ABCs of Balayage for Beginners


When you enter a hair salon, you will find on the menu of services the term “balayage” and it may be a new term. You will, of course, know about hair color including highlights and lowlights since these are commonly known services. You may, however, consider balayage because it’s something new and you may just like it.

Although highlights and lowlights are usually around $65-75 at national hair salons such as Fantastic Sam’s (source:, the balayage can be considerably more depending on your hair length.

But first, a primer on what balayage means including its proper care. Just as with hair color services, you can get the best value for your money in terms of longer-lasting results if and when you know what it is.

It’s a Sweeping Method

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First off, balayage is pronounced as “bah-lee-ahge” because it’s a French word. It means “sweeping” and it refers to the method by which hair colorists apply the hair dye – to sweep on hair lightener resulting in highlights. It’s a technique of free-hand application of highlights with the result being soft and subtle gradation of lightness from the top toward the end of the hair.

When it’s applied by a professional colorist, balayage gives hair a sun-kissed look, as if you spend your summer at the beach. While balayage is common on blondes, it can actually be applied on all shades of hair, from brunettes to redheads.  It’s a hair coloring technique that results in the more natural sun-kissed look as opposed to obvious highlights and lowlights.

Every hair colorist has his or her own method of applying balayage. Some may separate the hair with cotton pieces or with foil while some will not. Some will apply sweeping motions while some will not.

The end result, nonetheless, should be customized and natural-looking placement of the highlights.

Also, balayage is popular among men and women because of the highlights’ natural placement. This means that there’s a softer grow out of the style than with traditional highlights.  Indeed, it looks as if your hair is just growing out of its sun-kissed look in the post-summer months.

It’s Different from Highlights

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While there are similarities in the techniques used, balayage and highlights are different.

On one hand, highlights are usually applied using the foiling method. The colorist uses sheets of foil in separating the stands of hair, which have been covered with either a lightener or a color, and then wrapping them in foil to allow the dye to set in. The foil is necessary to keep the dye from setting on the surrounding hair and to trap heat; heat is required to allow the dye to lift better.

Unlike balayage, too, highlights are typically placed as close to the scalp as possible. This means the lightened hair starts from the roots and ends at the tips resulting in an all-over highlighted appearance.

On the other hand, balayage is generally a freehand technique so, in most cases, foil isn’t used in separating the hair and trapping the heat. There’s a gradual, nearly natural, gradation of color in the hair – from a slightly deeper color at the roots and then gradually becoming lighter toward the end. The mid-shaft and ends are likely to receive more attention, so to speak, than the roots.

Balayage is also the umbrella term used for ombré and sombre, both of which are the end result of applying the balayage technique. Ombré is considered as the edgier version because of its stark contrast between the dark and light parts of the hair. Sombré has a softer look with subtle transitions from the dark to the light parts of the hair; the difference is only 1-2 levels lighter.

It’s Fairly Simple to Maintain

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Like highlights and lowlights, balayage hair can be maintained with fairly simple measures.

  • Apply deep moisturizing products on your hair on a weekly basis. This will keep your hair color looking vibrant and your tresses lustrous. You can use almond oil or coconut oil for deep moisturizing.
  • Rinse your hair with hot water.
  • Slather the natural oil on your hair and scalp. Massage gently for 5 minutes to work the oil.
  • Wrap your hair in either a plastic wrap, a shower cap, or a clean shirt.
  • Wait for 10-15 minutes to let it sit. The longer you let the oil sit, the more moisturized your hair will be.
  • Remove the wrap and wash your hair and scalp with tap water. You may have to wash twice to remove the oil.
  • Wash your hair with a gentle shampoo followed by a conditioner.
  • Wash your hair with shampoo and conditioner only twice a week, if possible. But if you have oily hair and scalp, then a daily washing may be necessary. In between washing, if you only wash your hair 2-3 times a week, you can use a dry shampoo. The intervals will make your balayage style last longer.
  • Feed the color of your hair. Use a purple shampoo if you have blonde balayage and a color depositing shampoo if you have caramel balayage. Ask your colorist for recommended products.

You have to visit MasterCuts salon for touch-ups, too, usually every four months. You will find that these touch-ups will keep your hair looking like you just arrived from Hawaii!