What is Balayage?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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.

Lighter hair at the tips and darker roots is the goal of balayage.
Lighter hair at the tips and darker roots is the goal of balayage.

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.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I have my girl do my roots then use a big tooth comb to spread the darker color down to the lighter color. My hair is naturally a caramel color, so really it is about the same technique just easier and cheaper.


I usually go for a very natural look with around 12 foils in one shade lighter than my natural color. I asked my stylist about bayalage and the pricing. She said it may actually be a little less than the charge for foils.


@obsessedwithloopy:The price of balayage can vary. A lot of it depends on the location. Also, some salons charge per hour and others charge per number of colors. For example, one place that I inquired about charged $60 for one color and $15 for each additional color. Another place that I checked on charged anywhere from $60 to $75 per hour.

Balayage definitely has its advantages. It is much easier than full foils and the results are of better quality. The effect is more natural looking and when using more than one color, it gives the hair more dimensions.


It would be safe to assume that the cost is higher than the usual coloring?

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