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A Guide to Balayage Hair Color

Get inspired to change your highlights for a balayage color.
October 13, 2023

Balayage has remained a popular hair coloring trend in recent years with a big thanks to social media. The freehand hair highlighting technique gives your strands gorgeous dimension and low maintenance color. Even if you’re not exactly sure what balayage is, chances are you’ve seen it on the hair of A-listers, social media influencers and even your friends — and have possibly even mistaken it for highlights.


If you’re looking to spice up your hair color without completely altering your base, balayage may be just what you’re looking for. Read on for the details on this hair coloring technique, including what balayage hair color looks like and how it differs from highlights so you can pick the best option for your hair.


What Is Balayage on Hair?

Let’s start with the basics. The ‘70s are known for many things: thigh-high boots, flower power, the words groovy and rad — and, as it turns out, it also happens to be the decade that balayage highlights were developed. 


The balayage technique was created by French colorists and the word balayage means to sweep, which describes how the highlights are applied. Balayage hair color is hand-painted onto sectioned pieces of hair using a brush to brighten hair and give it definition, for a natural-looking blended color. The specific color will depend on your preference but balayage hair is usually achieved with light blonde, brunette or auburn color painted on hair. 


This technique is completely freehanded, meaning there is no cap or guide of any sort, which allows colorists to place the highlights where they think they’ll look best. The idea is to place balayage highlights strategically where they think the sun would naturally lighten the hair. It creates a custom hair color and the whole goal of a balayage hair color is to leave your mane with natural- and, sun-kissed-looking highlights.

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What Is the Difference Between Highlights and Balayage?

Rather than traditional foiling or cap techniques, balayage is a freehand method. With foil highlights, you’ll get a very targeted, uniform finish, while a balayage hair color will result in a more organic and natural look. Balayage also allows the colorist more freedom to apply the dye in certain areas that can brighten your features and frame your face. Traditional highlights can appear as both thick and thin strands depending on preference, while balayage hair color offers a more blended look. 


As previously mentioned, balayage is better suited for anyone who needs a low-maintenance color because  It’s applied inches down from the roots to make it appear even more lived-in and natural as it grows. Doing this helps the wearer avoid the harsh line of root outgrowth that is often associated with foil highlights as they grow. 


Editor’s tip: If you’re familiar with foils and balayage, you might have also heard of foilayage. As the name suggests, foilayage is a combination of foils and balayage, using both techniques to highlight the hair. Ultimately, a balayage is preferred for those who want a natural look with minimal coloring upkeep as the hair grows out. 


Is Balayage and Ombré the Same Thing?

An ombré hair color involves hair that gradually transitions from dark color at the roots to light color at the ends with a gradient effect. Rather than creating a gradient effect, balayage highlights are placed throughout your strands in specific areas to create varying dimensions as opposed to a more uniform color. 


Can You Balayage Your Hair at Home?

With the right at-home hair color kit, it’s possible to balayage your hair at home. To DIY this highlighting technique, reach for the L’Oréal Paris Superior Preference Balayage At-Home Highlighting Kit in one of three natural hair colors. In as little as one hour, you can get natural, multidimensional balayage highlights without damaging your hair or spending a lot of money at a salon. 


This kit includes everything you need to balayage your hair at home like a professional, including a pro toning mask to soften color at the roots and give your highlights a natural, sun-kissed effect.


Which Balayage Looks Good on Dark Hair? 

Any balayage hair color will look good on dark hair, it always comes down to preference and the desired results. If you’re starting with a dark hair color, you’ll have to lighten your hair with bleach to achieve a balayage hair color. Keep in mind your hair color goals since the darker your starting color, the desired light balayage hair color might require multiple coloring sessions.


While blonde balayage is one of the most common shades, other options can be better suited for dark hair like golden balayage or caramel balayage. These colors require less hair bleaching to minimize damage. Additionally, if you have dark hair, a medium to dark hair color will create a more natural look. 


Which Balayage Looks Good on Light Hair? 

Similar to dark hair, any balayage hair color will look good on light hair. The real trick is trying to figure out which colors will offer the least amount of damage — especially if your goal is healthy hair. If you already have light hair, you’re in luck. Lightening your strands won’t take as many sessions as doing balayage highlights on black hair or dark brown hair since light hair won’t need as much bleaching. If you’re looking for platinum blonde balayage, bleaching will likely still be required whereas ashy or champagne balayage will be good picks for your light hair.


How Long Does Balayage Hair Last?

One of the best things about balayage highlights is that they grow out very naturally and they’re as low maintenance as highlights can get. That means no harsh regrowth line so you don’t have to worry about visiting the salon regularly for touch-ups.


But just because balayage has less upkeep than traditional highlights doesn’t mean they last forever. How long your hair color will stay fresh depends on a few different factors, including how well you care for it, but there are other things you need to know about this style of hair color. 


As with all highlighting techniques, balayage requires lightening — and that means you’ll need to have your hair bleached. Bleaching your hair can cause damage, so it’s important to make sure you take care of your strands pre- and post-balayage, not only to make the color last but to keep your hair healthy. Depending on your hair color and length, there are some other factors to keep in mind for getting and maintaining balayage.  


How to Maintain Your Balayage Hair Color 

As with any dye job, there are certain things you can do to help maintain your color and keep your hair in top shape. Below, discover three ways to upkeep your balayage hair color at home.


1. Use Color-Friendly Shampoo and Conditioner

When it’s time to wash your hair use a sulfate-free shampoo and moisturizing conditioner to repair damaged hair and keep your color looking fresh. Since balayage hair color requires bleaching you’ll want to use a shampoo that strengthens your hair. Try L’Oréal Paris EverPure Sulfate Free Bond Repair Shampoo with Citric Acid to gently cleanse hair without stripping it of natural oils and L’Oréal Paris EverPure Sulfate Free Bond Repair Conditioner with Citric Acid to add hydration to target dehydrated strands. 


Not only are these products safe on color, but they also work to address hair damage from bleaching and heat styling by reinforcing weak hair bonds from the inside out with the infused citric acid. When washing your hair, be mindful of the water temperature because hot water can strip your strands of necessary oils, leaving your hair feeling dry as well as causing premature color fading. Instead, wash hair in lukewarm water (or even cold water if you can withstand the chill), just avoid extremely hot water.


2. Avoid Excessive Heat Styling

Along with avoiding hot water, keeping heat styling to a minimum can really benefit your hair and your color, per the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). On the occasions you do use heat, always remember to prime your strands with a heat protectant. Add one to two pumps of L’Oréal Paris Elvive Dream Lengths Frizz Killer Serum Leave-In to your strands before using a hot tool like a flat iron or blow dryer. This leave-in targets flyaways to minimize frizz while protecting hair from heat up to 450 degrees. 


If you’re looking to dry wet hair use L’Oréal Paris EverPure Sulfate-Free Weightless Blow Dry Primer, Heat Protectant, which provides 48 hours of frizz control without weighing down hair. Your mane will have heat protection up to 450 degrees with a smooth and shiny finish. 


3. Use At-Home Hair Gloss

Finally, invest in an at-home hair gloss so you can really keep those salon visits to a few times a year. Use L’Oréal Paris Le Color Gloss One Step In-Shower Toning Gloss when your hair is starting to look dull or when your color needs refreshing. This toning gloss is easy to use and neutralizes brassy tones in hair in as little as five minutes. You can leave the gloss on your hair for up to 15 minutes for deeper conditioning and toning. 


Next: How to Do Balayage at Home for Curly Hair

Photo Credit: Judy IG@/hairbyjuudddyyy, Photo Design: Sarah Duvivier

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