What Is the Difference Between Balayage and Highlights?

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At one point in time, highlighting your hair needed a cap, a crocheting needle, and a dose of patience. Well, this is not the case anymore. Currently, the hair coloring vocabulary has grown tremendously, and so are the options. We now have ombre, sombre, balayage, etc. 

Although these are the options, not many clients understand their differences. For example, do you know what is the difference between balayage and highlights? Well, let’s tell you. 

However, before we tell you the differences, let us first tell you what they mean. 

What Is Balayage

Balayage is derived from a French name that means ‘to paint or to sweep.’ It reflects how the color is ‘swept’ into the hair in a freestyle manner. When the color is applied, there is no need to touch the roots of the hair, and the color is painted from mid-length to the ends.

This technique is freestyle and does not use aluminum foil for application. Upon visiting a Balayage salon, the final result can be a natural sun-kissed look or an artfully blended color brush depending on your desired look. 

What Are Highlights?

Highlights are the older technique that uses aluminum foil to saturate small sections of hair. It’s mainly used to color the sections with a color a few shades lighter than the base color. For example, black hair can be highlighted with a blonde hue.

Unlike balayage, highlights are applied right from the roots of the hair up to the ends. Therefore, with highlights, proper hair maintenance is crucial as the hair grows. 

Key Differences

The Pattern of Color Placement. 

Balayage: Uses a freestyle manner to place the color on large sections of hair, which gives the hair a final artistic and barely organized look. 

Highlights: Uses aluminum foils to hold and saturate the color into small, well-organized sections of hair. The main focus is to highlight the areas of hair that help bring more focus to your face/beauty. 


Balayage: As the color is applied from mid-length to the tip of the hair, it is possible to grow it out naturally and therefore does not need regular maintenance. However, it is still recommended to have touch-up appointments every 12 to 16 weeks to ensure that your hair grows out more healthy. 

Highlights: When doing the traditional highlights, the color is applied from the roots of the hair. Therefore the hair will need a little more effort with regular touch-up as the hair grows out. You will need to book an appointment with your stylist at least once every six weeks. 

The Time to Complete the Application Process

Balayage: This technique uses a more artistic freestyle method to apply color. Therefore, depending on the length and thickness of your hair, it can take anywhere between 45 minutes to three hours to complete the process. 

Highlights: This technique is a little more detailed and organized. The stylist needs to section the hair and place the aluminum foils strategically. Therefore, depending on the length and thickness of your hair, it can take anywhere between 2-5 hours to finish the application. 


Balayage: The color used can be a few shades darker or lighter than your natural hair color. However, the intensity of the final product can be pretty low because the technique does not use aluminum foils to emphasize the color. 

Highlights: It is called a highlight for a reason. The technique uses a color a few shades lighter than the base color to highlight your hair. Also, the color intensity is very high and much lighter than balayage because of the aluminum foils.

Final Results

Balayage: Since the color is applied from mid-length, the color seamlessly blends and camouflages the hair at the roots giving it a natural feel.

Highlights: This technique is more dramatic, and the final result is an intense streak of highlighted hair sections. 


From above, you can see that although the intention might be the same, these two techniques are as different as heaven and earth. 

Therefore, it is essential to think carefully and put all the above points into consideration before settling for one technique. 

Whether you settle on a balayage blonde Bethesda, or highlights, ensure you have your hair done by a reputable and experienced stylist.

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