The Ultimate Stylist's Guide To Balayage
Everything You Need to Know About Balayage
As a professional who is fully submerged in the hair and styling trade, you’re no doubt up to date on the latest and greatest trends sweeping (there’s a pun here, and you’ll get it soon, we promise) the industry.
Because of your expertise, we’re sure you’ve at least heard of the Balayage trend (if you’re not already practicing it in your salon).
Balayage is the hottest trend to resurface on the hair-styling scene since the Ombre snuck its gradually-fading beauty into stylists’ chairs worldwide.
For as beautiful and effortless as Balayage appears, there are seemingly endless questions plaguing the trend. That’s right, we said it – Balayage is beautiful, but it’s complicated!
There are dozens upon dozens of questions that surround the technique and we’re happy to report that if you feel unsure or wary about it, you’re not alone!
You’re certainly not the only stylist with questions and doubts zinging through your head. Hundreds of other artists are asking the same things you are:
How do I do it?
What’s the difference between highlights and a Balayage, or a Balayage and an Ombre?
Do I charge more for it? Less?
How do I spell it? HOW DO I SAY IT?
And the list goes on and on and on and on…We’ve got good news, though!
We’ve compiled all the Balayage questions you could possibly think of and answered them right here in this handy-little-style-guide.
Keep reading to seek out the answers you’re looking for, the questions you didn’t know you had, and the must-have advice tips on how to implement this beautiful style at your salon.
What is Balayage, Anyway?
Let’s get one thing straight right out the gate --- BAH – LEE-AGHE.
If you can’t pronounce it or spell it, you probably shouldn’t be offering it to your clients, so it’s important you understand how to say it.
You can say BAH-LAY-AGHE, too, if you want to add a little pizazz to your pronunciation.
You’ve probably heard of Balayage before, and seeing as you’re a hair-expert, you can probably spot a Balayage do from a mile away, but do you understand what a Balayage really is?
If not, we’re here to help. Here’s the scoop on Balayage styles:
Most of your customers, and maybe even some stylists, think that Balayage is an end-result, a look, or a trend, but Balayage is more than that.
Balayage is a technique that a colorist or stylists employs to accomplish an immense variety of different looks.
Still confused? No worries, let’s look at it a different way.
Consider foils that stylists use to color hair. Foils are a tool or a technique that a colorist employs get the look they want, but the foil themselves aren’t the look.
Balayage is the same! The Balayage is a technique where a colorists paints on lightener in a scientific, artistic way.
There’s a time and place for foils – they’re great conductors of heat and do important things for full highlights, but the Balayage strategy is a technical art-form that works perfectly for natural, blended, highlights and nuances for your follicles.
This hair coloring technique happens when a stylist hand paints highlights so they look natural, have plenty of depth and dimension, and resembles the sun’s effects.
All that to say, Balayage guarantees you won’t accidentally end up with that early 2000s stripey-blocky-Nicole-Ritchie-esque highlighter look.
But Balayage isn’t as simple as just painting on lightener.
Like other techniques, it requires some serious science. The formula, the application, the process – it’s all incredibly technical and complicated, but we’ll definitely break it down for you.
Get our balayage cheat sheet below!
First though, let’s talk about where Balayage comes from.
You might think it’s a brand-new trend that’s captivated the coloring scene in a storm of magical, sweeping style.
The Balayage style is indeed sweeping, but it’s definitely not new.
What you might not know about Balayage is that it’s a French style. In fact, it literally means “to sweep” or “sweeping” in French and is a direct reference to both the sweeping motions of Parisian paint processes and the super small brooms that are used by Parisian stylists.
Something else you might not know about Balayage -- it’s been around for decades.
In fact, it’s been around long before foils or frosting techniques graced salon chairs worldwide.
Some sources say that the Balayage style started exclusively in the Carita salon in Paris and that, at the time, it was known as ‘Balayage a coton,’ a direct nod to the strips of cotton they used to keep colored hair separate from the untouched hair.
