Balayage vs Highlights

Balayage vs Highlights: Which Hair Colouring Technique is Right for You?

When it comes to subtly lightening your locks, two of the most popular hair colouring techniques are balayage and highlights. But what exactly is the difference between these fashionable looks? And how do you know which is the right choice for you?

Balayage vs Highlights

In this article, we'll explore the key distinctions between balayage and highlights - from how they're applied to upkeep requirements. Read on to discover which technique matches your hair goals and lifestyle.

Insights from Professional Stylists

To get an inside perspective, we spoke with Loddy and Denise - master colourists at Gusto Hairdressing.

"With balayage, I'm really tailoring the look to each client," explains Loddy. "I hand-paint the highlights to create really soft, natural dimension."

Denise loves the versatility of foils for creating unique looks. "I can place highlights strategically to frame someone's face or create fun effects like ombre."

What is Balayage?

Balayage is a freehand hair painting technique where the colourist hand-paints highlights directly onto the surface of your hair. The result is a soft, sunkissed look with a graduated, natural-looking lightening effect.

Balayage vs Highlights

Unlike foils, balayage doesn't use any wraps or caps. The colour is painted on with a brush, feathering the lightener seamlessly from roots to ends. This creates a soft, diffused look as opposed to defined streaks of colour.

Balayage is a great option if you're looking for subtle sun-kissed strands that grow out gracefully. The lightening effect is woven throughout the hair, meaning you can go longer between touch ups.

What are Highlights?

Balayage vs Highlights

Highlights involve sectioning the hair and applying lightener wrapped in foil. This produces defined streaks of lighter colour that contrast against the base.Foil highlights create a bolder, brighter look than balayage. The strips of colour stand out more compared to balayage's diffused effect. Highlights are applied by first sectioning the hair into the desired thickness of strands. The colourist then wraps each section in foil before painting on lightener.

This technique requires more precision and creates a more deliberate result. It's ideal if you want clearly defined zones of lighter colour.

Key Differences Between Techniques

While both balayage and highlights lighten hair, there are some notable differences:

  • Application method: Balayage is handpainted directly on hair, while highlights are applied to foiled sections
  • Finishing effect: Balayage looks soft and blended, while highlights have defined strips of lighter colour
  • Regrowth: Balayage grows out more seamlessly, while highlights need frequent touch-ups
  • Maintenance: Balayage requires less frequent appointments, while highlights need re-doing every 4-6 weeks
  • Cost: Balayage is generally more expensive since it's more labor-intensive
  • Suitability: Balayage works well on most hair lengths and textures, while highlights are best for medium to long hair

In a nutshell:

  • Balayage = Soft, subtle, low-maintenance
  • Highlights = Defined strips of colour, requires more upkeep

How Long Does Each Technique Last?

Balayage vs Highlights

One of the biggest differences between balayage and highlights is longevity.

On average, balayage can last 4-5 months before requiring a touch up. The painted effect grows out beautifully, meaning you can go longer between appointments.

With highlights, regrowth becomes noticeable around the 6 week mark. The defined foiled strips tend to require re-doing every 8-10 weeks for a fresh look.

So if you're looking for a low maintenance colour, balayage is generally the longer-lasting option. But don't worry - your colourist can tailor either technique to suit your specific hair texture, style and lifestyle.

How Much Time Does Each Process Require?

Balayage vs Highlights

Applying balayage is a more labour-intensive process, while highlights are relatively quick. On average, balayage takes 1-2 hours to complete. The colourist hand-paints the highlights strand-by-strand, ensuring the lightener is evenly distributed.

Highlighting takes 30-60 minutes on average. The defined sections allow the colourist to work efficiently and methodically. However, if you're getting lots of very fine highlights placed, the process can take longer.

So balayage requires more time and artistry during application. But the payoff is longer lasting, low maintenance colour that keeps you out of the salon chair.

What About Roots?

One common concern clients have is how each technique handles regrowth. With balayage, the subtle painted effect helps regrowth blend in naturally. Your roots tend to look soft and diffused rather than harsh and stripey.

Highlights on the other hand, often result in obvious "hot roots" as your natural colour grows in. The contrast between the defined foiled sections and new growth can look jarring. Many people opt to get their highlights touched up every 4-6 weeks to prevent visible regrowth. Your stylist can create a shadow root (leaving the regrowth slightly darker) to help soften the look as colour grows out.

Which is Right for You?

Balayage is ideal for those wanting:

  • Subtle sun-kissed lightening
  • Minimal commitment
  • Gorgeous regrowth

Highlights are great for people who:

  • Prefer defined, statement streaks of colour
  • Don't mind frequent salon upkeep
  • Love experimenting with funky colour placement

Choosing the right technique ultimately comes down to personal preference, hair length/thickness, lifestyle and budget.

The best way to decide is to consult with a talented stylist. A pro can assess your hair in person, explain options, and create a look you'll fall in love with.

Take your time, assess your hair goals, and don't be afraid to switch it up! Correct placement and application is key to making either style look gorgeous.

So whether you opt for balayage, highlights, or a mix of both - embrace your natural beauty. Your hair will have that salon-fresh feeling turning heads wherever you go


To book, please call Gusto Hairdressing Salon in Soho on 020 7287 0015 Covent Garden Salon on 020 7836 9163, or Oxford Street Salon on 0207 486 5044. Book online for our Covent Garden Salon, or Oxford Street Salon.

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