All Beauty, All the Time—For Everyone.

Heads Up: You're Probably Asking for Balayage the Wrong Way

Alicia Awa Beissert


Jeremy Moeller/Getty Images

I remember the first time I heard the word "balayage:" It was years ago, in reference to Gisele Bündchen's otherworldly mane. Like everyone else, I was enamored by the supermodel's sun-kissed highlights and the way the golden gradient provided dimension to her cascading bombshell hair. From then on, I associated the term balayage with dream hair—in other words, perfectly blended highlights that look like they were achieved by growing up on the beach in Brazil.

Years later, that visual association with balayage has stuck. Whenever I scroll through Instagram or Pinterest, I'm easily enamored by anything I identify as balayage that could work on my own hair. So when I made an appointment to get my hair colored at L.A.'s Society Salon, "balayage" is exactly what I asked for. But it wasn't long after having a seat that I quickly learned it wasn't really balayage that I wanted.

While flipping through photos of the hair look I sought to attain, the colorist, Amél, tried her best to gently correct my confusion. "The most important thing that people need to know about balayage is that it's a technique and not necessarily a look," she says. Instead of balayage, what Amél ended up using was a combination of teasing and foiling to create soft and diffused highlights. I left the salon with my literal dream hair—the epitome of my understanding of balayage perfection—and it wasn't even balayage.

Choosing a Shade: Amel advises that the best way to communicate with your colorist is with images of your desired result, then let your colorist use the mediums they gravitate to. "For example," she notes, "I prefer to paint, or balayage, directly onto hair that has already been pre-lightened to a lighter level or is naturally at a lighter level."

Maintenance Level: Low-to-medium. If the base color is similar to your natural shade, you won't have to sweat your roots growing in too much.

Goes Great With: Just about any hair texture, skin undertone, or eye color.

Similar Shades: Ombré, babylights, tiger's eye hair, palm painting

Price: Cost will vary based on your location but can range anywhere from $100 to $300+

Society's co-founder Sam DiVine, who trained alongside Sally Hershberger before revolutionizing the salon experience with the membership model, later sat down with me to walk through the balayage myth and why so many get it wrong. "Balayage in and of itself is just a technique that means painting the hair with color—like using a paintbrush and free-hand painting the hair," defines DiVine. "So rather than strategically going through and sectioning out hair with a tail comb and then foiling it very specifically, it's a little more visual—but that doesn't necessarily mean you're going to yield a specific end result."

But because the technique has been used to yield really soft transitions and beautiful dimension (à la Bündchen), it's often been incorrectly perceived as the only way to get that result. "We have a lot of clients coming in who are super adverse to having any other technique done on them, when really there's a better way for them to get their desired result," admits DiVine.

"You could probably show four or five different photos that are all really similar and ask most women, 'Hey, how do you think this is done?' and they'd be like, 'Oh, that's definitely balayage.'" says DiVine. "But then you'd find out that it was either pure foils, or a combination of foils and balayaging, or maybe just all balayage." She explains that determining the best method really just depends person to person because it goes back to what's on your hair already, what's your natural level, what they have to do to lift the color, and also the end result you're looking for. "Balayage is not the end result," DiVine concludes. "Balayage is the technique you use to get to a specific end result."

Keep scrolling to see some of our favorite color jobs using the balayage technique.

01 of 36

Barely-There Blonde

You wouldn't call this hair color blonde, and therein lies the point. The lighter tones are so subtle because of the expert melding technique, resulting in a multi-dimensional look.

02 of 36

Platinum Gradient

This look gently slopes from brown into platinum, and frames the face with highlights. Despite the color transition, this technique ensures that the overall look feels cohesive.

03 of 36

Chocolate-Cinnamon Swirl

Rich caramel and honey hues blend perfectly together while springy curls add another dimension to this voluminous look.

Color-treated curly hair needs a lot of moisture. Use a hair mask with hydrating ingredients, like Carol's Daughter Monoi Repairing Hair Mask ($32) about once a week to keep strands healthy.

