Balayage is one of the hottest trends in hair color right now, and has been for the greater part of this decade. Celebrities wear it. Influencers wear it. The every-day woman wears it.
So, what exactly is balayage? (And what is the proper way to say it!?)
What is balayage?
Despite all appearances, balayage is not a new trend. This hair color technique first became popular in France in the 1970s as a way to add softness to the popular solid, single-toned colors of the time. It disappeared during the 1980s when foil techniques became popular (as did chunky highlights), and then made its resurgence again in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
With popular celebs like Jennifer Anniston and Gisele Bundchen rocking this trend, it wasn’t long before it began working its way mainstream to every salon across the world. Now it is much more common to see balayage hair painting than foil highlights. Balayage (pronounced ba-lay-age) comes from the French word “to sweep” or “to paint.” The effect is very soft and mimics the way the sun would lighten your hair if you’d spent a day at the beach.
Unlike with traditional foil highlights, where the color is evenly saturated from roots to ends, for balayage stylists paint the colour on using a gradient effect. This means the color will be softer at its starting point, gradually working to a stronger color at its end point. Some balayages begin close to the scalp, while others may begin a few inches away.
Balayage really is a creative coloring technique; you may see your stylist working with different tools than usual, such as a paintbrush, saran wrap, or cotton instead of tinfoil. The artist can create a unique look — no two balayages will be the same. The result is a lived-in hair color, with low maintenance due to its soft grow-out.
What type of style is it best for?
Balayage looks amazing on many different styles of hair, but is ideal for more flowing hairstyles. Stylists created balayage for long hair often styled in loose curls or beachy waves. This best showcases the different ribbons of color that flow through the hair, adding texture and movement.
Balayage also looks great on naturally curly or wavy hair. It will add dimension and light refraction throughout the color, making waves look less solid and helmet-like. Although stylists apply balayage to all lengths of hair, it’s a technique that will look more appealing on softer hairstyles as opposed to something strong and precise, like a structured bob.
Is balayage only for blondes?
When we think of balayage, we automatically think of blondes. Golden, buttery, wheat, or platinum tones that make us think of a surfer babe fresh out of the ocean. This is definitely what made the balayage trend popular.
But balayage is not just for blondes! It is equally stunning on all hair colors. When adding balayage to brunette or black hair, caramels, reds, or even violet tones are stunning ways to add very subtle or a more dramatic change to your color. On natural red hair, balayage in copper, gold, or more fiery red tones will add intensity.
Lately there’s been a lot of pastel or vivid colors seen in balayage. This can be a fun way to add pops of color or spice up your look.
Are there variations?
As with any trend, there are always variations. When balayage first became popular, clients were requesting sun-kissed color, something that looked like it could have been created by nature.
At present time, white and silver uber-blonde colors, as well as pastel tones, are popular. To create these colors, stylists have to achieve much more lightening power then they can with traditional open-air balayage. Hair has to be lightened several levels to properly achieve these tones, especially if your hair is naturally dark.
This led to the creation of “foilyage.” Foilyage gives the same lived-in look as balayage, but allows the hair to lighten more. The technique is similar, still painting in a gradient effect, but stylists add tinfoil, encasing hair to achieve extra lift. The tin foil acts as an insulator, and will help get more lightness to the hair. If you have dark hair and want to achieve a super light color, foilyage is the way to go.
Foilyage will give the same lived-in look as balayage, but will allow the hair to lighten more then with balayage. The technique is similar, still painting in a gradient effect, but stylists add tinfoil, encasing hair to achieve extra lift. The tin foil acts as an insulator, and will help get more lightness to the hair. If you have dark hair and are wanting to achieve a super light color, foilyage will be the technique used on your hair.
Is balayage for me?
If you are into soft, lived-in colors with no visible regrowth, the balayage look is for you. When foil highlights grow out, we see a very strong demarcation line because all the color starts at the same place.
This is not the case with balayage, as balayage has dimension. In some areas of the hair, stylists apply colour closer to the scalp. In others, they will place colour farther away. This ensures that there is no visible regrowth as the hair grows.
Balayage has no set “touch-up” time, unlike foils, which people need to touch up every 6 to 8 weeks. You can go many months before your balayage needs a refresh, which is definitely a time and money saver.
That being said, it is still important to take good care of your hair between balayage appointments. Hair color will fade and may alter due to elements like wind, sun, water, and environmental buildup. Seeing your stylist every 8 weeks for regular glosses or toners will keep your hair shiny and maintain the tone. This maintenance keeps your blondes from going brassy, or your reds, pastels, and other vivid colors from looking faded.
Balayage can dry out your ends — after all, it is still a lightening service. Make sure to also keep up with regular masks or treatments to keep hair strong and hydrated. Haircuts will help avoid split ends.
Follow your stylist’s recommendations for proper home care as well. They want you to take good care of your hair so you get as much longevity out of your color as possible!
Victoria Carlson is a master stylist who has been in the industry since 2005 and has a true passion and enthusiasm for hair and fashion. She has spent her styling career training and working in top salons in Edmonton, AB and Sydney, Australia, and is currently located at Lavish Beauty Lounge in Regina, SK. Victoria’s specialties include precision cutting, curly hair design, and braidwork. She believes continuing education is of utmost importance and is always expanding her knowledge by taking classes and staying up to date on the latest hair trends. Victoria is Unite Hair’s Regional Educator for Saskatchewan. She loves traveling the province, connecting with other stylists and sharing her passion for the brand.