6 Stunning Balayage Hair Colors to Show Your Stylist

Because there’s more than one way to rock balayage highlights.

woman with balayage hair highlights
Photo: Tyler Nix/Unsplash

If you highlight your hair, you've probably heard about balayage. The technique, which originated in France, involves hand-painting highlights to create graduated and natural-looking dimension, explains colorist Kristen Fleming, color director at Chicago's 3rd Coast Salon. So what are the benefits of opting for balayage over traditional foil highlights? "It creates a much more custom look," says Shovnne Perkins, an expert colorist and lead educator at Madison Reed. "Because you're not tied to the square shape of a foil, the highlights can be done strategically. This allows a colorist to place lightness exactly where we want it, higher and lower on some pieces, and change up the concentration of highlights as we want." The end result is also much more natural and requires far less up-keep; the grow-out is noticeably softer because there isn't an obvious line from where the foil was placed, adds Perkins.

While balayage may be most often associated with blondes, there are actually plenty of different ways to incorporate balayage highlights besides the basic. Below, six balayage hair color ideas that will have you sprinting to the salon with picture in hand.

Beachy Balayage

According to Perkins, this is what made balayage famous; it features the softer, lived-in, rooty look that's most often associated with balayage. The lightness is most obvious around the front of the face, and cascades naturally into a softer brunette, she says. (To that point, this works best on natural blondes or lighter brunettes). Similarly, Fleming refers to this as sun-kissed balayage, a color inspired by the natural way kids' hair becomes lighter in the summer. "It features painted ribbons of blonde or golden caramel painted where the sun would naturally highlight the hair," she says. While this color is pretty low maintenance, you'll likely need touch-ups a few times per year in order to keep the bright pieces around your face nice and vibrant, suggests Perkins.

Brown Balayage

"Too often we associate 'highlighted' with blonde, when highlighted really just means adding dimension," explains Perkins. Brunettes can have beautiful, custom, and expensive-looking results by adding some tonal balayage highlights in tones such as caramel or soft ash brown into their darker base, she says.

Curly Balayage

"When clients have curly hair, we want to let the texture and how the curls fall determine where we place highlights," says Perkins. "Rather than hand-paining just the surface of the hair, in this case we'll paint both sides, knowing that the spirals show lightness all the way around," she says. Unlike with cuts, there's no need for your colorist to be a curl specialist necessarily, though it doesn't hurt to ask him or her ahead of time if they're experienced with curly hair and color placement if you want this effect, suggests Perkins.

Baby Light Balayage

Fleming says this is a great option for those who want the most subtle of changes. "Tiny pieces of hair are picked up and painted in shades only one to two levels lighter than your natural color," she explains. Perkins, who refers to this as barely-there balayage, adds that the grow-out effect is extremely minimal, so it's also choice for those who don't want any upkeep. And both experts point out that it creates the effect of a very pretty glimmer or sparkle to the hair, rather than an overall lightness.

Reverse Balayage

Instead of lightening the hair, the goal here is to add back depth to create a darker or more dimensional look, notes Fleming. "This type of balayage is perfect for a blonde or light brunette that's hoping to add depth and richer tones back into the hair." Deeper shades are painted in to create this effect.

Spotlight Balayage

If you want just a few key parts of your style to pop, this is the way to go. "It's exactly what it sounds like, hitting a few key pieces that you really want to draw attention to," says Perkins. "You're literally using the lightness to point to certain areas, like curtain bangs," she adds, noting that it's great for softer, fringy razor cuts or really layered shags. Just FYI, if you are seeing two different stylists for cut and color, Perkins advises chatting with both of them to ensure everyone is on the same page and you can get the best results. The big upshot here is that, because this also isn't an overall lightening of the hair, you really don't need to worry about any kind of touch-ups; this type of balayage looks really great as it grows out, she says.

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