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Should You Get Balayage or Foil Highlights?

Amber Heard

Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty Images 

When it's time to get a few highlights in your hair, you have a choice between traditional foil highlights and balayage (also known as hair painting). There's a difference between the two techniques and each has its own advantages, depending on the look you're going for. But you're in luck, many stylists and colorists are skilled in both technique and can help you decide which will achieve your desired look. Still need help deciding between the two? We're breaking down the details on foil highlights versus balayage.

Foils vs. Balayage

It's very likely that your colorist will recommend highlight foils if you want a big color shift. Foils tend to work best when taking dark hair four or more shades lighter. The same is true if you want hair that has a lot of contrast with both highlights and lowlights or prefer an even distribution of color.

If you are looking to add non-uniform chunks or sweeps of color, balayage is a better option. The method offers your stylist more freedom to add color that fits and flatters your cut, face shape, and, of course, your personal style. So, if you have more of a carefree attitude, you can give your colorist the opportunity to stretch their artistic muscles with balayage.

Balayage is also great for face-framing highlights. Where foils often target the full shaft of hair, including the roots, balayage is frequently used to highlight from mid-length to ends, leaving a more natural root.

Consider Your Color Commitment

If you prefer to avoid the maintenance of getting your hair colored every six to eight weeks, balayage may be a better match for your lifestyle. Foil highlights have an obvious demarcation, so new growth is also more obvious. Balayage, on the other hand, is less obvious and allows you to go longer between salon visits—even just three to four times a year—and it grows out beautifully.

Consider the Look You're Going For

All in all, each highlighting method creates a different look. For a natural, sun-swept look, balayage highlights are the perfect option. If you prefer uniform highlighted strands from root to ends throughout your hair, foils are your best bet. That being said, you do have the option to get both at the same time.

The Best Candidates for Balayage

You may have heard of the term, "balayage blonde," but balayage isn't just for blondes. New York City stylist Eva Scrivo told Allure magazine said that she uses the technique on brunettes and redheads as well. It's also a good choice for anyone who is new to highlights, whether it's your first color or you're looking to ditch the single-color process.

Balayage is also a gentle, subtle way to cover grays because the stylist can paint just the gray strands rather than having to color your entire head. Likewise, if you're in a transition phase and want to grow out your roots without making it obvious, balayage can be a natural-looking and temporary solution.

Prevent your balayage from looking brassy by using a purple or blue shampoo once or twice a week.

Your Balayage Options

Because balayage gives the stylist freedom to paint color wherever they want to, your stylist has options. For instance, they may suggest giving you just as many highlights as they would with foils, or they may suggest a gentle sun-kissed look with just a few natural streaks here and there.

Some stylists even use a combination of balayage and foils. One technique known as "American tailoring" begins with foils after which balayage highlights are painted in between the new highlights to soften and blend the color. Another popular approach is "foilyage," and it's just the opposite: Starting with painted color and finishing up with foil accents.

Go with More Than One Color

You've probably noticed that natural hair colors aren't a single shade and that each strand is a different color. You can achieve similar diversity when getting either balayage or foils by asking your stylist to use more than one color for highlights that look even more natural.

You can also consider getting lowlights—a color that's about two shades darker than your highlights. When lowlights are woven into the hair, they add dimension and depth for some fabulous looking locks.

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