Balayage: The 15 Commandments
1. Balayage looks easier than it is, so to develop the proper skill level, you must be prepared to practice, practice, practice. Commit to learning the technique—develop a passion to excel.
2. Placement is always dictated by the cut, so if you plan to balayage your client, always cut the hair first.
3. Consistency is key. “Place desired quantity of lightener in your mixing bowl, and half the amount of Nutri-developer desired. Mix thoroughly, until the texture of the lightener is smooth and dense—like fondant icing. Finally, add the remaining developer needed for application, and whisk until blended, for a creamy Greek yogurt consistency,” says Nancy Braun, L’Oréal Professionnel Artist.
4. BTC balayage expert @prettylittleombre, aka Jamie Sea’s go-to toning formula for sandy blonde perfection? Redken Shades EQ 9NV + 9V! “I love Redken Shades EQ to tone after a balayage because it is quickly visible,” shares Jamie. “I often dilute my toner with clear, then leave it on for 10 minutes.”
5. Observe the hair carefully as you work—look for areas of contrast and variances of light and dark. This is what makes balayage different from foil highlights—the placement of color is guided by the natural movement of the hair.
6. When placing highlights, remember that the hairline and part areas are crucial—this is where women want to see light. You might only place one or two highlights in this area, but doing so gives the hair “sparkle” on top. The idea is to lighten the hair as if a spotlight is shining on top of the head. The result will look as if your client has been luxuriating on the beach for three weeks!
7. Be conscious of the “money piece.” This is a highlighted section one-to-two inches behind the hairline at the part that contrasts with the base color. It’s the focal point of the highlight design that draws the eye and really “pops.”
8. Create babylights around the face for a brighter effect, says Jamie. Foiling these pieces allow for more controlled placement. The result? A pop of light and dimension!
9. The brush that you choose to work with is critical—the right brush makes all the difference! Avoid brushes that are too wide, or that have an uneven surface that may grab or skip sections of the hair. Work slowly to ensure even saturation and consistent application along the entire strand.
10. Choose a smooth, creamy bleach when doing balayage highlights—nothing gritty or lumpy. The goal is to work with a product the consistency of cream cheese at room temperature. For developer, 30-volume is usually the best choice because strands are exposed to air and not wrapped in foil. (Darker hair might require heat.) Control your application by scooping the bleach off of a comb or board before you lay it on the hair. Reload the brush every time you paint a section of hair. Develop to pale yellow on blondes; gold on brunettes.
11. Make sure that you are always looking underneath each section to be sure the ends are fully saturated. Keeps midlengths clean and the finish will be dimensional balayage perfection.
12. Put away the foils! Instead, separate horizontal balayage sections with clear plastic wrap, which allows you to observe the progression of the development.
13. Balayage can be done on any base color because the effect is so natural, and lowlights can be balayaged too! If you’re highlighting and lowlighting the hair, apply the balayage highlights first and then place the lowlights in-between the bleached sections.
14. The biggest balayage mistake is placing too much product at the root, causing the highlight to look chunky or blotchy. The ideal balayage highlights are narrow and diffused at the root, and gradually widen through the midlengths and ends.
15. Keep your skills visible for clientele. “Promote an accent piece! Catch your client’s eye by guiding them to their perfect balayage service. Place service menus in your retail center, front desk, sinks or processing areas to suggest an add-on service for the perfect highlighted accent piece.” — DJ McGinley, L’Oréal Professionnel Artist