December 02, 2011

Ombre Hair vs. Balayage

Ombre hair and balayage are hair techniques garnering a lot of attention lately.  We all envy the hair of a child who seem to get beautiful highlights naturally through sunlight.  But now, that look can be achieved through color.

There are a variety of videos and personal tutorials on how to achieve ombre hair or balayage.  Both techniques require some skill if done at home and both can be achieved in the salon.  Ombre and balayage are also very similar in many ways, but there are some key differences.  In this post, I hope to help you decide which look is right for you.  First, let's define the terms:

Ombre: Ombre hair refers to the gradual lightening of the hair strand, usually fading from a darker color near the roots to a lighter one at the ends.  Ombre can be very subtle or very striking.  The look you want to achieve will depend on the technique and level of lightness.  Look to these photos as examples of ombre hair:

DIY Ombre Hair:
Can you do your own ombre hair at home?  It depends.
  • If your hair is medium brown to dark blonde, you should be able to buy a hair lightener and lighten the ends of your hair yourself.
  • If your hair is black or dark dark brown, you should see a professional if:
    • your target blonde color is 4 shades lighter than your natural shade
    • your hair already has dark/black color on it
  • If your hair is black or dark dark brown, you can color on your own if:
    • your target shade is a caramel color
    • you are willing to lighten 2-3 times to get your desired color and tone.

Balayage: Balayage is French meaning "to sweep".  When a colorist is coloring, the majority of the brush strokes are horizontal in nature to coat the front and back of the hair strands.  In balayage, the colorist "sweeps" vertically with the tip of the brush and only to the front of the hair.  Thus creating natural, sun kissed highlights.  Look to these photos as examples of balayage:

Jessica's hair is almost a combination of both techniques.

DIY Balayage Hair:
Can you do your own balayage at home?  Maybe, maybe not.
  • Balayage is a trickier business than ombre.  It requires more precision and a good knowledge of how lightener works as well as over all placement.
  • You will also need more tools such as a precision color brush, cotton, foil, bowls, etc.
  • To get the best balayage results, visit a professional!

To determine which look is right for you, ask yourself these questions:
--Am I okay with the "grown out roots" look?
--Do I want something low maintenance?
--How much lighter than my natural shade do I want to go?
--How do I usually style my hair?  Curl or straighten?
--Am I okay with bleach being used on my hair?

If you're okay with roots, curly hair, and bleach, then ombre is great for you.  Ombre hair is dark at the top gradually going lighter towards the bottom so it will almost look like you've skipped a few hair appointments.  I recommend wavy or curly hair if you're rocking ombre hair because the line of demarcation (the "line" separating natural color from artificial color) will be prominent.  Thus, if you straighten your hair, you will see a contrast.  Waves and curls hide that line much better.  Because ombre hair usually has very light ends, it is almost certain bleach will be used.  And we all know the ends of our hair are the most damaged, so proceed with caution.

If you want low maintenance, subtle color, and like your hair straight, then balayage is great for you.  Balayage may not require bleach depending on how light you want to go.  Remember, it's supposed to look natural, so you will probably only go 2-3 shades lighter than your natural color.  Because the color is painted on the hair vertically, you will not get that dreaded "line" meaning that as the color grows out, it will be less noticeable, making time between salon appointments longer.  You can also straighten that hair without having to worry about seeing noticeable lines of color.  And you can also wear it wavy or curly!

Both of these coloring options are on trend and can be sported hundreds of different ways.  Hopefully my insight can help you on your color journey to getting the best hair for your style.  Please message or email me if you have any other specific questions!  Happy coloring!

**To see a DIY tutorial on how I achieved an ombre/balayage look, click the link! **


Cara said...

Love this look, Gisele and Rachel Bilson's hair styles are my favs :)
xo Cara

April Lyn said...

Oh wow, I have never heard of the 2nd technique! I think I prefer Ombre, it makes the most sense since I have dark & long hair...been considering and now even more so!

Great post

April Lyn

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Loretta said...

awesome post, very helpful!x

Camille said...

I had balayage done on my hair today and it looks fabulous! Like April Lyn, I had never heard of balayage until my stylist told me about it when I told him I was interested in ombre. I am sooo happy and definitely recommend balayage for those not wanting something too drastic. Also, thank you for this wonderful and informative blog entry!

Anonymous said...

This post was very helpful. Thank you. Now I know the "actual" terminology with the two. It's a matter of finding a great colorist who can accomplish the look.

Love, Coco said...

yay, I love this post! Thought that balayage was another word for ombre, silly me. Thanks for the clarification!

Louise - London said...

Thank you for this! I think I'm going for balayage but it's first time touching my hair so I'm freaking out!

