What exactly is balayage hair, and why is it so popular?

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Balayage has been around for a while, but this timeless technique has crept its way back into the best hair salons as one of the most popular and oft-requested styles.

Want the low-down on its sheer magic? We’ve spoken to the some of the leading experts to get some professional insight into this much-loved hair trend.

What is balayage hair?

The term balayage is taken from the French word for ‘sweeping’. ‘It’s a freehand hair colouring technique that gives a really blended, natural look with no harsh or obvious regrowth lines,’ royal and celebrity hairdresser Richard Ward tells us.

I love Balayage,’ says Adam Reed, Editorial Ambassador for L’Oreal Professionnel Paris. ‘It’s such a beautiful technique and one that really showcases the craft and artistry of the professional and in-salon colour.’

Balayage allows for a sun-kissed, natural looking hair colour, with softer, less noticeable re-growth. The principal idea being less is more when creating a natural, multi-tonal finish. The technique uses patches of light and shade to create multiple dimensions to the colour.

Balayage is quite different to traditional highlights, because no foil is used and the colour is painted on freehand. The finished result is ‘less uniform than typical highlights’ says Richard Ward. If you’ve ever been worried about having stripey colour after a visit to the hairdresser’s, balayage is a sure way to avoid that harsh contrast between colours – especially if you’re going blonder.

The colour created is totally bespoke to you and can even be placed in a way to compliment or distract attention away from certain features on the face. It’s a great method if you want to refresh your colour but don’t want a bold overhaul of your look.

How is balayage applied?

Balayage is painted on the surface of the hair strand and not saturated through the section until the very tips. This ensures a smooth, blended stroke of colour. It can also be called a freehand technique because no foil or meche are used to create the highlights.

How long does it take?

The depth of balayage can vary so much from a ‘few small highlights that will only take a matter of minutes to a full on, triple process look that can take up to 3 hours,’ says Josh Wood, master colourist and Redken’s Global Colour Creative Director.

It can take quite a long time to do a multi-tonal, layered balayage compared to regular colour. But the benefit of the application means you will be able to leave longer between your next colour appointment. If you want a few balayage babylights, this can take as little as 45 minutes.

Why is balayage so popular?

Ten years ago balayage wasn’t the colouring phenomenon it is today, it’s quite a specific method of colouring that hasn’t been widely taught in the UK until recently. Balayage ‘is especially popular with celebrities and is a classic look for the red carpet’ says Richard Ward. After spotting it on celebrities like Gisele, Chrissy Teigen and Jessica Alba, there has been a surge in interest for the technique as people are requesting the look.

‘There is currently a slight turn away from the standard balayage look to something more subtle,’ explains Josh. ‘We are looking at low-fi colour but high-fi condition. Multi-tonal, natural effects are what we’ve been perfecting for the runway and now in the atelier.

‘You should question whether it’s actually coloured or not; it’s about a low-key, hyper-natural vibe. For the high-fi condition, I would recommend the Redken in-salon glossing treatment. The Redken ‘Toning Tweakments’ in-salon service menu includes the ‘Balayage Booster’, a Shades EQ gloss shot.

‘These are demi-permanent colour that have been coined the ‘lip-gloss’ of hair, due to their conditioning properties that give a flawless shine and vibrancy. Non-committal, easy in-salon use – colour that enhances hair condition.’

Some celebrities who love balayage include Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Olivia Palermo, Jessica Biel, Jennifer Lopez, Kim Kardashian and Amber Heard.

And don’t think just because you don’t have long hair you can’t achieve the look. No matter how short your hair, you can rock balayage. Case in point? Ruby Rose’s balayage pixie crop.

Does it require a lot of maintenance? 

‘Typically balayage requires far less maintenance than traditional colour. It grows out beautifully and there are no strong regrowth lines,’ says Richard Ward. It also means you can wait for longer between appointments so it’s ‘the perfect technique for a modern, busy woman.’

‘If you want to make your balayage last as long as possible, opt for a babylight – it’s the most subtle type of colour you can go for,’ advises Josh Wood. Investing in some good quality colour care styling products is also advisable to keep your colour looking fresh for longer. For example, have a look at hair toners or one of the best purple shampoos.

