Explore the world of hair color with balayage vs highlights. Our guide offers a detailed comparison to help you understand the unique characteristics and effects of each technique.

As someone who has worked in the hair industry for years, one of the most common debates I’ve encountered is choosing balayage or highlights.

Both techniques have gained immense popularity over the last few years and have become go-to options for many women who want to add dimension to their hair.

But what exactly is the difference between balayage and highlights?

Difference Between Balayage and Highlights

Balayage is a French word that means “sweeping.” It’s a technique where color is painted onto sections of the hair freehand, without any foils or wraps. The result is a sun-kissed, natural-looking effect that blends seamlessly with your natural hair color.

On the other hand, highlights involve coloring small sections of hair using foil or plastic wrap. This technique results in more defined streaks or chunks of color throughout the hair and can create different tones and levels of contrast.

Brief History of Balayage and Highlights

Balayage originated in France during the 1970s. It was created by hairstylists looking to highlight their clients’ hair without using foils or caps.

The technique quickly spread throughout Europe before passing across the pond to America. Highlights, on the other hand, have been around since at least 4 BC when people used henna dye on their hair as part of religious rituals.

The modern-day version of highlights became popular in salons during the 1980s when chunky streaks were all the rage. Today, both techniques are widely used by hairstylists worldwide and have evolved into more subtle versions that suit modern trends.

While both balayage and highlights involve adding color to your hair, they differ in technique and the result they achieve. With this in mind, let’s dive deeper into each technique to help you decide which is right for you.

Balayage – The Art of Subtlety

If there’s one hair trend that has taken the world by storm, it’s balayage. This French word “sweeping” describes a freehand coloring technique that creates natural-looking highlights, mimicking how the hair would lighten in the sun. Balayage is perfect for those who want a low-maintenance look that grows out beautifully and is effortlessly chic.

What is Balayage?

Balayage is a technique where colorists paint or “sweep” color onto sections of hair to create subtle, sun-kissed highlights. Unlike traditional highlighting techniques, which use foils to create defined stripes of color, balayage uses a more artistic approach to blend colors seamlessly into the hair.


Balayage is a hand-painted technique that creates a natural, sun-kissed effect with softer transitions.

How It’s Applied

The stylist starts by sectioning off the hair and applying bleach or lightener to desired sections with their hands or brush. This allows them to be more precise with where they apply color and gives them more control over how subtle or bold they want the highlights to be. Once applied, the bleach is left on until desired lightness is achieved before being rinsed out and styled as usual.

Benefits of Balayage

One of the biggest benefits of balayage is its low maintenance. Since the highlights are blended so naturally into your hair, you won’t have harsh regrowth lines like you would with traditional foil highlighting techniques.

Plus, because it’s such a subtle look, you can wait longer between touch-ups without worrying about unsightly roots showing through. Another great thing about balayage is its versatility.

It can work on any hair type or length and suits warm and cool skin tones. Because it creates such natural-looking highlights, it’s also ideal for those who want a touch of color without committing to a full head of highlights.

Balayage is known for its low-maintenance and effortless grow-out, while highlights may require more frequent touch-ups.

Maintenance Tips for Balayage

To keep your balayage fresh, use a sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner to prevent fading. You can also use a toning shampoo to neutralize any brassy tones that may develop over time.

Avoid heat-styling tools as much as possible, and opt for low-heat or no-heat alternatives like air-drying or foam rollers. Schedule regular appointments with your stylist for touch-ups and trims every 6-8 weeks.

What are the highlights?

Highlights are a popular hair coloring technique that involves lightening small sections of hair to create dimension and contrast. Typically, highlights are applied using foils or a plastic cap with holes, which allows the colorist to choose which strands of hair will be lightened selectively. Highlights range from subtle, natural-looking shades to bolder, more dramatic colors.


Highlights involve coloring select strands of hair to create contrast and dimension throughout the hair.

How it’s applied

To apply highlights, a colorist will first section off parts of the hair they want to lighten. Then they can use foils or a cap with holes to isolate each strand and apply the lightning solution.

The solution is left on the hair for a certain amount of time, depending on how light the desired shade is and how dark the natural hair color is. After the designated amount of time has passed, the solution is washed out and sometimes followed by an additional toning process that helps neutralize any brassy tones that come with lighter shades.

Benefits of highlights

One significant benefit of getting highlights is that they add dimension and depth to your hair. They can make your hair look thicker by creating an illusion of movement, texture, and volume. Another great thing about highlights is that they’re versatile; you can choose from shades ranging from blonde to brown or even red tones.

Another advantage of getting highlights is they grow out more subtly than other coloring techniques like balayage or ombre. As such, maintenance costs may be lower since touch-ups won’t be as frequent as other techniques require.

Balayage is versatile and suits various hair types, providing a soft and blended transition. Highlights offer more precision and intensity options.