Anonymous said...

Thank You so much for explaining the difference!!!! Love both the looks!!!

crankerpants said...

great post- really well explained- thank you!!!

salonadorn said...

Hi admiring your work my name is jacque davis cincinati salon adorn where can i get a lesson or web to learn balayage i lov news techs n highlighting

thelovehanger said...

I would maybe see if your salon has any education classes they can offer. Or if you use a specific color line, I would get in touch with the distributor and see if the color line offers any classes for stylists. Hope that helps! :)

Cam said...

I think a mixture of ombre and balayage is gorgeous :D Best of both techniques!

Gisele said...

If you are in Sydney, I recommend Babi at She is by far the best hair colourist in Sydney.

nanabuuui said...

I'm getting my hair done next week, so I was googling about the balayage technique and came across your page. Very informational! Thank you so much for the info! :]

diannna said...

i like the balayage look better but ombre is cool too

Republik Hijab said...

Cameron Diaz, Love her. I choose ombre btw.

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Kayla said...

I Love the ombre, Its my fave! I'm Getting ombre done to my hair definitely! :)

Harman said...

I'm kind of confused because I've never dyed my hair and I really want to go for an ombré look but also have it look blended properly like the balayage hair style, my hair is natural dark brown so I'm not sure on which style to get? And if it's possible to have both done at the same time? I mostly wear my hair straight so I'm even more confused on which style to get?

thelovehanger said...


These are excellent questions! You can definitely incorporate both balayage and ombre into one style for your hair. With ombre, you can be a little less strategic in your placement of color because you are intentionally going for a stark contrast. But if you like the level of dark to light of ombre hair, but want the blendedness of balayage, then you can absolutely do both. It is basically what I did with my own hair. I posted a DIY ombre and balayage tutorial on how I did my hair and I gave some great tips on how to get a more blended ombre. Check it out here:


Annette Vartanian said...

great post Toni. i was just searching for images of a dark brunette balayage and came across your post. i've been wanting to try something different with my virgin! hair and thought that the balayage might be the best option. this is such a helpful post. merci! xx annette

TrendsForTheMindless said...

it's all so ugly. just looks like you have bad roots. Ombre is just awful, unless it's like reverse ombre/dip dye where it starts blond at the top and turns into blue or red or pink or something or something. i personally like hair to be all one color, like mine is platinum blonde right now (but it's naturally black) and I hate when my roots come in.

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Sick and tired said...

LMAO @ "but now, that look can be achieved with color" REALLY? Gee, and here I was thinking that highlights have been done with bleaches and tints for a hundred years (for thousands if you consider the use of lemon juice and sulfur). These techniques may be new(ish), but certainly attaining the look of sun-lightened hair has been the objective of highlighting for a century now. I'd also like to add that these modern 'techniques' are really just laziness on behalf of the stylist, or perhaps they can't do a proper foil quickly enough to get good results. The most absolutely natural-looking highlights were done in the 70's and 80's. Few hairdressers today can compare.

thelovehanger said...

As a stylist, and I'm sure many stylists will agree, foil highlights leave a line of demarcation in the hair. Meaning that you can clearly see where the line of color begins and the natural color ends.

If you look at a child's hair where they have natural highlights from the sun, there is no discernible line. It is blended perfectly.

Balayage technique is what does that. You lose the foils to create a more free-hand look that allows the stylist to blend the lightened and natural colors together. It looks more natural than foil placement which is very precise and calculated. With Balayage, you can take into account a client's hair part and natural flow and color accordingly.

Thanks for your opinion though to allow for discussion!

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NavyGal said...

for the Balayage, do you mean the colorist ONLY brush the front of the hair, keep other part of the hair as it is?

thelovehanger said...

When you do Balayage you take a section of hair and you only apply color to the top of it. Where you decide to place the color depends on how you like to wear your hair and if you want a lot of color put in, or just a few pieces around the face.

I hope that makes sense!

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Hannah C said...

No, it's not ugly, turning your hair blue, red or pink is ugly. Talk about completely unnatural looking.

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Liz said...

I see the difference now! Very insightful, I am Ombre (Have been for a year) but I am thinking of turning to balayage now :D

sally said...

Awesome site! xx
I wear my ombre since 2years and I freakin loving it <3
My roots are in a dark brown and I got a really nice colourflow to a matching blonde!
I have to say that it didn't ruin my hair eventough I use heat.Also you can wear it straight obviously when it's done the right way!
You need a transition colour and you're good to go!
But Baylage looks awesome and is kind of a natural way to rock some sort of ombre!
Maybe I will try it,it looks great xx

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