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Balayage vs Foiling: How to Achieve Multidimensional Hair Color
By Melissa Johnson, Product Club Educator

Today, multidimensional hair color is trending throughout the industry. The beautiful blend of highlights and lowlights combined with dimensional richness and softness is a coveted look for many. But what is the best way to achieve that look? Regardless of trends, it is always a great idea to have different options of timeless hair color techniques to choose from in your skill set, so you can easily create the hair color of your clients’ dreams.


Balayage: Trend or Technique?

Balayage is both a popular trend and technique that continues to evolve over time. Since it involves hand painting to create a dimensional combination of depth and lightness, colorists can customize their lightener application to suit each client’s specific wants and needs. Balayage is a free-hand hair painting technique where you paint the lightener onto the hair in a sweeping motion to prevent demarcation lines.

The sweeping motion of the balayage paint brush gives you a softer blend at the roots and stronger brightness on the ends. Placement typically looks more organic and natural-looking, creating subtle and seamless contrast throughout the hair. Balayage also offers softer, less obvious regrowth, which is an excellent choice for clients who want to go longer between appointments and can’t commit to a frequent root touch-up or highlighting schedule.


Balayage Application Tips

The type of balayage application that you choose is a personal preference. Some colorists like to start at the ends and feather the lightener up. Others like to begin closer to the root area and then gradually add more pressure and increase the saturation of their balayage lightener as they move the hair color brush down the strands of the hair.

While the balayage tools that you choose may be your own individual preference, I would like to recommend some of the best balayage brushes and hair coloring tools to help make your hair color application a success. My personal favorites include the feather bristle brushes in combination with the balayage paddles. No matter what application method you prefer, you need to use high-quality hair tools to get the best results. Remember when you use the best hair color tools and modern hair color techniques, your clients will notice and appreciate your unique artistry – which sets you apart from other stylists and salons.


Highlights With or Without Hair Foils?

Even though there are many highlighting techniques out there, they all involve using foils to isolate individual strands or sections of hair. Traditional foil highlights are when you use a pin-tail comb to carefully weave out subsections of hair, then evenly apply lightener from the roots to ends. The strands saturated in lightener are then wrapped in foil, while some natural hair is intentionally left out of the foil to add contrast. This creates a brighter pattern with more obvious, dramatic dimension throughout the hair.


Hair Foiling Techniques

Hair foil is a great option when highlighting and coloring hair because it helps assist in the processing of the color or lightener. Using a traditional foiling technique is also beneficial because it allows you to get the lightener very close to the scalp for clients who want an overall brighter blonde look. Pop-up foil is a smart choice to use because it comes in a really convenient box that dispenses one sheet of foil at a time (so no more foil sheets sticking together!).

I also love using different colored foil sheets (color on the outside, silver side is application side) because they help me to keep track of processing times and color choices. It is so helpful to use different colored hair foils to track multiple formulas. I like using pink foil for darker hair color and gold foil for lighter hair color so I can easily identify the formulas and know which to pull out and rinse first. This also helps to keep darker colors from transferring onto lighter ones.


Hair Lightener Options

When choosing a lightener for highlights or balayage, there are several options to choose from. You should always be aware of how many levels your lightener will lift.

  • Clay: Most clay lighteners will lift about 6 levels. If the hair is thick or coarser, you may not get the full 6 levels.
  • Cream: Cream lighteners can lift 6-7 levels on average and are primarily for on-scalp applications or when a gentler lift is needed.
  • Powder: Powders are normally your power lifters. However, if you are using them for a traditional balayage application you will need to isolate and wrap the highlights with either thermal balayage strips, meche sheets, or balayage film. Powder lighteners often give you between 7-9 levels of lift.

Keep in mind that the suggested levels on most hair color products are based on an average of medium texture, density, and natural levels. Once you find out the history of your client’s hair, you can choose the lightener and technique accordingly.


Sectioning for balayage is normally a thicker section, often a triangle. This gives you a cushion for blending and keeps the root area softer. Sectioning for foiling should be kept thinner if you want to get closer to the root. Use balayage clips to separate the pieces of hair while you are working. I like taking a slice first and then weaving out of the slice. If you want thicker highlights using a traditional foiling method, try taking back-to-back foils (leaving no hair between) then leaving a section out. Using a weave can also create more texture. The more variety you use when sectioning the hair, the more organic the hair color will look.

Whatever method you choose to achieve multidimensional hair color, when you use the best hair dye tools, innovative hair color techniques, and your own unique artistry, your clients are sure to be satisfied.

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