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When it comes to hair colour highlighting and balayage techniques and trends, sometimes the differences between them are so nuanced that it’s hard to keep them straight. Never fear. We’re here…with a primer that breaks down the hottest highlighting trends once and for all. Balayage, sombré, lowlights, and more…read on to learn what sets all these looks apart.
Pronounced BAH-LEE-AHGE, balayage is actually a French word meaning ‘sweeping,’ as in to sweep on a hair lightener to create highlights. Balayage is the technique of free-hand painting highlights onto the hair, creating a soft and natural gradation of lightness towards the ends. The result is the look of summers spent at the beach, or the fresh, unintentionally perfect highlights on a child. This natural-looking highlighting technique is not just for blondes, but is actually used on all shades of hair to add soft, sunkissed dimension.
Of course, there are variations in application preferences: some colourists don’t separate the hair, while others separate the hair with cotton pieces, and others prefer using foil as a divider. There are different application nuances that produce slightly varied results, but the main reason balayage has become so popular is that it allows colourists to hand select the pieces of hair they want to highlight. Due to the customised, natural-looking placement, balayage also allows for a softer grow out.
Highlights is a general term that simply refers to hair that is lighter than the base color. Contrary to popular belief, highlights are not just for blondes, but can refer to lightening strands of any shade of hair. Highlights are traditionally applied using a method called “foiling,” in which sheets of foil are used to separate strands of hair that have been covered with a color or lightener before wrapping them in the foil to process. The foil keeps the lightener from getting on the surrounding hair, and also traps heat, allowing the lightener to lift more effectively. Foil highlights are generally placed close to the scalp, lightening the hair from the roots to the ends for an all-over highlighted look. See more on highlighting your hair at home.
Balayage often carries the brunt of being an umbrella term. While other forms of highlighting might be related to balayage, not all fit neatly in this category.
Ombré and Sombré speak more to the end result rather than the technique. Ombré is a more drastic, edgier version of balayage with a starker transition of dark to light, sometimes with a harder line where the transition starts. Sombré, on the other hand, is a soft, sunkissed transition of dark to light with the ends being only 1-2 levels lighter than the base colour, and a seamless transition from roots to ends.
Babylights are also a type of highlight. The result is achieved by taking extremely small, thin sections of hair for subtle, sun-kissed highlights.
When adding highlights, lowlights or adding a new tone, you can always start with 3-4 pieces until you feel more confident in your application, adding more as you fall in love with the look. If you’re feeling especially hesitant, you can also pin up the front crown portion of your hair and apply your balayage highlights underneath for a less noticeable look. From lowlights to highlights to all-over color, the thing to remember about hair colour is that it should be fun.
One of the biggest perks of this style is that it doesn’t require as much upkeep as traditional colour. The blended finish means you can leave longer between your salon appointments. And depending on the style you go for you can leave up to four months between top-ups.
Balayage is a totally blended hair look, there are no lines or blocks of colour and the graduation between shades is much more subtle. Some lengths of the hair are kept darker for a seamless colour finish.