Balayage vs. Ombré: How to Tell the Difference

Hair trends may come and go, but we love keeping up with the buzz. So far this year, the most popular were all pink-toned colors, like Millennial Pink, rose gold, and peach. While we love those hair colors, we always find ourselves going back to balayage and ombré. As do most other people. (Case in point: Celebs like Lily Aldridge, Jessica Biel, Ciara, Jessica Alba, and J.Lo all have sported, or currently are sporting, balayage and ombré hair.)

We like these types of hair colors so much because they provide subtle, undulating highlights throughout the hair. In other words, if you haven’t requested balayage or ombré hair at the hands of your colorist, do so immediately.

But before you go to the salon and request one or the other, know that they're not synonymous. In fact, the actual dye technique differs a lot, which means the results differ too. Keep reading to learn the difference between balayage and ombré hair dye techniques.


According to stylist Janna Velasquez of BOMANE Salon in Beverly Hills, "Balayage is a freehand painting technique, usually focusing on the top layer of hair, resulting in a more natural and dimensional approach to highlighting." When she says dimensional, she means it. Soft, highlighted hair intermingles with darker strands to create a dynamic look that's full of movement and body. In fact, some thin-haired girls swear by balayage highlights for increasing the appearance of thickness in their hair (and by some thin-haired girls, I mean mostly me).

"By painting the top layer you leave depth from the underneath for a more subtle sun kissed look with a softer grow out and less overall maintenance," Velasquez says. That's yet another reason we'll never grow tired of balayage—the upkeep is simple. As the hair grows, the highlights stay atop the first layer of your hair, growing out evenly and softly, without any harsh color separation. 


Ombré, on the other hand, requires a little more upkeep, says Velasquez. "Ombré technique is a bit bolder. I tend to approach ombrés in foils using a teasing technique to ensure a really nice melt from dark to light, embracing more of a dramatic feel from roots to ends."

While the roots stay dark, the hair will slowly lighten down the length of strand until it hits the lightest, most highlighted point at the ends. The effect should be a smooth, gradient transition without a visible line that separates dark from light. If done correctly, this dye technique mimics your hair's natural color change in the summer months. The new hair growth will stay your natural color while the ends, which are exposed to more sun that the roots, turn a shade lighter. 

Whichever dye technique you prefer, Velasquez has a few haircare recommendations to ensure your color-processed strands stay healthy. "I love the Davines Alchemic Tonal Shampoos ($26) and Conditioners ($30) to send home with clients in between color services to ensure long-lasting results," she says. These shampoos and conditioners tone colored hair to keep it vibrant and protected from fading. Just be sure to ask a stylist which one you should use since they differ by hair color (for cool blonde hair, try the silver shampoo and conditioner, whereas brown and black hair should stick to the chocolate shampoo and conditioner). She also likes Davines nourishing Oi Hair Milk ($32) and Oil ($23) for at-home care. 

Davines Oi All in One Milk $32

Next up, read about the most flattering haircuts, according to the pros!

Opening Image: Getty

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