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Balayage vs. Ombré: What’s the Difference?

woman with ombre

Ever look in the mirror and think — “I’m ready for a whole new look?” Many of us answer the call with a fresh chop or switching up our hair color. Year after year, two of the biggest color trends are balayage and ombré. Both of these color trends are beautiful, but salon customers often confuse the techniques because they look so similar.

Although it’s easy to mix up the balayage and ombré techniques, the two styles have their differences. Depending on the look you’re going for, you may prefer a balayage vs. ombré, or vice versa. Knowing the differences in these techniques can help you decide which one is right for you. 

comparing and contrasting balayage and ombre
Photo sources: Oanh Truong | Michael Klomsue

What is a Balayage?

Like most chic things, these color trends are rooted in France. Balayage (pronounced: bal-yee-ahhge) is French for “to sweep.” When applying a balayage to the hair, a stylist will sweep the color onto the hair and form a gradient highlight from top to bottom. 

Not all of your ends will be touched by the hair color during a balayage. The transition from dark to light should be gradual and natural-looking, as if your hair was highlighted by the sun.

What is Ombré?

Ombré (pronounced: ohm-bray) is French for “shadow.” When creating an ombré in the hair, your stylist will leave the top of your hair dark and apply highlights to almost all of your ends. Although your hair stylist will paint on your highlights gradually, the ombré has a dramatic contrast and two-toned highlight effect.

Similarities and Differences Between a Balayage and Ombré

Both the balayage and ombré coloring techniques require your stylist to hand-paint highlights in your hair. Depending on the hairstylist applying your color, an ombré can be less dramatic and may look more like a balayage. 

The two styles get confused when hairstylists blend the techniques together. However, according to the definitions of the styles, an ombré should have more contrast than a balayage.

Benefits of a Balayage

The balayage technique will give your hair a natural and sun-kissed look. No matter what color your natural hair is, a balayage will add dimension to your hair. 

The highlights in a balayage will mix in with your natural color, and passerbys may not be able to tell that your hair color is artificial! The balayage style also won’t require frequent touch-ups since your highlights will blend in well with the rest of your hair.  

Benefits of Ombré

An ombré will make a statement and can highlight the waves or curls at the ends of your hair. Because the top of your hair will remain dark, you won’t need to go to the salon to re-dye your roots. Unlike a balayage that has a more subtle feel to it, an ombré is a great way to get yourself noticed.

Other Coloring Techniques You Can Try

A sombré is a “soft ombré” for those who like the ombré technique but think a regular ombré is too dramatic in contrast. The sombré requires less maintenance than the ombré because the highlights will be more subtle than a traditional ombré. A sombré is great for those who are new to ombré hair and want to do some experimenting. 

alternative hair coloring techniques sombre babylights
Photo sources: Rubyna Kim | STEPHANIE

You can also try babylights, which are light and subtle highlights, to brighten up your look. Babylights are white-blonde highlights that your stylist will place delicately in the hair.

How to Care for Your Color-Treated Hair

Whether you go for a balayage or an ombré, it’s essential to take care of your newly colored hair if you want healthy locks that feel and look great. The best way to take care of your hair is to use products made from quality ingredients. You’ll also want to keep an eye out for ingredients to avoid in your hair products.

tips for caring for color treated hair
  • Use Quality Hair Products: Avoid sulfate in your shampoo and conditioner when your hair is color-treated. Sulfates can strip away the moisture and color in your hair. You can also use a purple conditioner or toner in between visits to the salon to keep your highlights at their brightest. 
  • Invest in a Shine Spray: A shine spray or serum will keep your colored-treated hair moisturized and looking its best. 
  • Apply a Protein Treatment: Before dying your hair, a protein treatment can prepare your hair for the chemical process. 
  • Avoid Heat Styling: It’s okay to style your hair on special occasions, but your hair will thank you for experimenting with no-heat options.

The balayage and ombré hairstyles can be hard to decipher between at first, but once you know the differences between them, you’ll likely know which one you prefer. If you’re having trouble choosing the right hair coloring technique to compliment your look, you can reach out to our community of stylists to find inspiration.

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