Balayage vs. Highlights: Which Is Best for Your Clients?


There’s no denying the ultra-stylish appeal of balayage and the multidimensional vibrance of highlights. To most people, there doesn’t seem to be that big of a difference between these two coloring techniques, but they are actually quite distinct from one another. Making sure your client knows the difference between them is an important part of ensuring a five-star result.

If one of your clients is ready to lighten their hair but can’t decide if they want highlights or balayage, there are a few things they need to consider before making the decision. Read on for advice on helping them choose between the two.

What Is Balayage?

Balayage is a hair coloring technique that involves lightening hair freehandedly using professional hair color applied directly to the hair. Typically, stylists apply the dye with a hair color brush and do not use hair coloring foils, which allows them to achieve a multidimensional, natural look by applying the color with a brush. Balayage also doesn’t reach the roots of the hair. Instead, it starts near the top and transitions from dark to light all the way to the ends, allowing for a more natural, longer-lasting look that grows out beautifully.

What Are Highlights?

Highlights are a coloring technique that relies on hair color and foil to achieve lightened hair. Highlights are created by applying foils from the roots of the hair to the ends, leaving some hair natural to allow for the hair to blend nicely. Unlike balayage, highlighting doesn’t require you to use a freehand application. When applying the bleach or color, hairstylists can carefully choose where to put the highlights.

So Which Is Best for Your Clients?

There are some things to take into consideration when deciding which hair coloring technique is best for your clients.

How Big of a Color Shift Does Your Client Want? — If your client wants a dramatic change in hair color, it’s best to recommend that they get highlights. Because highlights use foils, they can bring the client’s hair more than four shades higher, which can result in a brighter, bolder shade. If your client is looking for a more natural hair color with more dimension, recommend they try balayage. This technique can offer your client different color shades throughout their hair without having to lift it as many levels. Make sure to check the color guides on your preferred products to determine how much of a shift to expect. For example, Schwarzkopf hair color will lighten differently than a different brands’ products.

  • How Much Maintenance Are They Willing to Handle? — One downside to highlights that you should discuss with your client is that they require more maintenance. Balayage, on the other hand, doesn’t require as much upkeep and maintains a stylish, natural look as the hair grows out. If your client would rather space out hair appointments, they should go with a balayage rather than traditional highlights.
  • What Is the Hair’s Current State? — Make sure to take the current state of your client’s hair into consideration when deciding on a technique. Both highlights and balayage can be somewhat damaging, so if your client has damaged, brittle hair, it’s best to steer them in the direction of getting highlights. Highlights are less damaging to the hair than balayage because balayage requires a stronger bleach to achieve the desired color. However, the right products and treatment solutions can bring even weak, brittle hair back to life. For example, you can recommend maintaining hair with products from a top brand, like Alterna hair products, to help bring back damaged colored hair.

How Can Your Client Make Their Highlights and Balayage Last?

Aftercare is an important part of any coloring treatment, especially when lightening. Help your client’s hair stay hydrated and healthy after coloring with hydrating masks and color-preserving shampoos and conditioners. After some time, your client may start to notice their hair looking more brassy than normal. It’s best that they use a purple shampoo to maintain a brighter shade.


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