Balayage vs. Highlights: What’s the Difference?
By now, I’m sure most of you have heard about the balayage technique, one of the most popular (and elegant) way to get a beautiful, multi-colored look for your hair. In basic terms, balayage takes a more artistic approach to highlighting one’s hair, with the stylist “painting” individual sections while leaving others untouched.
Currently, balayage is on track to become the preferred way for women to create a layered, “sun-kissed” look. Unlike traditional highlights, which can sometimes come out looking streaky, balayage often appears very natural, with talented stylists able to seamlessly blend in sections of highlight with the client’s natural hue.
Of course, who could we possibly attribute this innovative beauty technique to but the French? In fact, the term “balayage” comes from the French word “to sweep,” referencing the unique way that the stylist applies color to the hair.
Despite the extreme popularity of balayage, many people are still confused about just what it is, how it works, and how it differs from regular highlights. At the same time, many have questions about how to care for their balayage, how much it can cost, and whether it’s worth investing in at all.
As a certified balayage artist, I’m quite confident in my ability to answer these questions. So if you’re ready to take a deep dive into this exciting new hair trend, keep on reading.
How Balayage Differs from Regular Highlights.
No doubt most of you are familiar with traditional highlights and how they are applied. From a general perspective, this process involved lightening specific sections of hair all the way from root to end. Unlike full dye jobs, highlights leave plenty of natural, untreated hair in between the colored sections.
Different stylists will use various weaving and sectioning techniques in order to keep the final result from looking streaky, and can apply as much or as little highlight as the client asks.
During the highlighting process, the sections to be dyed are typically folded into foils when the lightener is added. This helps keep the hair being treated separated from the hair staying natural. When completed, traditional highlights extend the entire length of the hair, resulting in a “striped” look. This can be highly desirable by some women and looks particularly great on curlier hair.
As I mentioned, highlights are typically applied from the root of the hair to the tip (a fact that will come into play as we move on to talk about balayage).
Now, while it still involves highlighting only certain sections of hair, Balayage is completely different from traditional highlighting in both technique and result. Though highlighting remains popular, many women have come to prefer balayage for its more subtle, natural look. Of course, every colorist has their own style and will put their own bit of artistic “flair” into the process. Still, you can generally identify a balayage from the darker roots, blonder ends, and more uniform, high-contrast look.
It’s also important to note that the balayage technique does not utilize foils. Instead, select strands are hand-painted to create a multi-tonal look.
Many consider the look to be quite similar to what happens when kids spend time in the sun, with the ends becoming lighter and the roots remaining darker. When applied correctly, a balayage creates a warm, natural appearance that looks great with virtually any hairstyle.
At the same time, most stylists consider balayage to be a more visual and personal hair coloring technique, as it involves literally panting the hair to create a customized appearance. Some men and women have even started referring to it as “contouring” for your hair. Among the best things about this technique, however, is that it can be done totally personalized to the client. In fact, many talented balayage artists can design your balayage to compliment your hair cut, your skin tone, or even your facial features.
Is a Balayage Right for Me?
When it comes to choosing a balayage or a more traditional highlight method, the first thing you need to ask yourself is, “what sort of look am I going for?” For instance, while balayage certainly results in a more natural “I just got back from the beach” sort of look, traditional highlights are much more structured and offer you a lot more options when it comes to tone.
The keyword that should come to mind when you think of a balayage is “subtle,” which isn’t something that every girl is going for.
It’s also worth noting the way a balayage affects darker shades of hair. Because it essentially mimics the effects of the sun, it’s perfectly common for darker haired women to display a bit of orange and red, just as if they’ve been dosed with UV. Foiled highlights, on the other hand, usually offer your stylist a bit more control over the tonal result.
Of course, your personality is another thing you want to consider when deciding on a new hair color. For instance, if you think of yourself as having a more “edgy” look, there’s no doubt that a balayage will help your ends really “pop.” If you consider yourself more traditional, you’ll probably like the look of foil highlights much better (and will appreciate the less randomized result).
All of that said, the most important factor you want to consider is your hairstyle! After all, highlights that look great on one style may not look so hot on another. Moreover, if you frequently straighten, wave, curl, or braid your hair, you should expect to see a slightly different result with every switch.
The Lifespan of Your Balayage.
A balayage is about as permanent as a dye job gets, but not necessarily in the way that you might think. After all, no hair dye is powerful enough to keep your roots from showing through a little bit, causing the overall look to fade. For this reason, it’s best to think of your balayage as something that you make a commitment to maintaining over time.
The good news about your balayage is that since it doesn’t dye the roots, you don’t have to worry about developing that uneven look you often get a few weeks into regular highlights. This fact alone drastically reduces the upkeep needed to keep your balayage looking great. That said, you will need touchups if you want your hair to continue to look its best.
The average time between touch up appointments is about four to six months. If your natural hair is particularly dark, however, you might need to increase the frequency a little bit.
Properly Maintaining a Balayage.
Of course, the lifespan of any hairstyle really depends on how you treat it. Now, it should go without saying that any sort of color (highlight and balayage included) need not actually damage your hair. This is why it’s important to see a reliable, well-trained stylist – one who is aware of the proper processing times needed to maintain your hair’s integrity.
Once the job is done properly, the maintenance of your balayage falls to you. In this case, all professional stylists will recommend you use a shampoo and conditioner designed for color treated hair. I recommend to use Kerastase shampoo and conditioner and Olaplex. This will support the color, keep your hair follicles nurtured, and keep the balayage looking radiant and natural.
Depending on how dark your natural hair color is (and how light your balayage is), you might want to consider not using particularly hot water when washing your hair, and washing your hair far less often. Whenever possible, a dry shampoo can be just as effective and help preserve your overall color. Lastly, you’ll want to use a heat protectant whenever you use styling tools.
Why Balayage is Worth the Investment.
The cost of a balayage treatment can vary depending on a lot of factors, the stylist you choose being one of them. Furthermore, the length and color of your hair, the amount of highlight, and other aspects of the service will greatly impact the final price.
This is why it’s a good idea to book a consultation with your colorist before actually setting up an appointment. After all, you don’t want to end up with sticker shock because you neglected to mention your hair was three and a half feet long. During this consultation, it’s also smart to discuss how often your stylist thinks you should come back for maintenance and touch-ups.
For example, if your hair is light brown or dark blonde, you might only need two full services in a year, providing you’re willing to live with a little fading and moderate brassiness. However, if you want your hair to look fully balayaged all twelve months, you’ll probably need to add a few partial appointments to your schedule to allow for touching up. All of this, ultimately, needs to be factored into the total cost.
For reference, a full balayage can cost anywhere between $150 and $700, depending on which part of the country you live in. Partial appointments, however, tend to only cost around $95 – $200. Of course, everyone’s hair is different, so there’s no way to put an exact figure on your overall cost.
That said, if we stick with the one-year routine mentioned above (two full appointments and two partials), it’s safe to estimate that a full year of perfectly balayged hair will cost the average light-haired girl around $700.
As you can see, there is quite a bit to love about the balayage technique. Not only does it result in a much more natural look, but it will maintain its appearance as your hair grows. This helps you avoid dealing with the shock of your natural roots meeting bright blonde highlights.
Of course, balayage is not a technique for all stylists. Indeed, most industry professionals tend to refer to balayage expert as “artists,” as they quite literally hand paint your hair. So do your research and find a trained professional to treat your hair!
I wish you a happy hair day!