Celebrities have shown off their balayage styles on various red carpets for years…back when red carpets were a thing. Instagrammers have used #balayage on over 24 million posts just as I’m writing this.
A balayage (pronounced ball-eeh-ahj) is meant to boldly elevate and create dimension to your hair as opposed to simply trying to restore or replace the color of old.
I’ve found many people have heard of a balayage or believe it’s sort-of-kind-of an ombre or recall maybe seeing one before. Whether or not you know exactly what a it is or know how to pronounce it, the technique and style is a trend that has become a staple at salons around the world. I’m not a licensed professional but I consulted Vicky, a professional stylist who specializes in balayages, to help you decide if getting one is right for you.
Here’s what she says you should know about a balayage … in 5 minutes.
What is a balayage?
Balayage is a European hair coloring technique that has been around for decades but didn’t become popularized in America until roughly the 2010s. The technique creates more of a lived-in, sun-kissed look. Highlights are often discussed in the same breath, but the looks are actually quite different.
There are various ways to achieve a balayage, with the service itself lasting usually four to six hours. Unlike highlights, a balayage is a hand-painting technique that has evolved to include foiling, as well. The overall result is more depth and dimension than traditional highlights, ombre or other coloring techniques.
Is it right for your hair?
With the right amount of time and with an experienced stylist, a balayage should look great on anyone with the right hair length. But there are a few considerations to keep in mind:
For those with natural hair…
Virgin (not colored) hair or a grown out balayage is a good start for a stylist and will usually lift the best. This is because the stylist doesn’t have to worry too much about previous coloring, correcting and/or removing any bad color and can “set the tone” themselves.
What makes a Balayage look good?
Your balayage will only look as good as:
- Products used by the stylist
- Routine upkeep of service
- At home maintenance
The more often you get your balayage refreshed or toned, the better it is going to look.
How long will it last?
How often you’ll need to treat your hair is largely based on your natural hair color, goals, and budget. Someone with dark roots wants to be a level 9 blonde (level 10 being a pale/platinum blonde) and only has a budget to come in once a year, likely won’t be a good fit unless they are okay with a more realistic goal — like a warm blonde.
That said, most balayages can last 6 to 12 months if it’s nothing extreme.
What you should budget
Most people walk into a salon with the balayage style they want and show it to their stylist. While knowing what you’re looking for is important, having a budget in mind is really imperative.
The length of your hair and/or the results you’re looking to achieve will determine the hours, resources needed and cost of your balayage. If you’re not willing to spend the money or time needed to achieve your ideal balayage, it will affect your ability to get the look you want.
The saying “you get what you pay for” gets thrown around often, but it could be no more true with your hair. Unless the stylists is your friend or just wants to lose money, there is no denying the time and quality of the products needed to give style your hair correctly.
Are balayage and highlights the same thing?
No. While a balayage and highlights both involve foiling, highlights are streaky and don’t provide the sun-kissed look of a balayage and resemble more of a 90s look (think Kelly Clarkson American Idol). While highlights can be blended, they are ideal for someone who:
- Wants a simple change to their natural hair
- Has less time or money to spend at the salon
How to tell if a balayage has gone wrong
A poorly done balayage can be streaky, blotchy, and many times too warm or over-processed. When a balayage is done correctly, the overall look will have a smooth blend. Plainly speaking, a disconnect between colors is an indicator of a bad coloring.
Can you re-do a bad balayage?
Yes, but it will likely cost a premium and be more expensive than someone coming in with virgin hair or a grown out balayage. Re-doing a balayage usually results in a correction that could take multiple sessions.
Steps to avoiding a bad balayage
Chemical treatments (e.g. coloring) are not particularly good for your hair, especially if cheaper dyes are used (which is often an ingredient in a bad balayage). This make it important to wait at least two months after any major coloring to help prevent your hair from being overly damaged and potentially breaking off. Needless to say, following the steps below can save you months of having a hairstyle you really don’t want but shouldn’t be altering.
Do your research
Make sure the work you see from the stylist is their actual work. Do a consultation and make sure your goals align with the stylists’ ability and your budget.
Don’t try to save a dollar
A balayage may seem expensive, but in many cases, much of the cost is going into the time and materials being used to give you a personalized result. Going “cheap” will most likely mean shortcuts, rushed service, and inferior products being put in your hair, which is a great way to ensure you’re going to get a bad balayage and permanently harm your hair.
Don’t do it by yourself
An at-home balayage will likely be a disaster for two main reasons.
- Skill: Most people don’t have the patience or the skill to properly execute the process, let alone their own
- Product: Only professional stylists traditionally have access to professional haircare products, which usually requires at least a cosmetology license. The coloring products obtained from drug stores or chain beauty stores—which is what you’d use to dye your own hair—contain substitutes that are not good for your hair.
What should a balayage cost?
An average cost should be in the $400 – $600 range without a cut. As mentioned above, a balayage correction can be $500 – $800 or more, based on the time and the products needed. In total, expect a session to take 4 to 6 hours.
Balayage vs. Ombre
Similar to how highlights and balayage share common traits, an ombre also involves coloring your hair. Outside of this, that’s about all they have in common. An ombre is usually associated with dip-dying the ends of your hair, not providing the dimension and depth of a balayage. Ombre hairstyles are usually quicker and require less time, which makes them cheaper, but will also require more visits to the salon.
You pay for what you get with nearly everything, and your hairstyle is certainly no different. Inferior coloring products can do a a lot deal of damage to your hair, let alone your self-esteem. If you choose to try out a balayage as a new style, realize it’s an investment and treat it as such. Doing so could create a new look and elevate your personal style with a very popular trend.