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All things London & Natural Hairdressing

Balayage vs Highlights: What's The Difference?

Updated: Feb 9

There are two options to bring depth and softness to your hair: balayage or highlights. But how to choose, and how to differentiate them?


Differences between highlights and balayage


We’re glad you asked… It totally depends on what kind of result you want, how your hair currently looks like, an, perhaps more importantly, how much maintenance you are willing to put in. The main difference between balayage and highlights is the greater contrast between them. Highlights are primarily intended to give light to your hair and are therefore more visible and pronounced than a balayage, which remains subtle and natural.


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Highlights brigthen up your hair and add dimension to it


Highlights are sections or strands of hair that are dyed a few shades lighter than your base colour. The main purpose of adding highlights to your hair is to brighten up the overall colour of your hair and add softness and dimension to it. Traditionnally, pieces of aluminium foil are used to separate the sections of hair that are being highlighted. This prevents the colour from getting on the surrounding hair and precisely gives you the look that you’re aiming for.


Balayage for a natural, low-maintenance look


Balayage is a French word meaning "to sweep" or "to paint". It is a low-maintenance freehand hair colouring technique. It’s a process that consists of dyeing certain parts of the hair by sprinkling very fine strands one or two shades lighter than your base colour. This creates highlights that blend in subtly with your natural colour. As a result, the visual focus is less on the highlights themselves, but instead, it emphasizes your cut and gives your lengths extra boost.



When should I go for highlights?


Highlights for more character and a unique look


Highlights are more pronounced than balayage because each strand is wider, to create more contrast and a more visible effect.


With highlights, you can have a natural or totally extravagant look, as you choose the intensity and colour tone of the highlights. If you want something contrasting and unique, highlights are for you, so go wild!


Changing your hair colour without completely dying it


Highlights are recommended if you wish to change the colour of your hair in a more pronounced way, without performing a complete colouring, i.e full head colour.


For a natural look, avoid too much difference, such as blonde on brown, as the result may lack elegance and modernity. Prefer a colour that is close to your natural base colour, a few shades below or above, like Venetian blonde on copper red hair for example.


Avoid highlights on short cuts


Highglights do bring a lot of light and depth to long or medium-length hair, but they don't work well with short cuts.



When should I have a balayage done?


Lightening your hair naturally


This technique is more subtle than foil highlights and is ideal for brightening blonde hair and warming up brown hair. A balayage is perfect if you want to add shine to your hair in a subtle way, with natural shades.


For blondes looking for a "back from vacation" effect, opt for a Californian balayage. For brunettes, a caramel or honey balayage would be a good option. It will bring warmth and sensuality to your hair.


A versatile colouring technique, for all types of hair


Balayage is suitable for all hair lengths and textures, giving volume to fine or straight hair and depth to curly or frizzy hair. It also works on all hair colours: blondes, brunettes, browns. The only drawback is that if the hair is more than 30% permed, balayage is not recommended.


Caramel balayage on brunette hair
Caramel balayage

What maintenance for balayage and highlights?


How to look after your balayage


When it’s well done, balayage doesn't require much maintenance. As the finer strands of dyed hair blend in your natural hair with no harsh or obvious regrowth lines, you can wait up to 12 weeks before visiting your hairdresser for a top up. It’s definitely the lowest maintenance hair colouring technique there is. That’s why it’s a huge favourite of ours as we believe it’s better value for your money.


We advise shampooing and applying a nourishing mask once a week, both for coloured hair and ideally without silicon. We’d also recommend visiting your favourite salon at least every 12 weeks, so your hairdresser doesn’t have to recreate the whole balayage every time. It will save you time and money 😊.


Higlights maintenance


Highlights require more maintenance and touch-ups, so that regrowth lines don’t become too obvious. The same maintenance routine as for balayage is recommended: pamper your hair with a shampoo and a nourishing mask, both for coloured hair, once a week. This will ensure that your hair stays shiny, bright, and full of vitality. Make sure you don’t wait more than 8 weeks for a top-up at your local salon.


Like with all hair colours, Highlights and balayage lose their shine over time and with each shampoo. That's why products for colour-treated hair are a must to keep the colour’s luminous effect as long as possible.


When you go on holiday, beware of chlorinated water in swimming pools, which gives a greenish tint to blonde colorations. Also, the salt of sea water and UV rays are harmful to your hair, so don't hesitate to protect it with adapted products or simply with shea butter applied in thick layers, like a protective cataplasm, just before going into the sun or water.

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