beauty

Balayage vs ombre hair: Which is the best alternative to highlights? We ask two hairdressers.

To quote Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Fleabag, “hair is everything”.

We’ll let you mull over the accuracy of this statement, no judgement from us, but when it comes to colouring your tresses, there are two styles which dominate salon requests across the country: balayage and ombre hair.

But what do the terms actually mean? What is the difference when it comes to balayage vs ombre hair? How do you best maintain each style and which one is going to look the best on you?

To get the answers you want, need and deserve, we spoke to Sydney hairdressers Sora Bae (@sora.b_hair) and Dane Wakefield from Edwards & Co. Alexandria (@dane_edwardsandco) for a professional breakdown of the two colouring techniques, and which one you should ask for next time you’re in the salon chair.

5 ways to lift your hair game that you can do at home. No trip to the hairdressers necessary. 

Video by MMC

What is ‘balayaged hair’?

To put it simply, Master Hair Colourist and Stylist Dane, describes balayage as a technique where you’re “hand-painting colour onto sections of hair, while leaving some pieces natural”.

“You still get that graduation where it’s darker at the root and lighter on the ends but there’s more variation and dimension through the ends,” he says.

“It’s a little bit softer compared to a highlight where you’re placing the colour in a specific section and painting all the way to the roots, which creates a bigger impact of colour in a specific spot.”

 

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Describing the style as low-maintenance and relaxed, Sora also notes the versatility of the colouring method.

“It combines your natural hair colour with lighter tones to create dimension, texture and movement,” she says.

“It’s a more subtle look and the colour will normally just be one, two or three shades lighter than your natural colour.”

 

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You should consider balayage if you…

  • Want natural-looking colour in your hair which builds dimension.
  • Like a sun-kissed, beachy look.
  • Want a colour treatment that isn’t high maintenance. Since the colour isn’t applied to the roots, you won’t have to struggle with re-growth.

 

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What is ‘ombred hair’?

Ombre on the other hand, uses a more dramatic application of colour, especially when compared to its more demure cousin, balayage.

“Ombre is more of a block of colour at the root, and a block at the end, with a transition between the two, so your ends are more saturated in colour. In that sense there’s not much dimension through it, it’s just the graduation from dark to light,” says Dane.

 

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Despite this, he warns that the higher concentration of colour in your hair, means you’ll also need to put in more effort in maintaining the colour, especially if you naturally have darker hair and want to transition to a platinum blonde, pastel or neon shade, like purple, blue or pink.

“Since you’re working with so much colour, things do become obvious when the shade becomes brassy, or less vibrant,” he notes.

You should consider ombre if you…

  • Want a more dramatic look.
  • If you want to experiment with adding colours like pastel pinks, purples and blues.
  • Don’t mind putting more effort toning and maintaining the colour on your ends. Especially if you go for a colour that will fade or become brassy over time.

 

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How do you maintain balayage and ombre hair?

There are two main reasons why it’s a lot more effort to look after colour-treated hair:

  1. To keep your hair looking and feeling healthy. The process of dying and lightening your strands will inevitably damage your hair, making it more dry, brittle and dehydrated.
  2. To maintain your new colour. The pigment in hair dye naturally fades over time and you’ll want to use colour-toning products to make sure your hair continues to look fresh and vibrant. Certain chemicals like chlorine, salt water and the trace metals in tap water can also turn hair brassy, AKA the unwanted yellow, red and orange tones that can sometimes plague coloured hair.
Balayage hair vs ombre hair
(L) Rosie Huntington-Whitely wears her hair in a balayage lob. (R) Chrissy Teigen goes for a brunette or blonde ombre shag cut. Image: Getty.
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However, to maintain the colour and health of processed hair, Dane recommends a simple-ish routine using these three core products:

Although Dane prefers to work with professional-grade products - he says you "get what you pay for" - the cardinal rule of beauty applies: experiment and see what works for you.

Balayage hair vs ombre hair

How to style balayaged and ombred hair?

When it comes to styling your new 'do' at home, both Dane and Sora say that waving or curling your hair is the best way to showcase its newfound dimension and colour.

"You get that wow-factor out of it," says Dane.

"Doing a wave in the hair always shows off the dimension in colour a lot more. You're putting that bit of volume and width in the hair, so you can see the highlights and lowlights a lot more. The subtle transition in the colour become more evident."

Sora agrees, and says she prefers a soft-wave over a 'tighter curl'.

"I love doing a beachy wave as it brings in more texture, while still looking natural and soft. It means you can see more of the hair," she says.

Styles for long balayage hair:

 

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Styles for short balayage hair:

 

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Styles for long ombre hair:

 

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Styles for short ombre hair:

 

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Which style do you prefer? Balayage or ombre? Tell us in a comment below.

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