The technique stayed safely nestled in France for years – even though we really could have used its subtle, natural style during the incredibly-dramatic-very-foiled-highlighted days of the 80s.
Where was the soft, sunny beauty of Balayage when we were frying our colored hair into oblivion with heavy foils?
Somewhere safe atop a beautiful French woman’s naturally-colored-looking head in Paris, surely.
But when Balayage finally crossed the pond and made its way to America -- albeit, slowly – it made quite the splash. The Balayage technique found its way from France and rooted itself deep in the New York hairstyle-culture in the very late 1980s and early 1990s.
Since then, it’s been continually refined, updated, and experimented with. That’s the neat thing about Balayage – because it’s a technique and not an end result, it allows stylists and colorists to create the ultimate color customization and leaves room for a variety of looks.
How Did the Trend Get Going Again?
Often, it surprises customers – and even a few stylists and colorists – when we say that Balayage has been deeply rooted into hair styling and artistry for decades.
Like we said, it didn’t make its way to America until the 90s (well, the 80s, but we were all so distracted with that heavy-foil-80s-trend we sort of didn’t notice it).
Even so, 90s Balayage could really only be found on U.S. celebrities, the earliest adopters of the Balayage (a-la-Sarah-Jessica-Parker in the Sex and the City years).
Though Balayage has had a presence in our hair-culture for decades, it really only begun to get super huge among clientele in the last few years. In fact, it’s really only been about the last five years that’s its really kicked up a notch to its peak popularity.
It’s fair to say that Balayage is super popular for tons of reasons, and you know we’re going to get into the whys.
Take notes, your clients are going to want to know why you’re recommending a Balayage-style-color to them.
That Ultimate Look
First and foremost, the reason that the trend is going strong is because it’s elegant.
Balayage gives your clients that natural, never-been-to-a-salon-my-hair-just-looks-like-this color that people fawn over.
More so, because it’s a technique and not an end result or a particular style, you can use it accomplish tons of distinct looks for your client.
Because the color is painted on hair at random, you can use the technique and place the color in such a way that it can be most complimentary to your client – think bone structure, facial features, skin tone, and more.
Balayage provides you with the tools to create something unique, natural, and beautiful. More than that, though, it’s all the rage with our favorite celebrities, our go-to trendsetters, and a wild success on the red carpet (think: Jessica Alba, Jennifer Lopez, Kim Kardashian, etc. etc.).
Your clients, no doubt, want to mimic their favorite celebs – a guaranteed reason that the Balayage technique is such a hot trend right now.
Most Hair Can Handle it
Balayage is less invasive and intense than regular, foil color styles. Not only does it tend to look more natural, it can also be used on almost any hair type, length, or color.
Whether it’s straight, wavy, or curly, your hair can handle the Balayage technique. The same goes with light, medium, and dark colored hair (and everything in between).
One of the biggest misconceptions about the Balayage technique is that it’s a blonde-only zone – this simply isn’t the case!
All textures and lengths can handle the Balayage.
However, it is super popular with clients who have long, naturally-textured hair because it often creates that glow-y, beachy, wonder-hair that everyone craves.
The only hairstyle and texture that the Balayage technique might not work well with is a very, very short style with close-cropped hair.
Another note: Balayage will not be a solution for covering grey hair. If your client is looking for full coverage to get rid of those pesky silvers, then Balayage likely isn’t the right choice.
Your clients likely know that if they’re planning on coloring their hair, maintenance is going to be included in their styling choice. But Balayage trend brings something to your clients that other coloring techniques cannot – low maintenance and bigger gaps between visits.
Unlike regular full-foil highlights, partial highlights, ombres, and more, a Balayage won’t induce a super-obvious-take-a-look-at-me re-growth line after that standard 4-6 weeks.
Because the technique is designed to create a natural look, it will grow out more naturally and leave you line less, without fear of sporting crazy root lines. Unlike regular coloring styles, you can wait up to 4 months to go in for a touch up.
