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Balayage vs Highlights: Choosing the Best Technique for Your Hair

Written By: author image Gigi Cruz
author image Gigi Cruz

When it comes to adding dimension and vibrancy to hair, balayage and highlights are two of the most popular techniques in the beauty industry. But when it comes to the ultimate decision between Balayage vs Highlights, it’s important to get all the facts first.

Balayage, a French word meaning ‘to sweep’ or ‘to paint,’ offers a more natural, sun-kissed look. The technique involves painting the hair color onto the surface in a fluid, sweeping motion. This results in a gradual, blended effect with no harsh lines. Since the application is less structured, balayage grows out more gracefully, making it a low-maintenance option compared to traditional highlights.

On the other side of the coin, highlights involve isolating select strands of hair and lightening them from root to end, usually with the help of foils. This method produces a more pronounced and evenly distributed lightening effect throughout the hair. Highlights can significantly brighten the overall hair color and introduce various shades for a multi-dimensional finish. Typically, they require more frequent touch-ups as the contrast between the natural hair color and the highlights can become more apparent with new growth.


Balayage Vs Highlights – Key Differences

When choosing between balayage and highlights, one needs to consider the distinct techniques and effects they offer. While both methods involve lightening the hair, the outcomes differ in terms of placement, maintenance, and overall appearance.

The Lowdown


  • Technique: Involves weaving sections of hair and applying color or bleach using foils.
  • Placement: Often placed closer to the scalp and throughout the hair.
  • Look: Provides a uniform, patterned lighting effect that’s more noticeable.


  • Technique: A freehand painting application without foils, usually on the hair’s surface.
  • Placement: Typically applied away from the roots, with a gradient effect.
  • Look: Creates a more natural, sun-kissed appearance with less noticeable regrowth lines.

Techniques and Applications


  • Application: Color or bleach is hand-painted onto sections of hair.
  • Tools: Uses a brush for a more freeform, artistic application.


  • Application: Color or bleach is applied with a brush, then wrapped in foil.
  • Tools: Foils are essential for isolating sections and heat retention for even lightening.

Balayage vs Highlights – Selecting for Your Hair Type

For those deciding between balayage vs highlights, it’s important to take hair type, texture, and natural color into account.

Straight or Wavy Hair:

  • Either technique can work well; consider the desired maintenance level and final look.

Curly or Coarse Hair:

  • Balayage often works better to enhance natural dimension and texture.

Natural Hair Color:

  • For subtle enhancement, balayage offers a sun-kissed look.
  • For a more dramatic change, highlights can provide a striking contrast with vivid hair colors.

Balayage vs highlights Stylists

Maintaining Your Hair Color

After getting balayage or highlights, the right maintenance routine can keep your hair color looking fresh and vibrant, while also minimizing damage. Whether you choose the sweeping hand-painted balayage or the structured look of traditional highlights, understanding post-treatment care and long-term considerations is essential for preserving hair color and health.

Post-Treatment Care

Immediately after coloring, it’s crucial to treat the hair gently. Avoid harsh shampoos and opt for sulfate-free products to prevent quick color fading. You should also use color-safe conditioners and treatments like Olaplex to repair and strengthen the hair. To neutralize unwanted yellow tones in blonde or bleached hair, use purple shampoo as well. Just be sure to use it sparingly to avoid over-depositing.

  • First 72 hours: Avoid washing to allow the color to set.
  • Heat styling: Use heat protectant and minimize the use of hot tools.
  • Sun exposure: Protect hair with products that contain UV filters.

Balayage vs Highlights – Long-Term Considerations

Maintaining balayage or highlights is a commitment. The frequency of touch-ups varies based on your individual hair growth and the contrast with natural hair color.

Scheduled touch-ups are less frequent for balayage, typically around 3-4 months. This is because the technique offers a more natural regrowth look. Meanwhile, highlights may need touch-ups every 6-8 weeks, depending on how much they differ from the natural hair color.

Keeping hair moisturized is important since colored hair can be prone to dryness and damage.

  • Low-maintenance: Balayage generally requires less frequent salon visits.
  • Lifestyle: Factor in personal schedules and styling preferences.
  • Daily maintenance: Use leave-in conditioners or oils to moisturize and protect hair daily.

Consistent care with the right products can keep your hair healthy and color vibrant. This means matching their routine to their specific hair type and lifestyle needs.

Looking for Balayage or Highlights nearby? Check out one of our city guides and pick the perfect place for you! 

author avatar
Gigi Cruz Editor