Balayage vs. Highlights: Which Is Best for You?

Summer’s right around the corner! Time to put some seasonal color in your hair. But what’s the difference between balayage and highlights? And which one is right for you? 


While balayage has been around for some time, it has skyrocketed in popularity in just the past couple years. It was developed by “French colorists back in the 1970s” (Loreal) and means “to sweep”. The term mirrors the technique. To apply balayage highlights, a stylist will freehandely brush the color onto the hair. The hair is then left in the “open air”, rather than being encased in foils. The goal is a natural, dimensional look. Balayage can be done on any hair color, although it requires more work if you have dark hair (as with any dye job). 

Because the color is painted on, freehand, the result is a more natural-looking root. This means less routine stops to the salon for touch ups. Balayage is best if you are looking for a natural, low maintenance look that is still super trendy. 


Highlights or foiling is one of the most common techniques used to color hair. The stylist will separate and select specific pieces of hair to lighten. Once the lightener is applied, the hair is folded into a square of foil to allow the lightener to work on your hair. Foiling tends to be used when you want a more dramatic color shift or if you want greater contrast between the lights and darks of your hair. However, because the lightener is applied root to bottom in foiling, grow out is a bit more noticeable. This may mean slightly more frequent upkeep. 

Both balayage and highlights have their advantages. It really depends on what you’re looking for in your hair. If you’re looking for something more natural that looks like you just came in from the beach, balayage is probably up your alley. If you’re looking for a lot of contrast or a dramatic change, try highlights! Really, it’s best to consult your stylist. They’ll know what’s best for your hair and you. There are also endless colors and looks to choose from once you’ve settled on a technique.  For more on this topic, check out our post, “Hair Coloring 101”.