A Complete Guide to Balayage, Ombre, and Everything in Between

Back in the day, “good hair” used to be reserved for the girls who were just “naturally born with it.” I grew up thinking: I may not have Jennifer Aniston hair, but there’s other good things about me (I know — kinda optimistic, kinda sad!). But *moment of silence in gratitude for the hair goddesses* nowadays, anyone can have the hair of their dreams — with a strategic cut, some specialized products, and really, really good color.

Color has been the front and center of the haircare world for the past couple years, and for good reason. Hair color can bring out your facial features, accentuate your skin tone, make you look older/younger; or make your hair look more voluminous, shiny, or texturized (depending on your goals). A good set of highlights and strategic coloring can take your hair from flat to Farrah Fawcett. 

 

 

Because of how powerful hair color can be, trends have popped up all over Hollywood and the Instagrams of your favorite beauty bloggers– cold brew, rose gold, bronde, nude hair (yep, it’s a thing!), it seems impossible to keep up with the what’s what of hair color and know what look works best for us.

With the help of our favorite haircare brand, Redken (the experts on all things blonde and the makers of Blondage, our must-have product for maintaining good hair color), we put together a go-to guide for all things highlights, so you know exactly what’s out there, and exactly what will work for you. 

 

 

Balayage

The Hollywood go-to, aka “hair sweeping,” is when color is strategically painted onto parts of the hair (rather than wrapped in big sections, like the foil technique), for a slightly grown-out, more natural effect. Color is softer at the top of hair, and more saturated and concentrated through the ends. It’s best for a more grown-out, beachy, relaxed look.

Upkeep: Since touchups don’t have to happen as often as with standard highlights (one of the greatest appeals to balayage!), it is important to maintain color with salon professional shampoos, conditioners, and treatments at home, or else the color will fade and turn brassy (see below).

Inspo: Chrissy Teigen, Ciara, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Sarah Jessica Parker

 

 

Standard Highlights or the “Foil Technique”

There’s a reason one of the oldest go-to hair color technique is still a go-to hair color technique. Foil provides the most control over highlights and helps maintain quality of hair. The results are probably what you’re most familiar with, with color that’s taken right to the root. It’s best for an overall brighter, fresher, and lighter look.

Upkeep: A root touchup every 4-6 weeks is recommended, as the natural color will start to grow out, creating a stark contrast between highlights and roots.

Inspo: Anne Hathaway, Reese Witherspoon, Cameron Diaz

 

 

Babylights

Soft, superfine white-blond highlights that are placed around the hairline, meant to mimic your childhood hair getting lighter from the sun in summertime (sometimes stylists even ask you to bring a childhood photo, so they can match the most natural color). The delicate highlights are brighter at the crown of the head and bottom half of hair. Babylights require foil to separate each strand, but much smaller pieces of hair are used in one foil than in standard highlights. This technique is best for people with fine hair who want noticeable color that’s not dramatic or thick (like balayage and ombré).

Upkeep: Since the highlights are so delicate and subtle, the roots grow out much more naturally than standard highlights, so you can buy some extra time in between salon visits. A full head should be retouched every 8 weeks, and partial highlights can be touched up every 12-14 weeks.

Inspo: Gisele Bundchen, Blake Lively, Jessica Alba

 

 

Ecaille (“Tortoiseshell Hair”)

Source: @redken

The newest color technique uses multiple tones for a more dimensional look. Stylists will opt for color at the roots and face framing pieces throughout the hair — like a softer, warmer balayage that incorporates golden brown and caramel tones, rather than ashy tones (like standard balayage). It also adds in other tones like honey for more dimension. Ecaille works for every hair type, but is best for medium to light hair that lifts easily. The overall look is luxurious and subtle, and is best for people who want to go warmer, not lighter.

Upkeep: Minimal upkeep required, especially because the tones of the highlights are warmer, which is more natural for most hair types than ashier tones. Shiny, healthy, hair looks best with ecaille, so make sure to keep hair healthy and use products to increase shine.

Inspo: Jessica Biel, Minka Kelly, Miranda Kerr

 

 

Lowlights

The opposite of highlights, lowlights add depth to hair, especially light hair that looks monotoned. Using the foil technique like standard highlights, a color that’s a shade or two darker than the hair color is strategically placed throughout hair. Lowlights are best if you want to go subtly darker, or if you don’t want to go any lighter, but your hair color is lacking dimension. It also helps thin hair appear thicker.

