Balayage is a hair coloring technique designed to create very natural-looking highlights that grow out without developing a noticeable and obvious root. Many stars and models use this process on their hair, and in response to popular demand, many salons offer it, especially in urban areas. Some pride themselves on their technique, considering themselves artisans of the craft and offering training to people who are interested in learning it.
This method of coloring emerged in Paris in the 1970s; the name is French for “to sweep,” a reference to the way in which the color is applied. After it was exported to the United States, balayage became extremely popular in the late 1990s. In the United States, the word is sometimes spelled “balliage.”
When hair is colored with the balayage process, the highlights are painted on by hand in a sweeping motion that moves from the base to the tip of the hair. At the base, the color is applied very lightly, while at the tip, the color is very heavy. The result is a chunky highlight that looks naturally sunbleached, and as the hair grows out, the root will be concealed for the first few months by the thinner color applied to the base of the hair.
Performing the process is time consuming, and it requires a good eye and a very steady hand. Many people feel that the end result is worth it, however. Unlike foiled highlights, which look very uniform and a bit unnatural, hair which has been subjected to balayage simply looks like it has been out in the sun. The highlights can be subtle or more intense, depending on the desires of the client, and the technique isn't just for blondes — it can also be applied to brunette and red hair.
A related concept is American tailoring, which combines the French process with conventional foiling to achieve a very dramatic, intense look with rich color saturation. Not all beauty schools offer training in these techniques; some stylists prefer to apprentice at salons that offer it so that they can learn from masters. People who are considering having their hair colored in this way should make sure to ask to see a portfolio, and ask the stylist to be frank about his or her experience with different hair colors and types, as balayage gone wrong can be difficult to fix.