Balayage Vs Highlights: What’s The Difference?

Written by Ramona Sinha

You have decided to color your hair for the first time but are confused with the balayage vs. highlights debate. A balayage is the same as highlights to any ordinary eye, and this initial confusion is not unusual.

With the ever-evolving hair highlighting techniques, it is often tough to figure out which is which. If this highlighting lingo has got you confused, scroll through this article to understand the nuances of balayage and highlights. Keep reading.

Hair Highlighting: A Brief Background

Hair highlighting is a hair coloring process to lighten a few hair sections. You can use any color for highlighting as long as it is lighter than the natural hair color. The highlighted sections against the base hair color add a visual appeal to the overall look.

Balayage is also a hair highlighting technique. However, there is a subtle difference between balayage and traditional foil highlights. The next sections take a deeper dive into the differences.

What Is Balayage?

What Is Balayage


The word balayage is derived from the French word “balayer,” which means “to sweep.” Balayage is a freehand painting technique where the color is “swept” on random hair sections to give a super-blended, muted and warm sun-kissed result.

The color is applied in a different way than traditional highlights. The application is super-fine at the top of the hair section (for blending) and gradually gets thicker as it moves through the mid-shafts to the ends. This gives natural-looking and soft-swept highlights. Compared to balayage, traditional foil highlights follow a conventional technique.

What Are Traditional Foil Highlights?

What Are Traditional Foil Highlights


Traditional foil highlights use aluminum foils to secure and saturate the hair section for an intense result. All the thin subsections are colored and wrapped with aluminum foil separately.

Unlike balayage, traditional foil highlights follow a structured pattern. Even the effects are more pronounced than a balayage. However, foil highlights need frequent touch-ups.

In the next section, we have highlighted a few more key differences between a balayage and foil highlights.

Balayage Vs. Traditional Foil Highlights: Key Differences

1. Application Procedure

Balayage follows a freehand painting technique. Hence, the dye application is rather random. Traditional foil highlights require a more structured approach. The sections are strategically planned to give the desired result.

2. End Result

In balayage, the color is mainly concentrated on the top of each section, leaving the underside dark. As a result, the colored sections seamlessly camouflage with the hair, giving a more blended and natural effect.

Traditional foil highlights give you intense streaks of hair sections, creating a dramatic contrast.

3. Application Region

Balayage involves highlighting the hair from the mid-shafts to the ends. In traditional foil highlights, the sections are saturated from the root to the tip.

4. Maintenance

Balayage requires less long-term maintenance as you can grow it out more naturally. Traditional foil highlights need regular touch-ups to maintain the look as your hair grows out.

5. Degree Of Personalization

The hairstylists can personalize the balayage technique to accentuate your features or frame your face. On the other hand, traditional foil highlights do not have scope for personalization.

6. Time Required For The Process

A simple balayage application can take 45 minutes. However, if you have long hair and want layered balayage, it may take up to three hours. Traditional foil highlights may take 1-3 hours, depending on your hair’s condition and status.

Still confused about which one to go for? Read on to clear your confusion.

Balayage Or Traditional Highlights: Which One To Choose?

It all boils down to personal tastes and preferences.

Go for balayage if:

  • You want subtle highlights.
  • You have never colored your hair.
  • You want low maintenance results.
  • You want face-framing highlights.
  • You want natural gray-coverage.

Go for traditional highlights if:

  • You want prominent and high-contrast color patterns.
  • You want a uniform hair color with multiple shades for a natural look.
  • You can commit to regular touch-ups and maintenance.

Whether you choose balayage or traditional highlights, coloring your hair can damage your hair. Moreover, brassiness can be an issue for colored hair. In the next section, we have listed a few tips to care for your colored hair.

Tips To Prevent Hair Damage And Maintain Hair Color

1. Moisturize Your Hair

Switch to color-safe shampoos and conditioners. They are sulfate-free and help maintain the hair color. Hair colors contain chemicals that may strip your strands dry. Use deep conditioners to keep your hair moisturized and seal the cuticles.

2. Do Not Miss Salon Appointments

While balayage is low maintenance compared to highlights, it does not mean that you should take it for granted. For both treatments, make it a point to visit the salon for weekly treatments to tone, restore, and nourish your hair.

3. Avoid Frequent Hair Wash

Frequent shampooing can fade the color and dry out your hair, leaving it dry and brittle. If possible, wash your hair only once or twice a week. Also, once in a while, use a purple shampoo to minimize brassiness and keep the color fresh.

4. Care For Your Hair

Protect your hair from direct sun exposure and stay away from chlorinated or salt water. Avoid using heat styling tools. Use heat and UV protectants to prevent color fading and brassy hair.

Final Thoughts

Traditional foil highlights are best if you are looking for a dramatic color shift. However, if you want to keep it subtle and natural, balayage is the best. Both highlighting methods create a different look. We hope by the time you are finished reading the article, you are clear about which one to go for!

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I get balayage if I have short hair?

Yes, of course! The balayage technique adds depth to short hair.

What are the different types of balayage?

You can go for full balayage, partial balayage, subtle balayage, American balayage, and reverse balayage.

How to go from highlights to balayage?

You will need two salon appointments for this. First, the hairstylist will melt your foil line and add some lowlights for dimension. During the next appointment, the colorist or stylist will paint your hair using the balayage technique.

What hair type is more suitable for balayage?

Balayage delivers results for all hair types.

Should you try balayage at home?

You need thorough planning and expert-level skills to pull off an impressive balayage. Hence, it is better to visit the salon.

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Ramona is a journalist-turned-content writer. She holds a Master’s degree in English Literature and has been writing for the digital world for over five years. She specializes in writing for Skin Care. She has done a certificate course titled ‘Dermatology: Trip To The Skin’, offered by Novosibirsk State University. She believes that beauty begins with a good skin care regimen and is on a mission to eliminate all toxins from her routine. She helps and guides readers in selecting products and ingredients specific to their skin type/issue. When Ramona is not working, her books and passion for music, good food, and traveling keep her busy.