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Blending Gray Hair With Highlights: How to Transition From Foils to Balayage

grey coverage foilyage

Let’s face it. No one really likes those inevitable signs of aging, like wrinkles and gray hair.

In the fight against gray hair, stylists and clients have long relied on permanent color to cover up. But, thanks to changing tastes and a rise in body positivity, many women are now embracing the change and looking for ways to go gray gracefully. Instead of trying to cover them, people are now looking to simply disguise their greys by blending them with highlights.

When approaching a gray blending service, you’ve got a few different techniques at your disposal. You’re probably already familiar with the difference between foil highlights, balayage, and foilyage, but let’s break it down:

Foil highlights usually involve sectioning off the hair, applying lightener, and wrapping the section in foil to process. Since foil conducts heat well, the product is able to penetrate the hair more deeply allowing for more lift; however, it also has the tendency to create harsh lines, especially if it is not paired with a color melt or root smudge.

Balayage, on the other hand, takes a freehanded painting approach to applying the lightener which is then processed in the open air or while covered with a plastic film. The result is a much more natural and low maintenance look.

Foilyage is somewhat of a happy medium between the two—it allows for that extra lift while also limiting any harsh lines of demarcation. 

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When working with a client whose goal is to blend away the gray, your gut instinct may be to go straight for the foils. But what if we told you there might be a better way to give your client the results she’s after? Let’s take a look at gray blending using foiling and balayage techniques, their strengths and weaknesses, and how to transition from one to the other.

Blending Gray Hair with Foil Highlights

In terms of gray coverage, foil highlights are typically used when a client is trying to avoid the use of permanent color. Instead of dying the grays to match the overall base color, using highlights to lighten the surrounding hair allows the grays to blend into the base color, providing a much more natural look. 

The placement of foil highlights is key to this process. Stylists can either use an all over foiling method or customized placements in order to blend the gray hair into the newly lightened hair. Since most people tend to start graying around the hairline first, the highlights are often concentrated in this area. 

To finish off the appointment, stylists usually apply a root smudge to create a natural, gradient transition and eliminate any harsh lines that are common when using foils.


Using foil highlights can be an effective way to disguise your client’s grays, but not without its limitations. 

The most important thing to understand about this process is that it will not cover grays completely, which means that this service isn’t for everyone. If your client is expecting full gray coverage, she can be easily disappointed with the results.

These services also tend to be a bit more high maintenance, meaning that your client will need more frequent touch ups to keep the look fresh. 

As always, make sure you have a thoughtful hair consultation with your client before she sits in your chair. Be clear about what you can and can’t achieve and set the expectations for the appointment accordingly.

Blending Gray Hair with Balayage

Grey coverage with balayage

While foil highlights may make sense for some clients, there are also several reasons you should consider balayage on gray coverage clients to reach their specific hair goals. 

To get started with blending gray hair using a balayage technique, stylists should start by hand painting lightener onto sections of the client’s hair, making sure to paint right up to the root in order to create a blended result. 

The size of the sections will vary depending on how much coverage the client needs. Typically, the more gray they have, the smaller the sections should be. However, if they are looking for lighter coverage, larger, more customized sections are appropriate. 

Depending on how much lift is needed, you may also consider using a foilyage technique to create blended gray coverage

Finally, finish the service with a root smudge or color melt to ensure you create a natural, blended finish that will last for your client.   


When it comes to gray coverage, balayage and foilyage have several benefits over traditional highlights. 

Favoring a balayage technique for gray blending services allows you to cover a larger surface area and avoid leaving out as much hair. Doing so leaves the client with a natural and youthful look.

This technique also affords stylists more control when it comes to customizing the treatment to meet the clients needs. If a client needs more coverage in a certain area, balayage allows you to spot-treat specific areas that may need more attention than others. 

And, of course, the freehanded nature of balayage paired with a root smudge or color melt creates a natural-looking transition at the root, allowing for more time in between touch ups and lowering the cost of maintenance for your client. 

Making the Transition

As a stylist, it’s your job to communicate with your client so you can work together to find a solution that will make her hair goals a reality. If you find that it’s time to make the switch from foil highlights to balayage for gray blending, there are a few helpful hints you should keep in mind. 

First and foremost: Communicate! Be sure to have a thorough hair consultation with your client so you can better understand their goals and set expectations about what you can and can’t achieve. Here, you can also discuss what the investment will look like and determine if you will need multiple sessions to reach the desired effect. 

During your consultation, you should also investigate your client’s hair history to help you avoid mistakes throughout the process. For example, one of the most common mistakes you can encounter during the gray blending process is the dreaded warm band. If you see signs of previous color during your consultation, you can be proactive about tailoring your technique to avoid a brassy, blorange result.

As with any service, it's critical that you take the time to communicate with your client so that you can work together to bring her hair goals to life. 

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

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