04 of 36

Peek-A-Boo Silver

As you can see from the ashy, silver hues throughout a raven-black base, this color has never been more delightfully bold and modern.

05 of 36

Face-Framing Bronde

These long locks have been painted with a silky, tawny hue, framing the face perfectly and adding a nice contrast with her dark eyebrows.

06 of 36

Pumpkin Spiced

No matter the season, these warm, toasted red tones will remind you of fall foliage and your favorite spiced drinks.

07 of 36

Hickory Lowlights

Notice how the soft hickory hue lightly frames the face and gets bolder towards the ends of her hair.

08 of 36

Toasted Coconut Blonde

This color blend reminds us of a cloudy day at the beach, when you wear a cozy sweater and bring a good book.

09 of 36

Rose Gold

The rose gold balayage trend is still as popular as ever, and it's not hard to see why. These wavy tresses have that shimmery metallic effect that we just love.

10 of 36

Chocolate and Vanilla

We can't take credit for this deliciously accurate name—the color and moniker are courtesy of colorist Ryan Weeden, founder of Masters of Balayage and Wella Hair Global Ambassador. One might think the creamy white-gray hue would clash, but like the flavors themselves, they work together perfectly.

11 of 36

Copper Curl

These shoulder-length, corkscrew curls transition from brunette to this dreamy rust hue, perfectly complementing her hazel eyes.

12 of 36

Beachy Bronde

These toasted blonde highlights give the allusion that she's just left the beach.

13 of 36

Straight Candied Ribbons

This long, multi-colored mane showcases the "painting" balayage technique perfectly. The mix of brown and blonde livens up this long, straight mane.

14 of 36

Sangria Red

We love the melding of these raven, burgundy, and plum hues. The highlights at the ends of her hair prevent the overall look from feeling weighed down.

Keep your color vibrant with a refreshing product such as Overtone. The brand offers excellent toning conditioners tailored to different shades.

15 of 36

Golden Bronde Ringlets

The honey and golden hues frame her natural cool-brown tones beautifully, blending together and creating a soft glowing effect.

16 of 36

Champagne Balayage

A gorgeous strawberry champagne hue gets a boost from subtle pale highlights worked into the strands.

17 of 36


Check out the transformation from lifeless dark blonde to vibrant platinum.

18 of 36

Cool-Toned Brown

Though balayage often conjures up images of beach-y highlights, it can also be the key to brunette dimension.

19 of 36

Cookies 'n Cream

We this high-contrast blonde and dark brown that calls to mind the beloved ice cream.

20 of 36

Honey Waves

Thick honey-colored waves undulate from dark roots.

21 of 36


This chestnut brown balayage is so rich it's gleaming.

22 of 36

Chili Pepper

An eye-popping auburn balayage.

23 of 36

Caramel Balayage

This style, described by the colorist as "rooty caramel," is relatively low-maintenance.

24 of 36

Blonde Spirals

We love these vanilla ringlets!

25 of 36

Pale Petal

A blonde so pale and shiny it's almost pink.

26 of 36

Reddish Brown

Auburn highlights add interest and depth to medium-brown.

27 of 36

Rose Gold Redux

Another beautiful take on rose gold balayage.

28 of 36

Tiger's Eye

Balayge can be a great way to achieve the tiger's eye hair trend without your highlights getting streaky.

29 of 36

Blue Silver

We get chills just staring at this ice-blue balayage through the screen.

30 of 36


A gorgeous, dimensional wine red.

31 of 36


Intense dark grey fades out to almost silver.

32 of 36

Pink Sherbet

A mouth-watering lilac balayage.

33 of 36

Peaches and Cream

This pale orange-y shade gets a boost from creamy blonde highlights.

34 of 36

Fox Stripes

This brown and red balayage mimics the stripes on a fox's tail.

35 of 36

Hazelnut Balayage

Check out the beautiful tones of brunette.

36 of 36

Gold-Tinged Ends

Golden highlights give these curls a filigreed touch.

Related Stories