You can recommend what you think is best for your particular client, but make sure you mention that low-maintenance aspect to them.
Even better, it can be a speedy process and take way less time than a regular foil highlight (that means less time in a chair, which we’re sure your clients will be excited about).
It’s just another reason to love the Balayage technique, and a giant factor in the reason it’s so popular.
Effortless chic? Count us in.
It's for Everyone
You guys, pay attention because this is important. Balayage, contrary to widespread belief, is not a blondes-only club. You heard us.
Your clients with chocolate brown hair? Give them a Balayage.
How about those gorgeous red heads? Balayage away, friends. Balayage away.
Hair painting can be advantageous for anyone, and you don’t have to be a light-headed beauty to snag the Balayage benefits.
No matter the hair color, you’ll get the subtle dimension that everyone craves.
That gorgeous, chocolatey-hair? Give it a hint of cinnamon or caramel swirly.
Those luscious red locks? Mix in some subtle strawberry blonde.
No matter what your client’s hair color, you can give them a dimensional, natural, sun-kissed look that will leave everyone who sees it breathless.
How to Talk to Your Clients About Balayage
Now that you’ve got a little background on the Balayage technique (let’s be honest, you’re probably a pro by now) you should have no problem marketing it to your clients.
You can give them a little history (which we know people love), tell them the reasons the Balayage could work wonders for them (another thing they’ll love), and even point out Balayage techniques on their favorite celebrities (let’s be honest, this is going to seal the deal for sure).
But how should you really go about introducing the Balayage idea to your clients? Especially to cautious clients who might never have heard of it?.
Hear us out, we’ve got some super helpful tips and steps for introducing your clients to Balayage.
Disclaimer: Only Offer It If You’re Ready, but When You Are, let ‘Em Know
Not that you ever would, but don’t include the Balayage technique on your menu until you’re totally ready to do it. Balayage is an effortless look, but it’s a pretty complicated technique (we’ll get into that part more a bit later).
Don’t offer this technique until you feel fully prepared, that way your clients will keep coming back to you for their Balayage needs.
The last thing you want to do is alienate a great client or prevent new clients from coming to you because you tried to take on a bit more than you could chew.
That being said, once you know what you’re doing, don’t be afraid to let your community know you’re offering something unique.
Attend Balayage classes, get with some Balayage experts, and make sure your website and social media pages both boast your new skill.
Add it To Your Service Menu
First things first, don’t add it to your menu without any explanation. Make sure that on your menu, you briefly describe to your clients what Balayage is. Let them know that the Balayage is a technique, not a look.
Explain it well in your description, but make sure you leave room for a one-on-one conversation. Don’t write an all-out guide for them to read before they chat with you about the technique.
Have a One-on-One Conversation & Have Photos Ready
Make sure you schedule a consultation visit with your client before the actual Balayage technique goes down. In this visit, educate your client on what exactly the Balayage technique is.
Explain the difference between Balayage and other techniques they might be familiar with, like ombres, highlights, and sombres.
To help assist your conversation, have a few photos ready of the Balayage technique at various stages of the process. Show them possible end products, but also make sure they understand (with pictures, if possible) what you mean by hand-painting their hair.
It always helps to show them the end result on a celebrity they love, so don’t skimp on the photos to aid your explanation.
Integrate it Slowly
One of the guaranteed ways you can get your clients to fall in love with Balayage is to introduce it to them slowly.
Don’t go all-out-Balayage right off the bat. Introduce it slowly to them by implementing Balayage in addition to their regular foils.
Show them the difference between how the process happens, explain it until their comfortable, and let them know that bleaching might be a part of this process.
Consider Gifting a Fringe or Two to Your Client for Free
If you have a client that’s still unsure about Balayage but thinks they might want to invest in the style, gift them a fringe strand or two.
Let them know that if they like the way it looks and works with their hairstyle, they can schedule an appointment with you to go full-out-Balayage.
