What is Balayage? Everything You Need To Know


hile the b-word has been trending on social media and in salons for the past few years, it is still a bit of a mystery. What does it look like? How is it created? What does it cost? Is it right for me? If you’ve found yourself wondering what balayage is all about, we got you! Here, the Society pros unpack everything you’ve ever wondered about this artistic and coveted hair color technique. 

What is Balayage?

Balayage is a hand painted approach to highlights. It’s a freehanded technique that creates natural looking, sun-kissed hair color with only a paint brush (no foils, caps, or guides). It was originally created by French hair colorists in the 70s. Balayage literally means “to sweep” in French, which describes how the color is applied. 

Most often when pros, editors, and beauty industry peeps think of the balayage aesthetic, it is brighter around the face and ends with blended roots. Sometimes it’s described as a beachy, surfer kind of vibe. 

Compared to traditional highlights, it allows your colorist more control to create a custom look that works for you. And because of the softer, natural effect, balayage styles tend to be lower maintenance, letting you stretch out a few more weeks between color appointments—saving you time and $$$.

How is it different from highlights or ombré?

Traditionally applied highlights are created using foils, which gives a very uniform finish. Ombré hair color is consistently applied so that it gradually transitions from dark at the roots to light at the ends. With balayage, the result is more natural looking and more customized, painted throughout your hair based on where the sun would hit it, what looks natural and effortless, and what would best flatter your features and complexion.  

Is Balayage right for me?

Are you looking for a change that is effortless, low maintenance, but makes a big impact? Do you want to brighten things up? Looking for hair color that mimics the effect of a summer spent lounging in St. Tropez? (Um, hi, who isn’t?!) Then balayage might be right for you. It’s also a great option for hair color newbies who want to try a subtle change without too much commitment or maintenance. 

Balayage can work on a range of hair shades, but is often recommended for lighter brunettes and blondes. (Btw, if your hair has been dyed very dark it may need a little extra love and time to lighten, so you’ll need to make a plan with your colorist). You can even try reverse balayage, which is like the freehand, painted-on version of lowlights, to deepen your hair color and add dimension. 

Something to keep in mind: It is totally possible to create "the balayage vibe" (brighter around the face and ends, blended roots), using a different approach.

Your colorist might want to use a more traditional foil application—or a combination of things—to get the look. This all depends on the state of your hair and your color history. Let them know if the balayage look or technique is something you’re interested in, but try to be open to working together on an approach that’s just right for you and your hair. 

How much does it cost?

This varies based on your hair length and history, the demand on your colorist’s time, and the amount of time and product needed to achieve your desired end result. We always recommend setting up a consultation to talk through the technique and cost beforehand to get you and your colorist on the same page. Typically the service starts at $220.  

Anything I should know before my appointment? 

It’s not a speedy process, so plan ahead for it to take about 3-5 hours, or potentially more if you have very thick or long hair.

Here’s what you can expect:
  1. Make a plan. Once you’re seated at the chair, you’ll meet with your colorist and stylist to discuss your goals for the appointment. Try to be as clear and honest as you can about your hair’s history and what you’re looking for. If you have photos or inspo to share, we’d love to see it. 
  2. Your colorist will step away to mix up your lightener. Hot tip: This is a good time to use the restroom or grab a beverage, since you’ll be seated in the chair for a while when they return.
  3. Get painting! Your colorist will work section by section, hand painting selected strands from a section of hair, then covering it with cotton or saran wrap (this prevents the lightener from bleeding into unwanted hair sections).
  4. Dryer time. Most likely your colorist will have you sit under the dryer next. The heat helps expedite the lightening process. They’ll come over a few times to check that it isn’t lightening too quickly. This can be anywhere from 15-45 minutes. 
  5. Rinse, treatment, gloss. Your colorist or their assistant (don’t worry, our assistants are highly trained and work very closely with the colorists) will rinse out the color, possibly treat your hair with a protein treatment to restore the bonds that get damaged while bleaching, and rinse again. Then we’ll add a toner and gloss to nail the shade and sheen you’re looking for. 
  6. Once the color is ready to go, you can step over to get a blowdry, or haircut if you booked one for the same day. Voila! 

Okay one more thing! How can I maintain my balayage between appointments? 

Not to be redundant, but this color approach is seriously super low maintenance. Since it’s applied in such a blended and natural-looking way, it will grow out very seamlessly with no obvious line of regrowth at the root. You will definitely be able to stretch out time between appointments. (FYI typically highlights could use a touch up about every 8 weeks, but balayage can go 12 weeks or even longer.) 

As far as caring for your color at home, we recommend waiting about 2 days before shampooing after your appointment, then using sulfate-free products to keep your hue healthy and vibrant. Once a week, swap out your usual conditioner for a nourishing hair mask. And try to rinse your hair with warm or cool water, because even though steamy showers feel amazing, they can strip your hair of its natural oils.

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