Surat, Gujarat
6 hours ago

Highlights vs Balayage vs Ombre

“What’s Balayage?”

Asks almost every client that comes in looking to go lighter with their hair colour. Almost every client in our salon that currently does highlights is interested in finding out more about the balayage and ombre trends. Even though these lightening techniques have been around for some time now, we still get questions regularly from our wonderful and curious clients.

So, to help you answer your intrigued clients’ questions, here is a little description about the difference between balayage, ombre and highlights.

Hair Stylist Guide OmbrePhoto by Will Cornfield on Unsplash

Unlike other hair fads that simmer out and fade away after a couple of seasons, balayage and ombre have actually grown more and more in demand. Some even argue that it will faze out traditional forms of highlighting.

Let’s brief you on what is involved in these lightening techniques so that you are better informed yourself and can better explain to your clients the commitment level and maintenance that will be required on their end after their lightening service with you.

What is balayage? What is ombre? And how are they different from traditional highlights?


Highlights, sometimes referred to as “streaks” in the past, are lighter, thin sections of hair placed within or on top of a darker base colour. The shade and tones of the highlights and base colour can vary depending on your client’s personal preference, and what is realistic for and compliments their hair. Highlights, when performed professionally and correctly, do not have a patchy or “streaky” effect. They should be blended quite nicely.

Hair Stylist Guide HighlightsPhoto by Mehrdad Haghighi on Unsplash

Lightener or high-lifting hair colour is applied to a woven or sliced strand of your client’s hair which is resting on top of a sheet of foil. The foil is then wrapped tightly and securely around the strand of hair. Natural heat from their head is transferred through the foil to help their hair lighten more evenly and to a lighter level than could be achieved with hair colour alone. Depending on the look that your client wants, you will be sectioning their hair and weaving or slicing their highlights accordingly.

Hair Stylist Guide HighlightsPhoto by Max Anderson on Unsplash

Unlike highlights, balayage and ombre are more free-hand form of lightening the hair. The hair sections are not tightly wrapped in lengths of foil. After application of the lightener to each section, they are either stacked on top of each other or on top of a sheet of foil or mèche to separate them.

Let’s dive further into the difference between balayage and ombre.


Hair Stylist Guide BalayagePhoto by Alex Sorto on Unsplash

The French verb “balayer” means “to sweep”. Stemming from this concept, balayage is a sweeping technique of lightening the hair. Balayage provides a more contoured look to the hair, because select hair strands are carefully chosen by eye with the free-hand technique. It is not necessary to lighten all the ends of the hair for a natural-looking, beautiful balayage.

The balayage technique was originally intended to provide lighter tones in the hair with a more natural, sun-kissed look. It was designed for a more beach-like effect, where the strands of hair were only a couple of shades lighter than the base colour, similar to what would occur from spending a lot of time in the sun.

It is perfect for those clients who would like a softer look than what traditional highlights can offer. It also a technique that requires less maintenance, because there is no solid demarcation line. Where the lighter strands of the hair begin looks very blended, as if kissed by the sun. The difference in your client’s hair regrowth is much more gentle than traditional highlights, meaning it requires less frequent touch ups.

Hair Stylist Guide BalayagePhoto by Mehrdad Haghighi on Unsplash

Overtime, balayage also began to transition from a subtle look to a higher contrast look for individuals who wanted a more dramatic contrast. Funky, high fashion colours also began to be introduced with this technique.


The word “ombre” in French means “shadow”. Essentially, with the ombre technique, a lighter shadow in colour is created, resulting in a gradient effect. This transition is typically shorter than with the balayage technique because the lighter shades begin lower down in the hair than in a balayage. Unlike with the balayage technique, all of the ends of the hair are lighter in an ombre colouring.

Hair Stylist Guide OmbrePhoto by Mehrdad Haghighi on Unsplash

The ombre technique is often completely free-hand. It provides higher contrast in tones but still maintains a transition in tones. It is not a natural, sun-kissed look. It is more dramatic, with two colours that are clearly and solidly differentiated at either end of the gradient.


Hair Stylist Guide SombrePhoto by Tamara Bellis on Unsplash

If you hear the term “sombre” (the abbreviation for “soft ombre”), you are dealing with a mix between balayage and ombre for a softer ombre look that starts a little higher up in the hair. It is a subtler version of an ombre. More tones or your natural root colour are visibly weaved or ribboned into the lengths of your hair to break up the sharper contrast of an ombre.

How are the Balayage and Ombre Look Achieved?

In traditional highlights, bleach is typically applied closest to the roots, moving downwards towards the ends of the hair. The placement and focus of the lightener are much different in a balayage or ombre. For example, the application may begin on the ends. With ombre, the lightener is oftentimes more concentrated on the ends of the hair than at the roots. Sometimes a backcombing technique is used for a more natural, blended look and sometimes triangular placement patterns will be chosen.

Can Your Clients Transform their Solid Blonde Into a Balayage?

If your client is getting tired of the maintenance and look of a solid blonde, you can transition them to a balayage or ombre with a root melt and any necessary toners. This way, you keep them happy as your client while still meeting their budget and time needs. Essentially, a reverse balayage or ombre will need to be performed, where instead of adding lighter strands, darker strands will be pulled down from your roots to your mid-shaft to match their natural growth colour as closely as possible.

Will Balayage or Ombre Work for Your Client?

Hair Stylist Guide OmbrePhoto by Paige Muller on Unsplash

Balayage and ombre are suitable for straight, wavy and curly textures. Balayage and ombre can also both be executed beautifully on shorter and shoulder-length hair, as well as long hair. Those clients who are battling grey hair may require a root or base colour in addition to the balayage or ombre in order to blend everything in perfectly and cover unwanted greys. At the end of the day, balayage and ombre are versatile and you can feel free to play with it according to your clients’ needs!