More likely than not, your clients will want to schedule with you ASAP for a total Balayage session.
Balayage: The Art Behind the Technique
The most important thing to remember about Balayage is that it’s not an end-product, instead, it’s a technique. Think of it as a highly-technical means to an end, the tool that can get your client exactly what they want.
Balayage technique is a hand-painting style where you’ll color your clients’ hair by picking and choosing the strands that you’ll sweep color onto.
Most of the time, the color or lightener is going to be painted onto individual parts of your client’s hair.
It seems like a freehand fashion, but you’ll need to take a lot of factors into consideration when thinking about placement – skin tone, facial features, bone structure, etc.
Your client will see you creating a freehand masterpiece, but there’s always science and strategy behind your paintbrush. This technique creates a multi-tonal finish. Unlike foil and other highlighting techniques, you won’t saturate the color through roots or tips of your client’s hair.
Why? The result, of course.
A softer strategy gives you a subtle, soft, natural, end-product, quite unlike the harsh lines that a routine highlight can do to you client.
So, what’s the ultimate technique when it comes to Balayage?
It depends on the style you’re looking to achieve with your client, and of course, you’ll need to take some training courses.
Most often though, stylists will start at the middle of the strand with a brush and then sweep the color out toward the root or the tip of the hair.
When this strategy is used, the possibility of a severe color line at the root (or any other starting point) is mitigated.
It leaves a much more natural looking result, which means a longer lasting style that won’t require nearly the upkeep that regular highlighting strategies will.
This also means your brush strokes will vary from thick to thin, leaving your client with natural-looking swipes that will play off their hair’s movement.
Balayage is perfect for all hair styles, textures, lengths, and colors. It’s great for a total color overhaul, or a quick, light, color refresher.
The Balayage Formulation Situation
As you might have suspected, because you’re using a different technique, you have to formulate differently.
Most of the products that are used for hand-painting hair won’t be compatible with foil techniques. Always ensure you’re using the highest quality lightener at the right consistency and the correct ratio of developer to product.
One of the benefits of Balayage is that you’ll likely have access to a wide range of developers. The Balayage technique leaves room to use things like demi-permanents, high-lift tints, and even fun things like blonding theory (the removal of pigment rather than covering pigment with dye).
Your formulas are going to change, obviously, for whatever end-goal you have in mind. No matter what, always discuss the specific color goal your client is going for and ensure that your formulation specifications are going to get them exactly what they want.
Let’s Talk Differences
By now, you’ve probably caught on to the fact that Balayage is a very distinct, unique style. You might still be a touch confused on how it differs from some similar looking trends, though.
We’re here to clear the air a bit. Take a look at our breakdown below to fully understand how Balayage differs from popular trends like Ombre, somber, babylights, classic foil highlights, and more.
Balayage VS Ombre VS Sombre: HELP
You’ve probably seen pictures of all of these gorgeous styles, and if you’re not sure what the difference is, we’ve got you covered.
For starters, an Ombre is an end-product and not a technique for coloring. While it’s only a technical difference, it’s worth noting that a Balayage is a coloring strategy that can help your client achieve a bunch of different looks, while an Ombre is one specific style.
Let’s look at an Ombre. Like a Balayage, it’s a look that’s lightest at the tips to achieve that sun-kissed effect, but it’s a more noticeable statement style.
Typically, the Ombre style will change from a darker color to a highly contrasted light color around the ears, giving it a defined contrast between the roots and the tips of the hair with the color starting mid-way down each of the hair strands.
Even a Sombre, a much softer version of an Ombre, has its differences. Like an Ombre, it has a distinct difference between the dark roots and the light strands (starting about mid-way down the strand, like the Ombre).
Though much more natural than an Ombre, it doesn’t blend as well as the Balayage-styled look will.
The Balayage, on the other hand, is a color technique that usually starts higher up on the strand closer to the root.
Typically, it looks much more natural than an Ombre. Most of the time the Balayage color strategy is implemented to give a totally blended look.
