Balayage vs. Highlights: What's the Difference?

(Posted on 03/03/23

Spring has (almost) sprung, and if the longer days and promise of warmer weather are inspiring you to take your hair a little lighter we have everything you need to know.

From subtle glow ups à la Millie Mackintosh and face framing highlights as seen on Olivia Wilde to sun-kissed babylights like all time hair idol Jennifer Aniston, you can introduce touches of brightness in all kinds of ways.

But what technique would be best for you and your hair - balyage or highlights? If you need help deciding, read our expert guide to both below...

What are highlights?

Simply put, highlights are isolated pieces of hair that have been lightened using a bleach to lift their level of depth to the lightest shades of blonde.
It's the most traditional of the two methods and is created by weaving small sections of hair that are then incubated with a piece of foil and the lightener is applied.
The result is a uniform effect that can be applied to specific parts of your hair or all over (you might have heard this being called a 'full head' of highlights).

What are the benefits of highlights?

For decades highlights have been the go-to technique for creating lighter hair, and with good cause. Let's take a look at some of the reasons:

  • Highlights can be used to create a whole host of looks - from ulta-fine babylights and illuminating face framing strands to chunky streaks channelling the 90s
  • They're a great way to dip your toe in the water without committing to a full colour
  • You can choose from a huge range of shades to suit every skin tone


Woman with long light blonde hair that's been highlighted

Light up your life: Timeless and beautiful blonde highlights


So, what's balayage?

Technically balayage is a form of highlighting that has become iconic in its own right.

In contrast to its parent technique, however, balayage sees the hair being painted or 'swept' with colour to create a more natural, sun-kissed look. Usually this is applied from the mid-lengths down to the ends and, unlike highlights, is painted on freehand.

This means the stylist selects where to place the colour in order to enhance your natural hair, skin tone, face shape and eyes. It's this skill and vision which makes it so important to choose a salon that specialises in balayage.

What are the benefits of balayage?

Where do we even start...!

  • It's a great option if you love your base colour and want to add depth and dimension with a seamless blend of lighter shades
  • It creates a softer, more natural effect that mimics the variation of your own hair colour
  • Balayage is low-maintenance. It grows out more naturally so regrowth is less noticeable than traditional highlights. The result? Fewer trips to the salon for touch-ups
  • Hair isn't saturated in bleach or dye which = silkier, softer and healthier hair
  • It's incredibly versatile and works on pretty much every hair type


The back of a young woman's head showing her balayage colour

Get that glow: Balayage creates natural-looking sun-kissed hair


How do I know what's right for me?

It all depends on the end look you want to achieve.

For soft, subtle and low maintenance colour balayage is ideal. If you want to create a brighter and bolder definition, however, or an almost all-over colour, highlights might be the best choice.

It doesn't have to be a case of one or the other either. We often use a mix of methods to create a unique colour based on the look you want to achieve.

Still not sure? Don't worry - we are here to help! Our stylists specialise in all aspects of hair colouring and offer free colour consultations to ensure you're 100% confident. Take a look a through our pictures on Insta and Facebook for inspiration before you visit too.  

So, whether you're looking for a subtle change or a bold new look, the team at Head Office is here to help you achieve your hair goals. Book your appointment or arrange a FREE consultation and find out how our colour and balayage specialists can help you achieve the perfect style.

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