Adventures in Balayage

Beauty Skeptic's BalayageA peek at some of my balayage highlights.
Excuse my comically bad lighting that does not fully showcase how awesome my hair is.

After lengthy consideration, I decided to go forward with balayage highlights. I went for a consultation on September 13, which is where I gathered my information on how to prepare for my balayage highlighting appointment. Balayage isn’t something new, even if it is a new-ish trend in the United States; but I could swear, of all the haircolor techniques out there, this one was made with me in mind.

I did extensive research and chose a charming salon in my area, had a really positive consult, and was ready. By my September 20 appointment, I was rarin’ to go.

So, Tell Me What you Want

To my consult, I brought the following three photos, found on Pinterest, for inspiration:

Adventures in Balayage - Inspiration

Clients get caught up in trying (and failing) to describe what they’re looking for. Pictures help. But you know what else really helps? Explaining and or showing what you definitely, under no circumstances, do not want. Most balayage highlights create a lovely, ombre effect on the hair – but not all ombre hair is balayage. For me, “ombre,” leaves a sour taste in my mouth. Search Google Images for, “Ombre hair,” and you’ll see what I mean. Severe, harsh transitions. Lines, even. I want nothing about my hair to be harsh, and I grew out a misguided hair choice once before and dealt with awkward lines. Never, ever again. Balayage is french for, “sweeping,” and damn it, that’s what I want. Lines of demarcation are the enemy.

Decisions, Decisions

Armed with those three photos my colorist and I made some decisions together. Notice how I said together? It should be a joint effort. Most of these decisions took place during my consultation. But if you and your colorist don’t agree on the course of action – say, you want X and she thinks you ought to do Y? You’re going to have a bad time. As a client, you should have realistic expectations and asks for your colorist. She or he may well seem like a wizard, but it isn’t magic.

Based on those photos, my expression of my #hairgoals, my habits, and prior aversion to color we decided:

  • As far as color goes, the third option made the most sense to emulate. After all, it’s easier to make more changes down the road than to go, “Shit, I don’t like this as much as I thought I was going to!”
  • Overall placement somewhere between the 2nd and 3rd photo.
  • To place more product at the ends to concentrate a little more blonde color there (like the 2nd photo).
  • …But to overall play it a little safe.

It can be a little intimidating to be in the chair, but when you’re spending money on these services, it’s worthwhile to be 100% sure you’re on the same page. If your stylist or colorist is worth a damn, she or he WANTS to produce results you’re happy with. If the salon you’re working with is not eager to work to that goal, find another salon. Seriously.


My colorist brushed my hair out (using the best brush in the universe, which we gushed over) and immediately got to sectioning. She started with the bottom sections of my hair and used a variety of methods to select hair to paint bleach onto. I’m not going to get into it – I only saw some of it, and I’m honestly not too sure what I saw. That is the part that seems like wizardry to me.

She painted my strands free hand, sweeping color onto my strands with care – I can demonstrate what she did, but I can’t explain it properly because I don’t speak Hair. The completed layers and sections were separated with bits of foil. Unlike foil highlights, this foil acted only as a barrier to prevent the product from bleeding onto hair above or below it. Some salons use saran wrap or cotton, it seems to be a colorist-preference sort of thing.

In all, the painting took about 45 minutes. I looked hilarious by the time she was done painting – it was kind of fun. While it processed, I got a manicure. It’s really rare that I get salon manicures (read: I usually don’t!) but it was gratis, so I went for it – and I’m glad I did! Getting that manicure made processing more fun than just sitting in a chair for a half hour.

After my colorist checked to confirm that my hair was where we wanted it, she whisked to the shampoo bowl and rinsed, washed, and conditioned. Next, she whipped out the scissors and reshaped my (yes, still long) hair into shape. Then, she blew my hair out with heat-protectant product to get a better sense of the color when it was dry to see if it needed any adjustments. Fortunately, it didn’t. It was exactly what we aimed for. That wouldn’t have happened if we didn’t communicate!

The Elephant in the Room

I’m going to ignore the talking-about-cost taboo. In my area, $120 is competitive pricing for a balayage application, and is what mine cost. You might be experiencing sticker shock or be offput if you’re accustomed to how much a set of foils costs – but remember: Foils = Maintenance.

There’s nothing wrong with that maintenance, but it is a trade-off. Although balayage is a steeper initial investment, you’re undoubtedly paying more money in the long run to touch up your roots. That isn’t just a direct dollar loss, that’s also a loss of time.

Furthermore, understand that balayage is considered an advanced technique. It hasn’t historically been part of basic beauty school curriculum (though it is starting to be), and many salons offer it employee colorists who have undergone additional training. It’s certainly more time consuming than foil highlights, especially on long hair. Consider, too, that it’s more of an art; it takes a good eye and judgment to free-hand them in a flattering manner…anyone who passed their state boards for hair can do foils. You’re paying for expertise, time, etc.

The Bottom Line

I’m thrilled with my hair, and yes – it was worth it. It’s so fun to look down and see bright, cheery blonde strands. The change, as my husband pointed out after my appointment, is not drastic – but I didn’t want it to be. Now that I see how it came out, though, I definitely want to take it further (like the 2nd picture) but that won’t be until next year. For something that isn’t really a major transformation, my new balayage highlights have done wonders to brighten my features.

In the process, I’ve FINALLY found, “my,” salon, and a stylist/colorist (she is both) I’m comfortable with. My hopes from this post, so long ago, have been met and exceeded…and I have fabulous new highlights as a result.