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What Is Balayage?

Why This Old-School Hair Color Trend Isn't Going Anywhere Fast

You've probably considered getting balayage at least once during the past few years. The hair color trend has dominated social media for as long as we can remember, but we're still loving it. The versatile hue works for all hair lengths and colors, too: we've seen countless gorgeous midlength balayage styles, rainbow styles, and multiple ways to wear brunette balayage. Jack Howard, a London-based celebrity colorist and L'Oréal Professionnel UK color spokesperson, shares why the trend isn't slowing down any time soon.

What is Balayage?

'Balayage' is a French word meaning 'to sweep or to paint,' which is exactly how the dye is applied. The color is hand-painted by the colorist placing the dye exactly where the sun would hit the hair, allowing for a natural, sun-kissed finish. This natural finish is very different to "traditional foil highlights, which are quite uniform and stripe-y," Howard said. "Balayage gives softer, less noticeable regrowth lines with the principal idea being less is more." He adds that balayage is often thought of as new, but he has been doing it for more than 20 years and taught it on four continents to thousands of hairdressers. "It's continually evolving and always bespoke."


"Classic Balayage pieces should be very close and soft at the root, leading to a thicker highlight at the ends of the hair," he said. "Balayage is applied on the surface of the section and not saturated through the section until the very tips." This is what creates a soft finish. Howard also notes that professional plastic wrap is used to keep the colored pieces of hair separate, rather than using foils as you would for traditional highlights. "Because it's hand-painted, your colorist can choose the placements to best complement your cut, skin tone, and features, so it looks really natural rather than actually colored."

Howard says balayage falls into four categories: creative, classic, micro, and Californian. "Classic balayage is saturated at the ends and product is loaded in the midlengths, feathered up to the root, and spread down over the surface of the section for a seamless finish," he said. "Creative balayage is applied similarly to classic but the color is feathered only slightly toward the bottom of the hair. Micro balayage is achieved by saturating the ends, loading product just above this, and feathering up. Finally, Californian is a much heavier incarnation of this application — it's still very soft at the root but with much more coverage."

What Colors Work Best With Balayage?

"It's suitable for any base color as it's tailored to you," he said. "There has definitely been a preconception that balayage is just about adding blonde pieces, but that's not the case at all. The first thing you should do is chat with your colorist about your options — they'll be able to tell you what will suit your skin tone. There are so many great shades out there — some warm, some cool — so always have a consultation first. Have a look on Pinterest or Instagram at the balayage hashtag."


Possibly the best part about a balayage hairstyle is that it requires little upkeep. "For many women, highlights are too time-consuming, and I personally feel colorists who spend 90 minutes doing a full head of foils are making color a chore unless that's the look you really want," Howard said. "Balayage is great because not only is it speedy, meaning you don't have to sit so long in the chair, but it grows out beautifully, meaning less maintenance and fewer frequent appointments." He adds that most balayage can last 12 to 14 weeks (with some of his clients doing touch-ups only twice a year).

A post shared by Jack Howard (@jackhoward_srh) on


The price of balayage ranges in price from hair length to salon. "Balayage with me starts at £140 (around $178 US) for that six-piece look, but all salons are different," he said. "I've trained thousands of colorists all around the UK and worldwide, and it's become a staple on the salon menu so you should be able to find someone nearby — I recommend having a look on Instagram to see their work." And remember, with all hair color, sometimes it's worth spending more for a better colorist. A bad dye job is hard to fix once the damage has been done.

Image Source: Getty / Michael Loccisano
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