That means there won’t be any color blocks or lines where you can noticeably see where the color changes.
The Epic Battle: Foil Highlights VS Balayage
Let’s talk differences between techniques.
You’re so well versed in classic foil coloring you could do it with your eyes closed (hey, maybe you have, every hair stylist is different). But, do you know the biggest differences between foil coloring and Balayage coloring?
For starters, the Balayage technique is a hand-painted style that gives you, the stylist, the free form creativity you crave.
You’re literally painting a client’s hair in a way that’s specific to them – talk about highly customize-able. But there are plenty of other differences between the two.
With a Balayage, you’ll have a much softer, less noticeable regrowth line.
Traditional highlights, no matter how well you implement them, will undoubtedly grow out at the root. It’s just the nature of the business.
But the Balayage style, because it’s painted from the middle of the strand in another direction (either up toward the root or down toward the tip), won’t grow out with that line at the top of your client’s head.
Both foil and Balayage are intended to change the color of your hair, but Balayage is intended to emulate the parts of your hair that would naturally lighten in the sun, allowing the growing out process to look more natural as well.
Your clients won’t experience that stripy outgrowth that can happen with foil highlights, instead, their growth will look a lot more natural and subtle.
With foil highlighting, your client will likely be sitting in your chair for anywhere from 1-4 hours.
That’s a lot of time.
But with Balayage, you don’t have to go through the lengthy foil, paint, unravel-foil process.
Instead, you simply separate the strands, hand paint according to your strategy for what will look best on your client and get to work.
It can potentially cut the salon-time– leaving your client happy and you with more time to fit more clients into your day.
Unlike Balayage, foil often ends up looking contrived into a neat row of uniform-looking highlights.
That means when a section of your hair is colored, that block is saturated, leaving that part with a dense, unnatural stripe of color. Balayage, instead, leaves a subtle, natural swipe of color that mimics your hair’s natural movement and creates a softer, more manageable grow out.
Different Types of Balayage
The great thing about Balayage is it’s a tool that can help you accomplish a variety of looks.
That leaves your client open to dozens of possibilities all while maintaining the natural, subtle, Balayage-blended style that we’ve all come to know and love.
Whether you want a full-on color overhaul, a complete change in look, or a simple refresh, the Balayage-technique can help you get your client there.
This kind of Balayage technique is crafted with those specific sweeping motions.
Done correctly, this color strategy can leave your face looking refreshed and more angular – almost as if you’ve been gifted a face lift. The idea here is to paint on stronger pieces of highlights around the expression areas (think wrinkles, think eyes, etc.).
The Balayage technique sweeps and lifts the area because the eye is going to move toward the light in the their rather than focusing on the wrinkles.
Use your Balayage technique to brighten the most expressive areas – like the forehead, eye area, cheek-lines and jaws. Keep it the technique soft and sweeping, painting the dye on thin at the root and widening toward the tips.
You know what an Ombre is, and you know how to do it with foil, but have you ever considered trying it with a Balayage technique?
While the point of a Ombre is to have a distinct change in color about halfway down the strands of the hair, a Balayage Ombre could really tie the whole together and make it have a more natural, sun-kissed glow.
What’s better than an Ombre? A natural, hand-painted Ombre that won’t be a pain to maintain and won’t look blocky when it grows out.
What about a Sombre Balayage? This makes even more sense than Balayaging an Ombre because it’s intended to look softer, subtle, and less statement-worthy.
By hand-painting a somber onto your client’s beautiful locks, you can accomplish a beautifully-natural, sun-reflecting style. And the best part is, no foils were necessary to get there. Growing out the Sombre that’s been hand-painted (sans foils) will make the growing out process less painful and far subtler for your client.
The Balayage is the perfect color technique to accomplish some gorgeous babylights. These tiny, subtle highlights that resemble natural sun-kisses that appear around your hairline are delicate, subtle, and sweeping – the perfect look for a Balayage technique.
