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  • Writer's pictureCerissa

What the Heck is Balayage???

ba·lay·age /ˌbalāˈyäZH/


Say it with me now.... BAH - LAY - AHGE

Alright, now that we've gotten the pronunciation out of the way....what is it??? Well, it's a method of applying color or lightener by "sweeping" the color onto the surface of the hair, also called "Hand-Painting." It's been around for a long while, but with the last recession balayage saw its revolutionary boom with the ombré trend. And while balayage is the method of choice for most ombré, it also is great for natural looking to-the-root highlights and lowlights and anything in between. Let's dive a little deeper into the different types of balayage, shall we?

Dark to light ombré color done by Hair Rebel Baltimore (me!)

Let's start with where balayage got famous - dark roots and light ends. Does anyone else remember thinking, "why the heck would you want your hair to look grown out on purpose?????" Well, it turns out that these grown out roots were exactly what the recession stricken public needed and wanted. We couldn't afford our monthly hair maintenance anymore, but we didn't want our natural hair either, so we had to get creative. Ombré had been around in the fashion world for a long time, literally meaning a graduation in color from dark to light. I'm pretty certain that the first hairstylist to coin this phrase was also quite the fashionista to know this! If you look at ombré fabric you'd notice that there isn't a line where the colors meet, rather a subtle blending. Same goes for hair. If you still want to rock this look, just make sure it's got a soft blend with zero lines. The major upside to ombré? Virtually no maintenance...just one or two visits the salon per year for highlights! Although I do recommend a trim at least every 3 months, as well as toners to keep your lightened ends from getting too brassy.

Balayage to the roots
Full balayage that's painted to the roots about every 3 months on this naturally dark blonde client of mine.

As I mentioned earlier, balayage can in fact be painted to the roots. I've actually found that it's the most effective for getting to the roots without leaving harsh foil lines. When sectioning and separating balayage I use clear wrap that allows me to see the section underneath so that I can place highlights so that there are no lines. It also allows me to vary the width of the individual highlights, therefore truly customizing the color for each specific client. Hair has natural "peaks" and "valleys" and these are exactly what help me to determine where a highlight should live and where a lowlight should live. While the lines may be softer than foils, there is still more maintenance than with an ombré. Depending on how dark your natural hair is will be the biggest factor for maintenance: about every 6-8 weeks for dark hair and up to 3 months for natural blondes. Still though....who actually likes foil lines anyway?

Lived-in color
A subtle ombré, or lived-in, dimensional color look.

When this trend first started we were calling it "sombré;" it wasn't to the roots like a traditional highlight, but it wasn't all lightened on the ends like a true ombré was a softer, more subtle version. Sombré. This look allows for a lot of dimension (light and dark) throughout the hair but gives a more stretched out maintenance period than a to-the-root balayage. For most of my lived-in color gals we book a full highlight every 6 months, with face framing highlights and toners every 3 months (as well as the cut for most). What I love most about this look is the ability to truly customize each visit with my guest. I always talk about doing what the hair needs, rather than sticking to a preconceived plan of action. That really is the epitome of lived-in color: customization.

What about Foils?

They definitely still have their place, and they deserve a post all their own! So I'll save Foilayage, Teaseylights, and Babylights for another conversation to give them their own due diligence. Stay tuned for that post next!

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