Highlights vs Balayage: Which Option Is Right for Your Hair?

People have been adding highlights in their hair as a way to lighten it and add depth for centuries. Even the Ancient Greeks are believed to have used it as far back as 4 B.C.

In the 2000s a new hair trend came on the scene: balayage. This way of lightening the hair was seemingly everywhere. But, as it became more popular, the choice between highlights vs balayage became harder to answer.

It’s important to know exactly what each technique entails and the results it will give. We’re diving into the differences between highlights and balayage and how you can choose the lightening technique that is perfect for your hair, so keep reading below to learn more.

What Are Highlights?

Highlights are a very traditional way of lightening hair that can also add depth to the color. A stylist wraps hair in aluminum foil after covering it with lightener. This leaves the entire strand lightened from root to end.

In between each foil, the stylist leaves a section of base color hair. This creates a pattern-look of some light, some dark hair. The foils allow the stylist to precisely control the placement of the lightener on chosen strands of hair.

The foil leads to an intense lightening effect, creating a very strong contrast between the lighter strands and the base sections. This also gives an overall lighter or blonder look to the hair.

You can choose between two main types of highlights: full or partial. Full highlights lighten strands around every section of the head. Partial highlights only lighten half of the head. Usually, it’s around the face to brighten the overall look.

Pros and Cons of Highlights

Highlights are helpful in giving an overall blonder look. They can also be used to frame the face and add dimension to your hair color. In addition, the foils can help prevent the hair from turning brassy, which can be a problem with deeper or darker hair.

One of the pros of highlights is the amount of control the stylist has over the pattern. The foils allow them to choose exactly where the color goes. They can also control how light or dark the hair becomes. 

Because it is applied in a pattern, the look can sometimes become unnatural. Strong, stripy highlights are not the style many people are looking for. 

Another con of highlights is the care required. Highlights usually need to be touched up in 6-8 weeks. Otherwise, root growth can lead to darker roots, with obvious signs of grow out.

What Is Balayage?

Balayage also lightens hair, although it usually does not use foils. Instead, the lightener is swept onto sections of hair. This is evidenced by the word “balayage” which is French for “to sweep.” 

The stylist starts painting the dye at midshaft. The lightener becomes denser while moving towards the ends. Lighter pieces are blended through the length of hair towards the roots.

This freehand painting technique leads to having a softer color at the roots. It gets gradually lighter towards the roots. This makes the lighter color blend effortlessly into the base color.

The highlights are a few shades lighter than the base, giving natural depth and dimension. Balayage looks like the sun gave the hair natural highlights.

Pros and Cons of Balayage

One of the biggest pros of balayage is the natural and organic look it creates. The sweeping application and difference between the base and lighter shades give a more subtle look than highlights.

Because the lightener is less dense towards the root, grow out is much less obvious. Many people can go 2-6 months without touch-ups, making it an effortless style.

One of the cons of balayage is that the hair won’t get quite as blonde as it would with foils. In addition, because there is a transitioning of darker hair towards the root, some people feel it is too edgy of a look.

Other Hair Color Options

While balayage and highlights are very popular, there are also other options for lightening your hair. A balayage with a “tip out” or “foilage” can offer the best of both worlds. 

This combines hand painting throughout the hair, with a few solid strands. This creates the soft look of balayage, with some extra brightening at the ends.

Babylights are very small highlights that blend subtly into your base color. This gives you the multi-tonal look of highlights, with a soft, natural finish. They end up looking similar to the natural highlights small children have in their hair.

Choosing Highlights vs Balayage

There are pros and cons to both highlights and balayage. The option of which is right for your hair comes down to two questions: which look do you want? How much care are you willing to put in?

Highlights create a very traditional, structured look. The hair looks lighter all over. Balayage leads to a natural, sunlit look. Depending on the blending and placement of the hair color, it can look a little edgier.

Both techniques require extra care because of lightening the hair. However, balayage tends to lend itself to less frequent trips to the stylist. It is also a great option for virgin hair.

It’s also important to consider hair coloring levels once you decide between highlights and balayage. This will help you get the correct level of blonde while also keeping your underlying pigments in mind. 

Ready to Change It Up?

Choosing how to color your hair impacts your whole appearance, so work with a professional stylist to find the best look for you.

Did you find this article helpful in choosing between highlights vs balayage? If so, be sure to check out more in our hair and beauty category.

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