The Editors
Updated on February 16, 2024

Are you going to balayage hair for the first time and know nothing about this technique? Or already have it and want to try its new type? We’ve gathered everything you need to know about balayage, check!


  1. Balayage Definition, Pronunciation, History
  2. Pros and Cons of Balayage
  3. How Long Does It Take to Balayage Hair?
  4. All Possible Types of Balayage
  5. Balayage vs. Ombre and Other Highlights:
  6. What Balayage Will Suit You Best
  7. Can You Balayage Hair at Home?
  8. How to Choose a Good Balayage Master?
  9. Balayage Price
  10. How to Care for Balayage Hair

What Is Balayage: Definition, Pronunciation, History

First things first. Balayage was invented in 70’s. The word itself originates from the French word “balayer” meaning “to sweep”. BTW, this technique has only one name, BALAYAGE. All other terms — baylage, bayalage, biolage, etc. — are just misspellings. The right balayage pronunciation is /ˈbalɪjɑːʒ/.

So, the balayage is a hair dyeing technique, where a lightener or a color is “swept” through small triangle sections of hair by hand, traditionally with the help of a brush and a paddle board. This results in cute natural-looking highlights, lighter near the ends, and softer on top. Women often describe them as “sun-kissed” and “beachy”, so soft they are.

The technique first appeared in Paris, and was called “Balayage à Coton”, as colorists used (and some still use) cotton stripes to isolate colored strands from the untouched ones.

In the 90’s balayage became trendy in the USA, but only now this technique reaches its maximum popularity. At some salons almost 90% of dye jobs are different types of balayage! And this is why.

Pros and Cons of Balayage

The MAIN BENEFITS of modern balayage are:

  • individuality — colors are custom-blended, the width of lighter strands and their placement are chosen by the stylist to contour and frame your features properly (balayage is sometimes called a non-invasive ‘facelift’);
  • low-maintenance — roots are less noticeable when hair grows out, you’ll forget about monthly touch-ups (some women visit salon once per 6 months!);
  • universality — works for all ages, hair textures, base colors and hair lengths (except very short crops);
  • less damage — if compared to the all-over color, or techniques that use heat.

Any disadvantages? Balayage doesn’t cover gray hairs. It just helps to blend them into the hairstyle. When it becomes impossible, you’ll have to make a root tint previous to balayage, and visit salon every 4-6 weeks for a root retouch to cover the grays. As you see, graying hair and balayage highlights are quite compatible, but monthly appointments with your colorist will be a must.

How Long Does It Take to Balayage Hair?

BALAYAGE TIMING depends on the style and depth of highlights, your hair type and the stylist’s skill level. Face-framing highlights may take 10-15 minutes, a full-head balayage — around 30-50 min, more complicated types of coloring — up to 3 hours (for example, if the colorist transforms foil highlights into balayage, he or she will need to fade out roots first).

On average stylists book 2-2.5 hours if their client wants a cut plus balayage. Advice: choose a balayage-certified colorist, as speed comes with practice.

Will you need just one salon visit to get your personalized balayage? To build a perfect blend of shades stylists recommend to have at least 3 color appointments each 6 weeks apart. Only then you will be able to skip touch-ups for 3-6 months.

All Possible Types of Balayage

The most common type of this technique is the full balayage, when all hair is highlighted.

Partial balayage is when highlights are applied only to specific areas instead of throughout the whole head.

Subtle balayage is a soft balayage variation, the color is applied to the areas where it catches the light or where color would fade out naturally. The opposite to the high-contrast balayage.

American balayage is a mix of the open-air technique and foiling. A stylist applies foil highlights and then paints the remaining hair between the foils. It is great for dark-haired women, and is used for a perfect face framing, or extending highlights closer to the scalp.

Foilayage is one more adaptation of balayage, when a stylist wraps some of the freehand pieces in foils. A colorist paints your balayage first and then applies foil around balayaged pieces. The lighter tones melt seamlessly into the highlighted background.

A trendy reverse balayage (inverted balayage) is created for blondes and brondes, and uses darker colors (browns, grays) at the ends. The result is something in-between balayage and ombre. Contrasting colors are used, so it is quite high-maintenance.

Babylights (micro-highlights) are very fine, subtle highlights. They have the most long-lasting effect among all balayage types without months of touch-ups. A minus: doing babylights is a very refined work, and it may take a ton of time.

Read our other articles about different balayage types:

It is said that “balayage was created by the French, broadcasted by the Americans, and personalized by hairstylists around the world”. Really, modern colorists invent something new in the world of highlights every day. Don’t be surprised to hear about:

  • Californian balayage, a heavier variant of the classic balayage with lived-in roots, when more of the hair is colored;
  • glitterage — a process of styling when some strands are ‘balayaged’ with glitter;
  • stardust balayage — when the top layer is untouched and the bottom layer is highlighted;
  • palm-painting, a technique of applying balayage highlights without a brush;
  • spongelights, when a lightener is spread with a sponge, works great for textured hair;
  • splashlights that are painted only onto the middle of the strands;
  • fallayage that warms up the base color, doesn’t just lighten it;
  • ponytail lights for long locks, when balayage highlights are placed underneath the top layer of the hair, and show up beautifully if tied into a ponytail.

Moreover, who said that highlights are for women only? Men’s balayage is also a thing now.

