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Differences Between Hair Balayage and Highlights

If you’ve been around hair coloring for any length of time, you know that there is a big debate as of the last few years. You probably guessed it – that debate is balayage versus highlights. Both are effective methods of achieving beautiful, salon-quality hair color, but many wonder what the differences are between the two. From desired look to price to wear-and-tear, we’ll break the differences between the two treatments down so you can make an informed decision for your next salon appointment.

About Hair Coloring Today

In order to talk about the differences in coloring techniques, it is important to know some hair coloring foundations. Hair coloring is really a science, which is why the best results are achieved by a licensed cosmetologist within a salon setting. Several factors, including hair length, texture, health, and color affect how hair dyes will behave. The professional uses these factors, as well as their training, to determine what type(s) of coloring will work for you (and which won’t). The hair dye will meet with the hair, enter deep inside the strand, and bond to create a permanent color. 


Balayage is a newer method of achieving hair color that takes between three and five hours to achieve in the salon. Read on to learn more about it.

The Look

It was invented in an effort for “hair to be softer or muted at the root, then progressively lighter as it travels to the end,” according to colorist Ryan Pearl. The point of this softening is so that less regular color maintenance is needed by the client, as the roots will grow out without that dreaded line of old versus new color  

How It’s Done

The word “balayage” actually comes from the French word “balayage,” which literally means to sweep or to paint, which makes a lot of sense considering how it is performed. Balayage does not typically use foils to color the hair, rather it typically uses a sweeping method on the hair against a board with a brush. It often can also involve bleaching and a toner as part of the process.

Who It’s For

This method is often recommended for clients with naturally light and fairly healthy hair. It is also a great option for someone seeking a lower-maintenance style. Balayage, by and large, is going to be pricier than highlights, due in part to the techniques and materials required. Your stylist will know best if balayage will work well for you. 


Highlights are an older, yet still widely-used method of achieving hair color that takes between two and four hours to achieve in the salon. Read on to learn more about it. 

The Look

Highlights, having been around for a good amount of time, have been created to achieve several possible outcomes. Traditional highlights are used to lighten up hair in some or all areas. Some sub-types of highlights include traditional highlights, babylights, partial highlights, lowlights, among others. They achieve a similar look to balayage, but are more distinguishable in their look and can grow out requiring more maintenance.

How It’s Done

Also referred to as “foiling,” highlights are implemented by a stylist who “paints” the strand of hair with color, then wraps it in foil for a few hours while the color sets. This is done for many strands, depending on the desired look, and then a toner is typically applied to tone the exact color to the desired look.

Who It’s For

Highlights are generally recommended if you are looking for a larger color shift. Compared to balayage, the outcome is typically more drastic, as opposed to a milder shift required by the technique of balayage. Typically, highlights are good for someone seeking a uniform look in their hair. Your stylist will know best if highlights will work well for you. 

Hydrate Salon & Spa Can Help

If you’re still not sure which technique might be best for your next salon appointment, don’t worry. Our licensed professionals are here to support you and advise on what will work best for your hair. Regardless of coloring technique, we provide high-quality services that help you look your best and feel it, too. At Hydrate Salon & Spa, we pride ourselves on using the most current, proven technology and services to ensure the best outcome for you. 

Call Us Today

If you’re around the Scottsdale area and are looking to take your next step to getting beautifully colored hair for the warmer months, we would love to speak to you about it. Call us at (480) 462-5905 or email us at office@hydratesalon.com to discover your new ‘do today.

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