Everything you ever wanted to know about balayage (and more!)

Balayage: What is Balayage? - Olivia Palermo

Your ultimate guide to this coveted hair colour

Best described as sun-kissed hair (sign us up!), balayage is a hair colouring technique that is proving more than just a trend - it continues to be one of the top go-to looks of the moment. But despite its popularity, a lot of us are still wondering what is balayage? The clue lies in the name itself. “The word balayage is French for painting or sweeping hair to resemble a natural lightened look,” says Rebecca Hubbard, owner and Director of Goldwell-salon Dextress Hair in Brisbane.

Actually, calling balayage (pronounced bah-lee-ahge) a hair trend isn’t exactly true, since the technique has been around since the ‘70s! It was originally developed in France, and iconic hairstylist Franck Provost was one of its pioneers. That said, it wasn’t until a few years ago that it truly peaked in popularity, and ever since then it has been a go-to for those wanting a low-maintenance hair colour, as well as those with dark hair wanting to dabble in a sun-kissed blonde look.

“The balayage technique is very much a French look. French women generally aren’t into extreme hair colour changes, so this more-natural look is at the core of ‘French Girl Hair’. It really took off over the last decade – and I don’t really see it going anywhere soon as it’s such a beautiful look,” says Virginie Gayssot, Head of Education and Talent Management at Franck Provost Paris Australia

How is balayage applied in-salon?

Forget meticulously-placed foils, balayage is more artistic. “[Balayage] means that you are hand-painting highlights on areas of the hair in a sweeping motion, creating a ribbon of colour and beautiful movement throughout the hair so you can’t tell where a highlight starts and stops,” explains Gayssot. She adds that the balayage highlights “are generally in larger sections (unlike the weaving motion in foils), so it looks like the sun has naturally lightened the hair. Because no foils are used to apply the product, sections are less saturated than typical highlights and demarcation (regrowth) lines are less noticeable.”

To get the look, your hairdresser will use brushes and sponges (we told you there was an art to it!) to apply and blend out the colour. “Balayage does not mean applying the same amount of product on the root and length; it’s more of a ‘stretched’ look,” says Gayssot. “To make the balayage look as natural as possible, in addition to our brushes and sponges, we really do a lot of blending with our fingers all over the sections to make sure that the colour is well distributed and there aren't any obvious lines.”

Generally, the hair at the roots and the ends are left darker/untouched to add dimension and movement to your hairstyle. 

Who is balayage best suited to?

The question should really be, who isn’t this look suited to. Long hair, medium hair, straight or curly, Gayssot notes that this method can be used on all hair types, colours and lengths - except super short hair, as there is not enough hair to create that gradual transition of colour. Also, it doesn’t suit very frizzy, Afro-type curls as the hair is not the right texture to showcase that lovely transition.

“This technique is great for the ‘lazy’ girl who wants to stretch out her hair salon appointments. It can last for months because there is no obvious regrowth like there is with foil highlights, which create ‘bands’ of colour,” says Gayssot. She also notes “It is the perfect technique if you want a natural, low-maintenance look that has a boho or beachy vibe”. Hubbard adds that “Balayage is great for anyone who is wanting to move away from a heavier foiled look or for someone who wants to start seeing a lot more natural tones in their hair”.

Is balayage possible if you have curly hair?

We see a lot of balayage on straight hair and wavy hairstyles, but can curly hair get in on the action? Absolutely! Although, it takes a skilled hand to deliver a natural-looking result. “When we balayage curly hair, it’s about the curl formation so placement is very organic so it looks as though they were born with that colour,” explains Hubbard.

Choosing the right shade of balayage

“Whilst most think of blonde or light brown hair when it comes to balayage, truth be known you can do balayage on any colour hair and with any intensity. For example, you can have vibrant colours, or even transition from brown hair to very light ends. Just remember that the less ‘natural’ the look, the higher the maintenance,” says Gayssot. For black hair, warm brunette highlights deliver that kissed-by-the-sun effect, and on red hair, a strawberry blonde shade is commonly used. 

“When deciding on the look you are after, it is important to keep in mind what complements your natural hair colour and skin tone. Typically around three levels lighter is a good choice for a lovely, natural, sun-kissed look,” says Gayssot. She also notes that “Sometimes balayage can take a few appointments to get the colour just right, depending on the condition of your hair, your desired outcome, and what colour work you currently have. Because balayage is a more gentle lightening process, several sessions may be necessary to achieve the desired look.” 

Balayage before and after

Celebs like Gisele Bündchen, Olivia Palermo, Jessica Biel and Chrissy Teigen are all big fans of the colouring technique, and for good reason. Just check out these celebrity balayage hair transformations...

Your maintenance guide

Balayage hair colour is low-maintenance, and it allows you the luxury of stretching out your salon appointments for longer than if you had foils or an all-over colour since the regrowth lines will be staggered. But there are a few tips that will make your balayage look fresh for longer. We've detailed them in this balayage maintenance guide, but Gayssot also has this advice:

“Just keep in mind that the colour will naturally fade over time, so it’s a good idea to put a toner or gloss on your balayage between your colour appointments to keep your balayage looking shiny and fresh. Also, make sure you use appropriate shampoos and conditioners for coloured hair to keep your hair looking gorgeous while extending the life of your colour,” advises Gayssot.

Products to try: TONI&GUY Purple Shampoo and Conditioner, Goldwell Dualsenses Blondes & Highlights 60 Sec TreatmentJohn Frieda Colour Refreshing Toner For All Blondes.

TONI&GUY Purple Shampoo

Goldwell Dualsenses Blondes & Highlights 60 Sec Treatment

John Frieda Colour Refreshing Toner For All Blondes

Balayage hair vs ombré hair

You’d be forgiven for thinking these two trends are one in the same but they’re actually quite different. Think of balayage as highlighting and ombré as colour blocking. “Balayage is more about dimension and creating a natural, gradual feel of lightness,” says Hubbard, while “Ombré is deeper at the roots, melting into more of a heavier contrast of light and dark. Ombré can also be created with pastel tones and bright colours.” Sombre is another colouring term, which is short for soft ombré and is a more subtle in-between version of the two. As a reference, here’s Chrissy Teigen sporting the ombré trend:

The latest trends in balayage

Most commonly you’ll find blonde balayage on brown hair, but the look is evolving. In Hubbard’s salon, dip-dyed ends with pops of colour are becoming popular. Gayssot notes that balayage with shadow toning is another new take on the trend. “Achieving dimension isn’t just about lighter strands; you can create natural-looking shadows to give your colour depth while making the transition from your natural shade much more seamless. It’s also low maintenance because the root area is very soft and blended.” She adds, “The shadow look can work on any hair colour and is a really good way of lifting a darker base to something lighter while keeping it looking natural. You can combine it with some babylights around the face to give that lovely sun-kissed look.”

Interested in your other hair colouring options? Get up to speed on these innovative hair colouring techniques

Do you have balayage or have you ever tried it? Who’s your celebrity balayage muse?

Image credits: Getty

Chelsea is BEAUTYcrew’s Contributing Editor. She has a sweet spot for anything that claims to make skin glow and won’t leave the house without a slick of mascara. Chelsea has 10 years of experience as a beauty editor and her words can be found on BEAUTYcrew, Women’s Health, Daily Addict, The Joye and Primped.