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  • Writer's pictureEmmi

The Basics of Balayage

If you have taken enough of a deep dive into the world of hair that you find yourself reading ambiguous hair articles like my own, you probably are familiar with the term balayage. In 2021 the technique is inescapable, and all bias aside has changed our world for the better (OK, maybe that is bias)

However, what exactly IS balayage? How many of us find ourselves asking for this technique based on some eye-catching Instagram photos, versus having an actual preference for the coloring technique? Read on to break down all things balayage, to separate the fact from fiction, and the boys from the men (just kidding, men are trash)

For our first lesson, let us confront the hardest part of balayage: pronunciation


Common mispronunciations: bay-lee-ahj, bi-lahj, and finally (trigger warning) OMBRE

Do you remember when Ariana Grande dropped the bombshell that her last name was actually pronounced “Grand-ee” and suddenly the floor fell out from beneath us and nothing made sense? Did I just do that for anyone? Am I essentially Ariana Grande? Let’s move on.

Balayage comes from the french verb balayer, and literally translates to “sweeping.” This refers to the actual motion of sweeping the brush onto the hair when hand-painting --the fundamental meaning of the technique. This sweeping motion can be done in wide sections with an actual paintbrush, like the ones you would see at the hardware store, or in precise fine lines to mimic the effect of traditional highlighting. The use of either technique (within the technique) varies depending on your desired result.

Now that we know what actually falls under the classification of traditional balayage...let’s discuss the things that are not balayage.

If you were wondering why the term ombre was given its own trigger warning, read on. Also French (because we are clearly European culture vultures) the word ombre means shadow. Do you remember in the early 2010s when everyone had a dark root and blonde ends? I am talking about no dimension other than that line where the hair transitions from dark to light. No high or low points, just a blob of blonde hanging out halfway down your length. A few years later we all tried to make “sombre” happen, which meant the line of demarcation was softened. All this really did was dull the pain of having to give someone an ombre. I’m sorry if you have an ombre. Don’t @ me, I am on your side. NEXT!

Foilyage is another technique commonly referred to as balayage. Foilyage refers to the technique used to achieve the look of balayage using foils, rather than hand painting. This method can be chosen for a number of reasons, namely achieving greater lift for a brighter result. From this technique comes other hot button terms you may have seen floating around the internet or spoken in whispers at your salon such as melting, smudging, micro-smudging, et cetera--are you getting all of this?

Now that you know the difference between the most common modern blonding techniques in technical terms, I can explain balayage more simply. Balayage has really become a colloquial term that refers to a rooty, dimensional color. Your natural root is maintained, most often with the highest point of brightness focusing around the face to mimic the effect of natural lightening from the sun. If you ask for balayage but you mean you want foils, or if you ask for foils but mean you want balayage, that is OK! If you want to refer to any or all forms of the “lived in hair” look as balayage (because you’re not a professional hair stylist and why the F would you know any different?) that is PERFECTLY FINE. Just bring some photos of your desired result and we got you!

Or maybe this article educated you enough to really flex during your consultation next time you sit in the salon chair…



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