With babylights, you’d typically use small foils with very tiny amounts of dye on each strand, but why go through the mess when you could paint on some natural, wavy, subtle lighter strands with the Balayage technique?
Balayage can also be used to create the perfect colormelt style. When you colormelt, you’re mixing multiple shades together with hopes of creating a seamless darker-root-to-lighter-end finish. Painting on that color with a Balayage technique can make this complicated dye job at lot less daunting.
Typically, you’re trying to accomplish a darker root with a light tip while melding multiple colors and maintaining a natural look. Doing this with foils can overly-complicate the process, so we suggest opting into the Balayage style for the best results.
Think tortoiseshell beauty when you consider the ecaille style. This multi-dimensional style is accomplished with Balayage techniques and a Sombre-mindset using a palette of caramel, golden blondes, chestnuts, chocolates, and more.
Like an Ombre, you’d paint on a darker color than your roots at the top of your head, then paint on a lighter color toward the end of the strands. Then, you get super-Balayage-artsy, painting select strands light and dark for the perfect natural-but-stunning look.
How Much to Charge for Balayage
Ultimately, how you charge for Balayage is going to be up to you (and your salon) entirely.
We recommend taking note of the high skill-set that Balayage requires, as well as the artistic nature of the technique.
Remember, Balayage and Foil techniques are wildly different with stark contrasts in how they should be priced.
Foil requires skill, of course, but can be thought of as a one-size-fits-all sort of color technique. A Balayage treatment is a highly-customized technique that fits the client you’re serving exactly.
You’re taking their bone structure, their facial features, and their skin tone into consideration when developing a custom hair painting style for them – and personally, we think that should cost a little more.
Balayage is a specialty skill that requires a totally different training from foils.
Premium price for premium treatment and style, right?
It’s also important to remember that you’re giving your client a low-maintenance, quality color that requires less visits to you, their lovely stylist or colorist.
We certainly would never recommend sky-rocketing your prices past a point that makes sense, but certainly take into consideration the value you’re giving your customer with one Balayage color treatment.
More than that, the products and tools you need to use for Balayage can potentially be much more expensive for you and your salon to carry.
Most high-end salons and color professionals recommend that your Balayage coloring technique should have a 20% – 30% premium.
Think about it this way: if you charge about $160 for your classic foil highlighting, consider charging for a minimum of $200 for Balayage.
It’s possible that you’ll get some feedback from your customers about this coloring tactic being pricier than normal foil, especially because it likely will take half the time of normal foil coloring and may appear to be less work.
That’s why client education is so important.
Make sure your clients are aware of the artistic and scientific processes behind this technique – a.k.a., while you might look like your la-dee-da-painting on their hair on a whim, you’re actually creating a customized masterpiece bespoke to them.
It’s important they understand the value behind what they’re getting, though.
Not only does the Balayage process look elegant, natural, and beautiful, but it also requires a lot less upkeep, giving them an actual effortlessly beautiful look.
That alone should let them see the money they’re likely going to be saving with less visits to come see you for color ever year.
All Balayage Everything
The Balayage technique has been around for decades, and despite it’s recent pop back into the spotlight, it’s anything but a fading trend.
Balayage is timeless because of its simplistic, natural, subtle look, but also because it’s entirely personalized and created totally bespoke to the client.
You can Balayage dozens of clients and no two will ever look the same. Balayage is a highly customize-able technique that works specifically to the client you apply it to.
The Balayage technique requires specific training, lots of skill, and artistic license – in other words, it’s the key to unlocking the hair-artist in you. Unleash your creativity, your craft, and your color skill.
The Balayage technique can bring you healthy, natural looking hair with subtle elegance, and that simply doesn’t go out of style.
Now that you’ve got all the Balayage information you could ever need, we encourage you to get down to business!
Take the training courses you need, round up the premium products and tools you’ll need, get creative, and let your passion for color and style bloom.
Make like those Parisian hair-artists and get to sweepin’, stylists!
Contributing Writer: Hanna Marcus