Upkeep: Since lowlights use dye instead of bleach (like most lightening colors), the hair is much less damaged than with highlights, so you don’t have to worry about repairing the hair or general upkeep as much. Most lowlights don’t need to be retouched for about 3 months, but you should make an appointment whenever you notice your hair color lacking dimension.

Inspo: Taylor Swift, Jennifer Lawrence, Ashley Benson

 

 

Ombré

The massive beauty trend that went to nails, lips, and even your Starbucks drink is the hair color technique that started it all. Ombré hair is darkest at the roots and through the mid-shaft, gradually getting lighter from mid-shaft to ends. The dramatic hair color change also helps to highlight your eyes and cheekbones because of where the lightness occurs. If you’re ready to try a dramatic hair trend that’s of-the-moment and fashionable, ombré is for you! Also try: Sombré, which is short for subtle ombré, and is a more blended and soft version of the dramatic ombré trend.

Upkeep: The best part about ombre is that the roots aren’t treated at all — meaning you can let the roots grow out for as long as you want! Just make sure the color through the length stays in tact. Moisturize often, give your hair proper nutrients, and if you opted for an ashier blonde tone, use purple shampoo and conditioner to protect the color.

Inspo: Drew Barrymore, Khloe Kardashian, Lauren Conrad

 

 

 

How to ask your stylist for what you want

  • Be clear about the tones you want. Ask for ashy highlights if you want a cooler tone (more flattering if your skin has red, blue, or violet undertones), or warm highlights if you want a more golden tone (more flattering if your skin has yellow undertones).

 

  • Talk more about the current problems you have with your hair, rather than what you want your hair to look like. Make sure to explain if you have a problem with color, frizziness, texture, flatness, etc. Your stylist might color differently with these problems in mind.

 

  • Bring an inspiration photo of a celebrity or hair photography with the hair you want. It will show the stylist exactly what you’re looking for, better than just talking about it. However, make sure the base hair color (aka hair at the root), thickness, and even hair length is similar to yours. Explain exactly what it is about the picture that you like (the tones, the blending, the highlight placement).

 

  • Make sure to discuss the maintenance required before you start. Your stylist will have a better idea about what exactly you need to do for your color, and how to fit it into your lifestyle. Let your stylist know the amount of time and effort you’re willing to commit to your hair, and be realistic.

 

  • Ask your stylist what products will best preserve and maintain your blonde. The bad news is that blonde hair color does require some effort–you can’t just use your same shampoo and conditioner all the time, and you need to be conscious of protecting your hair from heat and damage from harsh water, chlorine, and sun. The good news is that the upkeep is made easy through the many products available on the market. Which leads me to…

 

 

 

And the one product you need, no matter what color technique you have…

Whether you have ombré, babylights, or anything in between, you need a purple shampoo and conditioner. Trust me — I learned this the hard way throughout most of my young adult life, when my beautiful bouncy balayage would turn to a brassy-orange in a matter of mere weeks. I later found out it was not the fault of my stylist, or general bad luck with my hair (as I had suspected). It was simply because I continued to use the same drugstore shampoo and conditioner I had always used, instead of specialized products specifically for maintaining blonde.

When hair gets lightened, it naturally has orange-y undertones. To get to a richer, better blonde, stylists will apply a toner to get rid of unwanted undertones. The rich, ashy blonde tone (both in natural hair color and color-treated hair) fades overtime from sun, hard water, and heat styling (basically just living your life).

Purple shampoo and conditioner work as an at-home toner to keep away unwanted yellow, orange, or red undertones, and to extend your color for much longer than it would last on its own. Fresh-out-of-the-salon color for months and extended time between salon visits!? What blonde (or brunette with highlights!) wouldn’t want that!

We love Redken’s Color Extend Blondage Color Depositing Purple Shampoo and Conditioner because not only is it the best blond extender on the market, but it also has Triple Acid Protein complex to strengthen the hair — the secret to full, luscious, and healthy hair. Use this instead of your regular shampoo and conditioner once or twice a week (depending on how cool you want your color to be).

Say goodbye to lackluster, frizzy, brassy hair, and hello to vibrant, bouncy blonde!

 

 

 

This post is sponsored by Redken, but all of the opinions within are those of The Everygirl editorial board.

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