Society community - sign up now for your free 7-day trial!

What is Balayage? A Complete Guide for Beginners

what is balayage
Balayage is the hottest trend on the hair market today—and for good reason! Clients love the natural looking, sun-kissed effect it produces and stylists love the artistry behind the technique.

If you’re new to balayage, learning how to execute the look can be intimidating since there’s so much to consider. Luckily, there are plenty of tips and tricks to pick up along the way that will help make the process easier to learn.

Below is your in-depth guide to balayage as a beginner.

New call-to-action

What is balayage?

Balayage is a hair lightening method that leverages a free hand painting technique and allows for a seamless and gradient highlighting result. It can be highly customizable depending on the various placement, sectioning, and application techniques that can be used.

Balayage vs. Foil Highlights

As a highlighting technique, balayage is often compared to traditional foil highlights. These are two distinct approaches to lightning, however, and it’s important to know the difference.

Foil highlights involve applying lightener to a section of hair and then letting it process while wrapped in foil. This technique often results in a more dramatic lift, making it ideal for clients looking for transformative service. These highlights can sometimes leave noticeable lines of demarcation.

Balayage, on the other hand, is typically processed in the open air or while covered in plastic film. This, in combination with a painting technique, allows for a more subtle and blended result.

“Foilyage” is a hybrid technique that leverages traditional foils in conjunction with a free-handed painting technique.

How is the balayage technique performed?

The process of performing a balayage service typically involves the following steps:

  1. Conduct a hair consultation and evaluate the client’s current hair as well as their desired outcome. Set realistic goals and expectations with your client to ensure you’re both on the same page about what can be accomplished.
  2. Section the hair according to the desired level of depth and dimension. There are many different sectioning techniques you can leverage depending on the situation.
  3. Mix your lightening product and apply it in sections using soft, free-handed motions. There are many different ways to approach balayage application, so it’s important to choose a technique that works best for you and your client.
  4. Let the hair process, either in the open air for a more subtle result or wrapped in plastic film for increased lift.
  5. Once the hair has finished processing, rinse the hair and perform any additional services such as glossing, toning, root smudging, and styling.

Balayage Tools & Lightener

There are many different tools and products that can be used for balayage depending on your personal preferences as an artist and your client’s desired result. When choosing balayage brushes, keep the final look in mind. Usually the more diffused the brush, the more diffused, soft result you will get. For lightener, it’s advised that you use a clay-based lightener for balayage because it's not supposed to swell and it has a smooth glide-ability factor to it.

Balayage Sectioning & Application

Sectioning also depends on the final result your client is looking for. The thicker the section, the more built in lowlight and depth you will have, which translate into a more dimensional finish. The thinner the section, the less lowlight will be preserved and the brighter the result. You’ll also need to consider how different sectioning patterns are best suited for different final looks.

Additionally, your body position as well as your arm and hand strokes are a huge factor in the application and your overall efficiency throughout the appointment.

Who is the ideal balayage client?

The ideal candidate for a balayage service is someone looking for sunkissed and natural results. More specifically, this technique can be used on clients who want to achieve anywhere between 3 and 6 levels of lift. Balayage is typically considered a gentle approach to lightening the hair, therefore anyone looking to get more than 7 levels of lift would not be a suitable match for this technique.

Due to the soft, blended-out nature of this approach, it is ideal for clients who want a low maintenance color. Compared to traditional foil highlights, balayage clients can usually expect to return to the salon less frequently for touch-ups.

Balayage and foilyage can also be used to blend grey hair. In these cases, the ideal client should be less than 50% grey and want a low-maintenance root touch-up schedule. They should also understand that these techniques are used to blend away greys, but not completely cover them.

When using balayage specifically to blend away greys, there are a few common mistakes that you’ll need to take special care to avoid. For example, always search for signs of previous color to avoid lifting over permanent dye and creating unnecessary warmth.

Mastering Balayage

As you begin to develop your balayage skills the most important thing you need to remember is to let it be FUN! Learning something new does not have to be challenging or nerve wracking. You get to choose your experience.

Throughout your journey to mastering balayage, be sure to pace yourself and stay confident in your abilities. Don’t be afraid to get involved with education by enrolling in online or in-person classes or workshops, and look for ways to learn from others in your salon. Most importantly, stock up on mannequins and practice your skills!

Want more great balayage tips and advice? Download our Balayage Root Color Tips PDF, or consider signing up for one of our balayage classes or workshops!

New call-to-action

Binge Listen

Hair Goals Podcast

say hello!

Top Articles

The Future of the Salon Industry: 6 Trends to Watch
5 Tips for Improving Client-Salon Communication

Hair goals podcast

More free resources!

The community: Free 7-day trial