Kaleena Stroud
Updated on September 05, 2021

Do you often find yourself asking what is the difference between balayage and ombre? Both are among the hottest hair trends for everyday women and celebrities alike; sporting a gradual color transition from dark to light, balayage and ombre give us low-maintenance, lived-in color.

If you know you want highlights but aren’t sure what to ask for in the salon, knowing the difference between balayage and ombre is important.

Hang tight and we can show a peek into the world of these two top techniques so you can spot the look, know which suits you best and maybe just get to rockin’ it yourself!

What Is Balayage

Balayage is a French word meaning “to paint” or “to sweep.” It offers a soft, sun-kissed sweeping color from root to end. It is technically a highlighting technique but is not to be confused with the foiled highlights of the past. Gone are the days of sitting in the salon under the heat with a pound of foils in your hair in order to be blonder. Nowadays, balayage has taken over the traditional foiled highlights as the new way to brighten and lighten your hair.

Balayage involves the hair colorist hand-painting soft pieces of color from the roots that gradually become more saturated toward the end. Because the highlights are much softer at the root, the regrowth lines are less noticeable, making it the perfect choice for those who want the look without the upkeep every two to four weeks.

What the process looks like: You’ll want to bring photos of inspiration for your ideal hair look because each stylist can freehand how heavily to highlight your hair or not. You can ask for a “rooty” look if you like the lived-in color which means they will begin the highlights a few inches down from your root. Alternatively, the hair stylist can place the highlights further up to the base or directly at the root for a fresher vibe. No foil or meche is used.

The best way to differentiate it from ombre? It’s a highlighted look.

Perfect for: Those wanting customized highlights without the harsh lines. It’s also ideal for brunettes who want a natural-looking blonde ‘do.

What Is Ombre Hair

Ombre is the French word meaning “to shadow” or “to shade.” Ombre is a hair painting technique where the colorist keeps the hair darker from the roots to midshaft and then lighter from the midshaft to the ends. Ombre was probably the trend you heard about first and can be considered the O.G. hand-painting technique. It’s the perfect way for brunettes to transition into blonde or for bold women to rock a vibrant hair color without it saturating your roots and possibly overpowering your skin complexion. Ombre does not include foils and is a great low-maintenance look.

What the process looks like: The process includes painting on the color from dark roots to saturated, light ends. If hair is already colored or highlighted, the hair stylist may paint on roots at the base that match your natural hair color. It’s a good idea to bring a photo of your ideal “tip” color so your hair stylist can gradually work the color from mid-shaft to the ends.

The best way to differentiate it from balayage? It’s a solid, gradual look.

Perfect for: Those wanting super saturated blonde hair but without the high maintenance. It’s also very popular among those with crazier colored hair (such as green, purple or silver) to rock that trend in a softer way by allowing the roots to remain a natural color.

Balayage vs Ombre

It is easy to confuse ombre and balayage because they are two low-key looks going from dark to light. You may even be thinking: Is ombre and balayage the same thing? There are subtle but important differences when comparing them side by side. Ombre was the first technique to take over the A-lister looks and it lead the way for other painting techniques like balayage to have a place at the table. Ombre moved us away from foils and into a more creative and modern direction.

However, balayage quickly took over in popularity and left ombre in the dust due to it’s more natural lived-in and sun-kissed look. Because the hair stylist can choose where to hand-paint the color, the balayage technique can frame the face in a more customized way as the colorist places highlights where the sun would naturally hit.

Other Coloring Techniques to Look Into

If ombre and balayage weren’t enough to make your head spin, there are even more popular trends on the list to learn. Here are a few examples.

Sombre: For those who thought ombre was too harsh in the way it moves from dark to light, sombre was born. Meaning “soft ombre,” it offers subtle ombre hair that changes from root to end yet still offers the touch of the lived-in color look to take any hair color from dull to inspiring. Sombre still rings popular for the gray/silver hair trend.

Flamboyage: Roughly the same technique as balayage, flamboyage adds even lighter ends into the mix essentially becoming a blend of balayage and ombre. It’s the new alternative to highlights for a super subtle look.

Babylights: Very fine, subtle highlights. Perfect for fine hair, these simple highlights require foils like traditional highlights but are not as streaky and harsh.

Time to Transition into One or the Other

Because both ombre and balayage have become so requested in the past six years and counting (and seem to only increase in popularity), just about any hair salon you enter is able to give you the look. And if you are still unsure about which way to teeter, ask your hairstylist to go over which technique best meets your ideal hair goals. Simply choose your preferred look, some photo inspo, and voila! low-maintenance color that adds depth and brilliance to your lovely locks. What else can the modern woman ask for?

Featured Image via Instagram

Balayage ProcessBalayage TechniqueOmbre Coloring ProcessAsh Brown To Pastel OmbreAsh Grey Sombre HairFlamboyage Coloring TechniqueDark Grey Hair With Babylights