If your colour turns brassy after a while you can ‘refresh it without going for a full top up with a toner or gloss to give your shine back.’ says Wood.

Is it suitable for all hair types/lengths?

Balayage is for all, all hair types and hair colours,’ says Reed. ‘It’s a wonderfully beautiful technique that can be dialled up or down, perfectly personalised depending on the desired end finish. The key to maintaining this look on all hair types is colour maintenance.’

It works on both light and dark hair depending on how much lighter you want to go and all hair textures. You can ask for balayage to blonde or balayage for brown hair or dark hair, and your colourist will be able to tailor the style to you. Straight, wavy or curly; whatever category your hair, the colour can work well and look great.

‘Balayage works on all hair lengths apart from on very short or cropped hair (think Pixie crops),’ advises international hair colourist, L’Oréal Professional Ambassador and Marie Claire’s 2018 Colourist of the Year Jack Howard.

The technique is particularly popular amongst celebrities with long, textured hair as it creates a beautiful, beachy style.

If however, you have balayage on you short hair – let’s say a bob – and then want to try the long beach style, Hershesons recently launched a range of balayage tape hair extensions, that will seamlessly blend in. The 60-minute service includes a colour-matching consultation, fitting, cut, wash & blow-dry and the tapes should last you up-to eight weeks, and the hair can be re-used up to three times.

How long does balayage last?

One of the biggest perks of this style is that ‘it doesn’t require as much upkeep as traditional colour,’ advises Josh Wood. 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.

Maintaining balayage at home

Adam Reed explains that balayage looks its best when it’s ‘super vibrant and glossy. My favourite product to keep hair healthy and offer that glass hair effect is L’Oréal Professionnel Mythic Oil (RRP £19.70 | Feelunique). Use this once a week and leave-in hair overnight for a deeper treatment for luscious, high-shine hair’

‘My top tip for anyone looking to have their colour done for the best result long-term is to add-on the L’Oréal Professionnel Metal Detox in-salon treatment. This is an incredible innovation that works to help neutralise copper levels in our water and pipes that can cause hair breakage during the colour service. This is a game changer.’

If you are desperate to refresh your colour at home, read our guide on how to dye your own hair at home, and follow Carolyn Newman’s below tips on how to refresh a blonde balayage, using Schwarzkopf Permanent Colour.

1. Apply some of the enclosed treatment sachet to the lengths and ends to protect the existing blonde. This will help protect the hair – do not colour this section.

2. Mix and apply the colour to your roots first – the first 1-2 inches of your hair – and leave to develop for 15 minutes.

3. Then, using a tangle teezer style brush or wide tooth comb, pull the root colour down another 1-2 more inches, using a brush to blend so you don’t get a line and leaving the conditioner-covered mid lengths and ends. Develop for a further 10 minutes.

4. Rinse really thoroughly with shampoo (do two shampoos if required). Then use the rest of the Colour Expert treatment sachet, apply to the lengths and ends and leave to soak in for 2-5 minutes. Rinse and style as usual.

What’s the difference between ombre and balayage hair?

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.

Ombre hair has a more defined contrast between the roots and tips of the hair with colour starting mid-way down the strands. Ombre colour ‘is a more noticeable, statement look compared to balayage,’ says Richard Ward. Want to know more? Check out our round-up if want to find out more about ombre.

Does balayage work on grey hair?

The style works for all colours but, ‘the only thing is it won’t cover grey hair,’ advises Josh Wood. ‘It will only help blend in the grey to disguise it so if you want full coverage for greys it might not be the right choice for you.’

What makes it timeless?

Balayage creates a totally bespoke, personalised colour finish. Healthy, natural looking hair will always be ‘in’, which is why the technique has remained popular for so many years. Depending on what you’re looking for the finish can be subtle or quite bold. It’s the ability to completely tailor the colour effect that makes this such a popular colour choice.

Keep scrolling for a few of our favourite balayage looks from the A-listers (and their expert colourists).

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