Balayage vs. Ombre and Other Highlights

A lot of women still confuse balayage with other coloring techniques and styles. Let’s sort out all the differences once and for all!

Balayage vs. Highlights

In general “highlights” are any strands of hair that are lighter than the base color, no matter how they are done. Lowlights are darker strands.

Classic highlights usually have a defined stripy look and a more noticeable regrowth line. Most often foils, meshes (plastic latex strips with water-soluble adhesive seals), or a highlighting cap are used. Traditional highlights are made from roots to ends: they lift the roots, and the color is diffused towards the ends.

Balayage is a highlighting TECHNIQUE. It results in well-blended vertical streaks that let glimpses of a darker shade throughout the length and even at the ends. The lighter pieces of balayage are placed strategically, some start higher and closer to the roots, others lower, and some brighten the ends. Also, it is a surface technique: a hair dye or a lightener is applied only on the top layer of each hair section, it is not saturated through strands (v.v. for curls). The roots are more diffused than the ends.

Balayage vs. Ombre

On the contrary, ombre is NOT A TECHNIQUE. It is a LOOK. A darker shade gradually washes to a lighter shade, with no darker pieces at the ends of hair. Ombre is less customized than balayage, as the lighter shade is concentrated only from the mid-shaft to ends. The transition is usually well-defined and horizontal. Softer gradation is called sombre.

The next confusing term is the ombre balayage. This is a ‘two-in-one’ mix of the ombre-ed style and a balayage technique. Generally speaking, it is a dark-to-light shading with balayage highlights on the mid-shaft and ends.

We have recently published a more detailed description of balayage and ombre differences with illustrations, check.

Balayage vs. Other Techniques and Styles

Fluid hair painting is the process of application a lightener/color with the client’s head leaned back against a table.

Flamboyage is not “open-air”, it is created with transparent adhesive strips. The technique results in soft balayage-like or peek-a-boo highlights.

Color melt is a coloring scheme, when a stylist places 3-4 shades along the hair shaft, and diffuses them together to get rid of the demarcation line.

What Balayage Will Suit You Best: Placement, Color, Style

Balayage is a great face contouring technique. Stylists use lighter colors where more width is needed, darker ones for reducing it. Round and square faces benefit from lighter tones around the hairline. To soften the angles stylists often highlight hair at the jawline and temple areas. Long face shape like deeper darker roots, lighter streaks above the ears and at the ends. Heart faces look more balanced with dark roots, and balayage highlights under the jawline.

If your base hair color is light, the best option for you will be blonde hues. If you have darker hair, consider brown, caramel, chocolate, and cinnamon highlights. For a bolder effect try colorful streaks. A lot depends on your skin tone and eye color. A good colorist will take all these factors into consideration.

You are not a good candidate for balayage if you like power blonde roots: balayage is diffused in this area. Opt for this technique carefully if you have very dark brown or jet black hair. Find a really good balayage specialist.

Can You Balayage Hair at Home?

Balayage is not really something that you, being a non-pro or having zero experience in bleaching hair, can achieve at home. It’s really hard to ‘paint’ hair in sections on your own. However, if you want to make partial highlights, you may still try one of the professional balayage hair kits.

Just be sure to:

  • use a color that is not more than 3 shades lighter to your base tone;
  • watch several tutorials how to balayage your own hair;
  • consult a hair colorist in case you have very dark or extremely damaged hair, and/or a lot of grays.

If you want to refresh your highlights without the at-home coloring, try installing matching clip-in balayage hair extensions.

How to Choose a Good Balayage Master

Balayage is not as easy as it looks. A colorist has to know how to choose the right products and apply them, perfectly understand the process of saturation, what will suit a client and what post-care to recommend. It takes years to perfect balayaging skills, so:

  • look for a balayage-certified colorist
  • scrutinize the colorist’s portfolio (Instagram/Youtube accounts too)
  • schedule a consultation first, bringing balayage pictures you like
  • ask if he or she uses professional products (e.g. a non-bleeding clay lightener) and tools for balayaging
  • assess the stylist’s manner of communication, your feel of comfort, any bonuses given

Balayage Price

Prices vary depending on stylist’s skills and a lot of other factors from $50 to $350 and up. In general be ready to pay 20-35% more than for the standard foil highlights, as balayage is not something every stylist has been trained to do.

Some stylists charge an additional fee for extra product used, longer hair length, toning and glazing, a finishing style, for educational advice on styling. Other colorists don’t like set prices at all, they charge only based on the time. On the contrary, there are still stylists that have the same price for any type of highlights, be they foils or ‘no foil’ streaks.

How to Care for Balayage Hair

Any hair coloring may dry out hair a bit. To maintain balayage together with your stylist you will need to develop a good conditioning strategy and choose high-quality products for colored locks. Be sure to use the best heat protectants during styling too.

Rare touch-ups don’t mean you may completely forget about salon treatments. Balayage looks best on healthy hair. Specialists recommend scheduling monthly appointments to restore, nourish and tone your locks. For example, a toner is a need to get rid of brassiness, refresh the color and add shine to your locks.

As you’ve understood, balayage is not just a trend, it is a very successful technique. Top stylists predict it will never go out of style. Finally decided to try it? Then read our next article with 70 best balayage hair color ideas to choose your variant!

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