Spray to give your color a high-gloss finish. 

Good hair day by @shelleygregoryhair.

Blonde Balayage With Money Piece

If you’re as obsessed with ‘90s trends as we are, you’ll love money piece highlights. When creating your balayage, your colorist will apply hand-painted highlights to the strands framing your face starting at the root. Say hello to instant brightness! 

Good hair day by @jessicascotthair.

Honey Blonde

Combine red, gold, and brown and what do you get? Honey blonde, a warm-toned hair color that can be mistaken for actual jarred honey. 

Good hair day by @lavishceo.

Toffee

Inspired by the delicious caramel candy, this sweet shade blends effortlessly with a dark brown base color. 

Good hair day by @ashleycurlzzz.

Caramel And Ash Blonde

For dark skin tones, a balayage with a blend of ash and caramel blonde is a must-try. 

Good hair day by @nurzh8n.

Beige Blonde 

This neutral blonde shade pairs perfectly with fair, medium, and dark skin tones, making it one of the most versatile shades to try with a balayage. 

Good hair day by @georgepapanikolas.

Brunette Balayage With Money Piece

Paired with brown hair, the money piece technique offers even more brightness and contrast. 

Good hair day by @stylesbyyessey.

Golden Brown

Edge into spring with one of the trendiest shades of the season, golden brown. This brunette shade with golden undertones is bright, shiny, and compliments all complexions. 

Good hair day by @hairbykatierose.

Blonde Balayage With Lowlights

Pro tip: The key to achieving the perfect amount of brightness and dimension is having a mix of highlights and lowlights in your balayage. Lowlights can also add depth to your color if you go too light. 

Good hair day by @hairbycharr_.

Caramel Brownie

If you love hair colors inspired by sweets as much as we do, you’ll love this caramel brownie balayage. 

Good hair day by @amber.mctiernan.hairstylist.

Balayage With Chunky Highlights

If you desire a look with high contrast, ask your colorist to create a brunette to blonde balayage with chunky highlights. 

Good hair day by @__domidoeshair.

Chestnut

Chestnut balayage is perfect for any brunette who wants a taste of red hair color without committing to the real thing. Not to mention: This reddish-brown hue is gorgeous on any skin tone. 

Good hair day by @meaghanmastersonhair.

Fiery Balayage

Move over fire ombre, because fiery balayage is here to steal the spotlight. This vibrant trend blends shades of orange, red, and yellow to create the appearance of a burning flame. Be sure to keep your high-maintenance hair color vibrant between appointments with a shampoo and conditioner system like Matrix Total Results Keep Me Vivid Shampoo and Conditioner. These formulas protect the vibrancy of fast-fading hair colors. 

Good hair day by @mizzchoi.

Mushroom Brown

Mushroom brown popped up on our Instagram feeds for the first time back in 2018, and we’ve been obsessed ever since. This medium brown hue has notes of gray and ash throughout, making it one of the coolest (literally) and on-trend shades of brunette to try. 

Good hair day by @_hairbynella.

Mushroom Blonde

The mushroom brown trend took the hair world by storm, and of course, blondes wanted to get in on the trend. This shade is ashy, modern, and wearable all year round. 

Good hair day by @Ohlucyy.

Cinnamon To Copper

Not afraid of a little spice? Opt for this cinnamon to copper balayage. 

Good hair day by @xcellenthairsquare.

Smoky Brown

If you’re searching for a cool-toned shade that flatters medium skin tones, look no further than smoky brown. 

Good hair day by @kinkzhairstudio.

Brunette To Orange

This brunette to orange balayage is unexpected, but a great choice for anyone looking to try something unique. It looks particularly stunning paired with a blunt bob. 

Good hair day by @birchbeautybar.

Burgundy To Bright Red

If you’re torn between staying subtle or going completely out-of-the-box, the good news is that you can get the best of both worlds. Combine burgundy and bright red, two of the hottest shades of red, to create your ideal balayage. 

Good hair day by @hairbyamybee.

Bronde

For our indecisive girls out there, we have great news! You don’t have to decide between staying brunette or going blonde. Simply show your colorist this bronde balayage if you want to play on both sides of the color spectrum. 

Good hair day by @haircolorkilla.

Bright Red

Ready to really delve into red hair? Ask your colorist for a brunette to bright red balayage to really shake up your look. 

Good hair day by @live_love_dohair.

Burnt Sienna

Whether you’re bold and daring or prefer to stay in your comfort zone, this fiery mix of copper and auburn is one of the most wearable shades. 

Good hair day by @jessicapowerspaints.

Mahogany

While we love a dramatic change, we’re also big fans of subtle transformations. Upgrade your brunette base color by painting a mahogany shade from your mid-lengths to ends. 

Good hair day by @soho_ainura_hair.

Emerald

Emerald balayage is an edgy choice, but one that’s worth the risk. Pair emerald with dark brown or black roots for an even more dramatic finish. 

Good hair day by @beth_sprayhair.

Red To Coral

With vibrant red roots that transition to coral throughout the rest of your mane, you’ll have heads turning wherever you go. 

Good hair day by @meltedbymadib.

Blonde To Pastel Pink

If you’re a natural blonde, you’ll be surprised how effortlessly pastel pink blends with your hair color. This blonde to pastel pink balayage is a subtle yet exciting change if you’re looking to dip a toe into trying fantasy shades. 

Good hair day by @georgepapanikolas.

Marigold

As spring flowers start to bloom, we love using them as inspiration for hair colors. We recommend marigold balayage, a yellow-meets-orange shade inspired by the flower of the same name. 

Good hair day by @ashlynnthehairwitch.

Blue And Purple

Searching for the perfect cool-toned balayage? We’re obsessed with this blue and purple look. 

Good hair day by @hailtothehair.

Rose Gold

Rose gold is one of the hottest shades of 2021 so far, and with good reason. This metallic hue is technically a fantasy shade, but can be customized for even the most timid salon-goers. 

Good hair day by @jacobhair.

Hot Pink

When it comes to shades that pack a serious punch, none beat out hot pink. This punchy balayage is a great option for dark skin tones. 

Good hair day by @aaashleee.

Bubblegum Pink

There’s no shade of pink as nostalgic as bubblegum. Like the sugary pack of bubblegum you begged your mom for as a kid, this pink shade can be worn muted or vibrant depending on your preference. 

Good hair day by @kat_chase_.

Cerulean

Embrace your inner mermaid with a cerulean balayage. The good news? You don’t need mermaid-length hair to make this oceanic look work for you. 

Good hair day by @mslameylynn.

Rainbow Pastels

Follow your fantasy hair dreams by going all out with a rainbow balayage. 

Ready to try a balayage for yourself? Use our salon locator to book an appointment at a salon near you. 

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