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Balayage Hair Color

What's the Difference Between Balayage and Foils?

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Balayage Hair Color

Balayage is a hair painting method

Medioimages/Photodisc

To get the perfect sun-kissed highlights, you basically have two options: traditional foil highlights and the newer, edgier "balayage."

Balayage refers to the process of sweeping color onto hair using a paddle. Balayage gives the colorist more freedom to place color where she/he chooses, unlike foils which can be much more precise. Stylist Eva Scrivo of the Eva Scrivo Salon in NYC told Allure magazine that balayage isn't just for blondes. It's great for coloring grays because the stylist can cover the few gray strands rather than having to color the entire head. And Scrivo uses balayage on her brunette and redheaded clients, too. "Hair color that is all one shade can look like a wig," she says in Allure.

I sat down with hairstylist Antonio Gonzales of Orlo Salon in NYC to get the scoop on the difference between foils and balayage.

Antonio, I hear you've been getting a lot of questions from clients about balayage. Balayage is sometimes referred to as "hair painting," right? The stylist basically paints color onto chunky sections of hair to lighten it.

Antonio: Actually, it's called "sweeping" because we use a sweeping motion when we apply the color with our color applicator. So rather than taking a section of hair in a square foil (keeping in mind that the head is round) we carefully take pieces of hair from the head. It can be a few strands, or as you mentioned "chunky." With great control, we gently apply our lightener on from roots to ends or roots. If it's just a color touch-up, we can apply the product to the roots only.

When do you choose to do balayage over traditional foil highlights?

Great question, being a foil man I feel that there is a woman for either one. I choose to balayage...

  1. When it's a first time highlight client who is specifically asking for very subtle natural highlights on any shade hair.
  2. If the client (male or female) has very short hair. Often you are standing behind someone and you think "what the hell happened?" -- all you see are stripes of bleached hair. Foils in this case may not be the answer, balayage will give you the most natural finish.
  3. I have had clients come to me who were foiled and are asking for hair that is more maintainable. They feel that they are too blond. Sure, you can archive this with foils but highlighting and low lighting with the balayage technique is plain old fabulous!
  4. Recently I met a friend of a friend for the first time and after saying hello she promptly asked "What would you do with my hair?" Her hair color was pretty, but because of the dark roots or dark shadow like a halo around the hair line I quickly responded, "Well, I am guessing you haven't had your color done for a month or so. To my surprise, it had been done 1 week before. Her frustration is her stylist never being able to get to the fine hairs at the hair line by foiling.

Can I tell you, I was so EMBARRASSED!! I quickly invited her into the salon and we balayaged the hair line and she was very happy, it totally looked SO much better.

Balayage was popular back in the 80s, right? It experienced a resurgence a few years ago and has been popular since. Is it still a hot trend at Manhattan salons?

Yes, it was and is very popular. It's been practiced in uptown Manhattan for a long time and we are so happy it is back in high demand once more. Actually I started working with Eva (the owner of Eva Scrivo Salon) years ago and she was doing it long before then and she help me really perfect the technique.

What's great about it is there are so many different ways to balayage all when in the right hands produces beautiful color.

Do you use the same bleach with balayage as you do foil?

I don't. Different bleach has different consistency. I like a powdered lightener, when mixed it is creamy almost like yogurt rather than to dry or flakey. It allows me to leave the product on longer to give the amount of lift that is needed. Once the bleach is moist it will continue lifting if it dries out it stops lifting.

When I think of this technique, I think of beach effect, because that's how it's always described. Is it better to get balayage in the summer?

For first time clients and the client that highlights but is not a total blond... YES!! A few pieces along the hairline will make any woman feel like a million bucks. For the already highlighted (the blonde) client, it depends on what they desire.

How would you highlight brown, black or red hair with balayage?

It's really easy. If it's virgin hair you can use high lift tints. These are great because they allow you to lighten the hair while controlling unwanted tones keeping the desired color. For example, if someone has medium brown hair and want highlights but would like to stay away from being too warm, you can choose a high lift tint that has a ash or violet base to counteract the natural warmth in the hair giving you highlights that complement the natural hair color without being too red. If it is color-treated, you can then use lighteners which will give you enough lift. If I am using lighteners on hair already color treated, I use heat as the last resort especially if the hair is not too dark. So I slowly allow it to lift to the desire tone, it will lift!!

My friend has naturally curly hair and loves to get balayage. Is it especially nice on curly hair?

Honey, it's like magic!!! No matter what the clients hair color is, this technique is by far more natural and sexy on curly hair, and yes, a color can be sexy! With curly hair, you can not only use thick and thin sections, you can also use different colors and it's so beautiful. It really enhances a great "sparkle of color in the hair.

Since it's less tedious and time-consuming than foil highlights, is it less expensive?

I can foil with my eyes closed, but balayage actually can be far more tedious that foiling, it depends on the palate you have in front of you. Pricing varies, I don't use terms like "half head" or "full head" for foils or balayage anymore, because color is far more sophisticated than it used to be, most of the times if the client wears her up I would apply a few pieces at the back as well, and who counts foils to decide where a "half head" starts or ends? So then that affects the pricing, it really depends.

The color doesn't get close to the roots with balayage, so the roots aren't as obvious when it grows out.

Actually the color gets very close when applied well, what makes the growing out process natural is the way the color is applied by getting very close to the roots and the very thin application of color which really disguises the roots, so as it grows its far more blended.


If I have dark hair, but want to go blonder, can you bleach my base color and then add balayage highlights?

Not recommended, that would end up looking like a double process blond. There are other ways in creating a softer color base that is more gentle on the hair and has a natural looking color than bleaching. We call them ON and OFF, glazing, toners etc. But that's a whole other topic.

Since I've had foil highlights, would I be a candidate for balayage, or would the balayage effectively wipe out those cool contrasting colors?

You can create color equally with both techniques.You are a perfect candidate for balayage, in fact the next time you come in I will balayage you with my magic color wand and give you some gorgeous summer streaks to write about.

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