Maintenance tips for highlights

Keeping your highlighted locks looking healthy and vibrant after you’ve left the salon chair requires some maintenance at home too!

Here are some tips:

Use sulfate-free shampoo: Sulfates dry out your hair which can lead to color fading and damage. Switching to a sulfate-free shampoo will help keep your highlights looking great for longer periods.

Wait to wash your hair too often: Over-washing strips your hair of natural oils, which can cause the color to fade. If you can go a day or two without washing, that would be ideal.

Use a good-quality conditioner: After shampooing, apply a hydrating conditioner from mid-lengths to the ends of your hair. – Avoid heat styling tools if possible: Heat styling tools like flat irons, curling wands, and blow dryers can make the color fade faster as they create friction with the hair shaft.

Try air-drying or using heat protectants on your locks [Protect against UV rays]: Sun exposure can cause further fading and damage to colored hair, so use products containing SPF or wear hats when outside for prolonged periods

Highlights are an excellent way to switch up your look without committing to an all-over-dye job. Whether subtle or dramatic shades are chosen, highlights add depth and dimension that enhance any natural features!


Cost Comparison

When it comes to cost, highlights are generally less expensive than balayage. This is because highlights require less work and time compared to balayage. The cost of highlights varies depending on the salon and the type of highlights you want, but the average can range from $50 to $150.

Balayage, however, can cost anywhere from $100 to $500, depending on the salon and stylist’s experience level. However, it’s important to remember that balayage requires less maintenance than highlights.

It would help if you had fewer touch-ups with balayage because it grows out more naturally and gradually than regular highlights. So while the initial cost may be higher for balayage, you’ll save money in the long run because you won’t have to return to the salon as often.

Time Commitment Comparison

Regarding time commitment, balayage requires more time at the salon than traditional highlights. Balayage is a gradual process that involves hand-painting each strand of hair, taking between 2 depending on how much hair needs highlighting and how detailed your desired look is.

Highlights typically take less time as they involve using foils or caps that are applied strategically throughout your hair which could take 1-2 hours, depending on how thick your hair is. It’s important to consider your busy schedule when deciding between these two techniques, as balayage requires a longer appointment and may not be suitable if you have limited free time or cannot sit still for an extended period.

Color Result Comparison

The most significant difference between these two techniques is their outcome. Highlights create more defined streaks or chunks of lighter color in specific areas, like around your face or on the crown of your head. Balayage results are more subtle, creating a sun-kissed, less noticeable natural look than highlights.

Balayage is perfect for those who want to maintain a natural-looking hair color and achieve the trendy ombre or somber effect. On the other hand, highlights are ideal for people who wish to add more contrast and dimension to their hair with an edgier and bolder look.

The final result of both techniques also depends on your original hair color and texture. Balayage is best for those with dark hair because it blends in well, while highlights work better with light-colored hair where the definition is easily visible.

Which One Is Right For You?

Choosing between balayage and highlights depends on your style preferences, lifestyle commitments, budget, and hair color. If you prefer a natural-looking hairstyle that requires minimal maintenance and don’t mind spending extra time at the salon initially but less time later down the road – then balayage may be right for you.

On the other hand – if you want to add more depth and dimension and see noticeable change right away – go ahead with highlights! Whatever technique you choose, though – remember that both require proper aftercare treatments like sulfate-free shampoos & conditioners and regular trims – so make sure you commit to maintaining your investment!

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, the choice between balayage vs. highlights comes down to what works best for your preferences and lifestyle. Before deciding, please consult with your stylist about their recommendations based on your specific needs.

No matter which technique you choose, remember to take care of your hair with regular maintenance and touch-ups to keep it healthy and looking its best.

You can achieve your desired look and feel confident in your hair with the right technique and care.

So go ahead, book that salon appointment, and try something new! Whether you opt for balayage or highlights, a fresh new look can give you the confidence boost you need.


Is balayage better than highlights?

Balayage and highlights each have their unique qualities, making it difficult to declare one as universally better than the other. Balayage offers a more natural, sun-kissed look with less maintenance, while highlights can provide a bolder, defined appearance. The choice depends on your personal preferences, desired style, and hair type.

Does a balayage last longer than highlights?

Balayage generally lasts longer than traditional highlights due to its blended application, resulting in less noticeable regrowth. However, individual hair growth and maintenance play a role. Achieve a longer-lasting, low-maintenance look with balayage.

Are highlights cheaper than balayage?

Pricing can vary, highlights generally tend to be more budget-friendly compared to balayage. However, it’s important to consider the expertise and time involved in achieving the desired look.

Does balayage require bleaching?

Yes, balayage often involves lightening the hair through a technique called “freehand painting.” While bleaching is commonly used to achieve the desired result, its necessity depends on your starting hair color and desired level of lightening.

Can you turn highlights into balayage?

Absolutely! Highlights can be transformed into beautiful balayage. Through a skilled technique called “hair painting,” your colorist can blend the existing highlights into a seamless, natural look.
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