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Balayage Highlights: Sun-Smooched Hair
Stylists add dimension and depth to strands with cuts, colors, and balayage highlights. Learn more about this hands-on coloring technique before you hand over your strands.
The sun doesn’t sit around painting thin, precise blonde stripes from tip to root across our heads. When it lightens hair, it does so a little more broadly and unpredictably, in ways that can sometimes be better mimicked by a paintbrush than by a cap or set of foil packets. Although the technique has been around in France since the 1970s, celebrities such as Gisele Bundchen, Drew Barrymore, and Jessica Biel were among the first famous modern heads to popularize the look of balayage highlights, which are designed to create depth and dimension by simulating the effects of the sun. Stylists take small sections of hair, place each one onto a backing board, then paint color or bleach onto the hair freehand with a brush. Then, cotton, paper, or plastic wraps are folded gently around the colored sections to separate them as they dry.
When painting, stylists start at the middle of the strand and sweep out toward the root or tip. (Balayage means “sweeping” in French, reflecting the small brooms used by Parisian stylists.) As a result, there is no severe line of color at the root and the grow-out is more natural looking, which translates into longer-lasting results. In fact, stylists usually recommend a touchup for balayage highlights every two to four months, as opposed to every six weeks for foil highlights.
Often used on flowing hairstyles with loose curls or beachy waves, balayage highlights can be low-maintenance and natural or more extreme—perhaps a hot-pink ombre fade. (Stylists say they tend to look most organic on hair longer than shoulder-length.) The technique can add dimension to all hair colors. It’s even ideal for unwanted gray: stylists can target gray strands more precisely, avoiding single-process color and its attendant stress on the scalp and on non-gray hairs.