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Balayage vs Highlights: Which Should You Choose?

Do you feel like it's time to switch up your hairstyle? With warmer weather right around the corner, it's the perfect time for a new look.

If you're considering a new hair color service, deciding between balayage and highlights can be tough. And while those are the styles you usually hear about, there’s actually a third that is gaining in popularity, so we’ll talk you through that as well.

In the end, it's all about personal choice and the look you want to achieve. First, let's talk about the differences between the three styles (we love them all, it just comes down to what you're looking for).


Your natural base color will be lightened with foil or paper (this is the traditional method, although there are others). Foils are used to strategically isolate parts of the hair in various shapes and patterns and this creates contrast that can be very bold or a bit softer.

To achieve highlights, stylists start 1/16 of an inch from the scalp and add color to the ends. Highlights tend to add a deeper contrast in color between your natural hair and the lightened hair.

Balayage (bah-lee-ahge)

The word itself comes from the French word balayer, meaning "to sweep", and that's exactly what happens! This technique is described as a “free-hand painting" because the stylist will choose more random parts of your hair to lighten, giving the style a more natural look.

Balayage is used to add dimension, whether lighter or darker than your natural color. It can “lift”, or lighten, your hair up to 3 levels. Saran wrap, paper, or foils can be used with this technique.


Stylists have combined the techniques of highlighting and balayage to create foilayage. Since your hair can only be lifted up to 3 levels of lightness with balayage, we needed a technique that creates a rich dimensional finish that was closer to the roots.

The use of foils helps stylists get closer to the roots and allows you to lighten as much as your hair will allow it. But foilayage keeps the blend of dark roots to lighter ends without getting a stark line when the roots grow.

Which Technique Will Give You the Perfect Look?

Now that we've covered the basics, let's talk about which one is best for your specific style.

Why Choose Highlights

  • Perfect for creating a bold, contrasting color

  • Best suited to long hair

  • Add the illusion of volume and thickness

Why Choose Balayage

  • Less contrast than highlights

  • More subtle, natural-looking results that add depth

  • Makes your hair appear lighter, mimicking a sun-kissed color

  • Keeps the roots natural

  • Requires much less upkeep than all-around color or highlights

Why Choose Foilayage

  • Color starts closer to the roots

  • Subtle, natural look

  • Requires more touchups than balayage, but fewer than highlights

Things to Consider

Find the Right Stylist

No matter what style you choose, choosing the right stylist is key. Any of these styles can look great on you, but making sure your stylist has experience in that style will ensure a seamless finished look.

Choosing the hair strands in balayage may be "random", but it takes skill to know which sections will create the look you're going for.

Factor-In the Upkeep

Remember that highlights require a touch-up appointment every 4-6 weeks to maintain the lighter color and minimize regrowth. Balayage on the other hand can last for a few months, or you can let the color grow out if you want a more temporary style.

Give Your Hair Some Extra Love

Lightening your hair can make it feel dry and brittle, so be sure to find a good moisturizing shampoo and conditioner to keep your hair feeling healthy. You could even choose products that are specially formulated for color-treated hair because they'll help with the longevity of your color.

The Bottom Line

Whether you go with highlights or balayage, you'll get a beautiful style that will live up to your hair goals. Make sure to enjoy the process and don't stress over which one is “better” because at Cualtzin Salon, we'll help you achieve the perfect style that you've been looking for.

If you're wanting to change up your hair color, consider booking an appointment with us today!

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