3 Tips for Balayage on Gray Hair

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Balayage is an artform and skill that can take years of practice to fully master. Just when you think you’ve seen and done it all, you’ll encounter a new problem that forces you to reevaluate what you know and find new and creative ways of addressing challenges. That’s what makes being a stylist so rewarding, so exciting, and so fun!

One challenge that can throw a lot of stylists for a loop is performing a balayage treatment on gray hair, especially if you’ve never paired gray coverage with balayage in the past. 

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The good news is that it’s totally possible to balayage gray hair and make it look amazing. You just need to understand that gray hair (or formerly colored hair) reacts differently to being lightened. Once you understand that difference, you can adjust your process to account for this fact and deliver exactly what your guests are looking for.

Below we talk about some of the major problems that stylists run into when they perform balayage on a gray coverage client, and offer tips that can help you avoid these problems.

The Warm Band: Your Main Enemy

When it comes to performing balayage on a client who is also seeking gray coverage, the single most common problem you’re likely to encounter is a warm band. This typically forms in one of two scenarios: 

  • When a stylist unknowingly paints over hair that has previously been colored using permanent dye
  • When a stylist performs a root coverage application and then paints on top of this

In either case, the end result will be a warm, brassy band in the transition area of the client’s hair, which probably isn’t the look she was going for. 

Other problems typically involve not understanding the unique challenges associated with gray coverage, or from not communicating effectively with your client before beginning the treatment.

Luckily, there are steps that you can take to minimize the risk of these issues from happening.

How to Balayage on Gray Hair: 3 Key Tips

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1. Understand your client’s goals.

If a client comes in and tells you they want gray coverage, it’s easy for you to assume that they mean one thing while they actually mean something completely different. And if you don’t understand that difference, then you’re increasing the risk that they won’t be happy with the final results. Your client’s goals should always guide the specific steps that you take in your treatment.

For example, if your guest wants fuller coverage, then they’ll need to be painted in smaller section sizes, typically with the product brought right up to the root. This kind of service is often followed up by a root smudge in order to help blend this process for a natural, gradient finish.

On the other hand, if your guest wants a lighter concealing of gray, she’ll need to be painted in larger sections, or even customized sections. The goal in this case is to blend the grays that they have so that as their hair grows out, it’s less noticeable. In this case, a root smudge isn’t always necessary.

Conducting a hair consultation is your chance to understand your client’s goals. It also gives you the opportunity to ask questions about her hair history and inspect the hair for signs of previous coloring, which (as noted above) could derail your service.

Simply put, you need to have a full and thorough hair consultation before your guest ever sits in your chair. Only by understanding your client’s goals, and the starting canvas that you’ll be working with, will you be able to create a plan that you’ll feel confident avoids the pitfalls you might otherwise encounter.

2. Know when you need to have multiple sessions.

Transformational hair services will almost always take multiple sessions to complete. The same holds true for gray coverage clients—and that’s fine! Typically the only time you get into trouble is when a client comes in expecting that she’s going to leave you after one session looking like her final goal and then you have to break the news to her. 

Two common scenarios when your client may need multiple sessions to achieve her goal are:

Still, in either of these cases, it’s important to note that your guest is still leaving with some coverage, even in that first session. The condition of any clients hair will always come into play first and foremost, before any lightening services are done.

3. Communicate with your client!

If there’s an underlying theme here, it’s this: You need to communicate with your client.

Before the process begins, you need to conduct a hair consultation to understand the current condition of the hair and the end goals of your client. You then need to use that information to create a gameplan, which you must communicate back to your guest. Be completely open and honest with them about what you’re going to be able to achieve, and in what time frame, and what kind of investment it will require on the part of your guest.

If you break down the process for them from start to finish, they’ll feel completely informed about every step of the way—removing many of the risks associated with this kind of treatment.

Want to learn more about the different gray coverage techniques you can leverage for your clients? Consider signing up for one of our online tutorials, such as Gray Blending with Balayage, Gray Blending with Foilyage, or Gray Coverage & Balayage

Download Our Top 5 Root Smudging Formulas!

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