Balayage vs Highlights

You’ve finally decided to change your look and even looked extensively into new ideas for hair colors.

The truth is there is nothing like the beachy, sun-kissed glow you get from hair highlights.

But in searching for the perfect highlights, you may have to decide between balayage vs. highlights.

On the surface, the two-color variations look similar, but each technique is different.

When it comes time to get a few highlights in your hair, the choice will always be between balayage and traditional foil highlights.

If you’re in luck, your hair stylist might be skilled in both and in a better position to help you decide on the technique that enables you to achieve your desired look.

But still, you will have to choose between the two.

Luckily, we are here to help.

We’ve broken down in detail balayage vs. foil highlights, including the differences and how to decide between the two.

Keep reading to find out more.

What Is Balayage

Balayage is a word that originates from the French language and means “to sweep.” The hair coloring technique involves hand painting or sweeping highlights on the surface of random hair sections.

Lightener or dye is painted on, starting in the middle and becoming denser as it moves down the hair section to the ends. Since the color is swept on the surface of your hair, it results in a natural sun-kissed glow effect that’s not as strictly patterned as with traditional highlights.

Contrary to popular belief, balayage isn’t the look itself; it’s the technique. Balayage is often compared to the natural effect of the ombre look.
Balayage highlights are usually a few shades lighter than the base color, thus giving your locks a natural dimension and depth.

The highlights blend nicely into your natural hair, making balayage easier to maintain with the proper techniques and products.

Types of Balayage

There are different types of balayage you should be aware of and they include:

Full Balayage

This is a comprehensive lightening technique where your colorist will paint highlights throughout all your locks. The effect is a dramatic change of color. It is an excellent option if you want to lighten your hair without bleach and all the maintenance that goes into partial highlights. 

Partial Balayage

The technique involves strategically painting a small number of highlights to create a spotlight effect. Partial balayage gives your hair a hint of lightness since the attention is on one or two small areas of your hair.

Reverse Balayage

As the name suggests, reverse balayage is the opposite of regular balayage highlights. Rather than lightening the hair, the stylist paints lowlights directly onto your strands. The technique mainly adds dimension to blonde locks and helps you transition into a darker shade.


Traditional highlights are achieved by the use of foils. Foils help trap heat, allowing the lighteners to penetrate deep into the strands. Foilyage looks similar to regular balayage, except your strands are significantly lighter.

Foilyage Hair Technique

What Are Highlights

Like balayage, highlights are also a technique of hair coloring. It is a more conventional way of lightening and adding depth to your hair. Highlights are usually created using aluminum foil which helps saturate precise strands from root to tip for a more intense lightning effect.

In this process, a few strands of hair are sectioned out by weaving a pick through smaller subsections and wrapping the separated strands in aluminum foil. The effect is a more pronounced contrast between the base color that frames the face and the lightened strands.

Highlights, in the end, help add a beautiful dimension to your mane. Contrary to balayage, highlights follow a structured pattern and must be touched up more often to prevent an unmistakable root grow-out look.

Types of Highlights

There are different kinds of highlights, with the most common including:

Full Highlights

This is a more comprehensive type of highlight. The stylist places highlights over the entire hair, which dramatically lightens your overall hair. Because of that, full highlights require more maintenance.

Partial Highlights

This involves lightening a few strands of hair to achieve a sun-kissed effect, like balayage. Partial highlights enhance the natural hair color rather than changing it completely. As a result, they are much easier to maintain.

Mini Highlights

Mini highlights are also referred to as babylights. The stylist places a small handful of highlights around the face for a subtle brightening effect similar to the dimensional hair color that occurs naturally in young children.

Baby highlights add a soft glow, mainly if applied to the strands that frame the face. Since they are just accents, they are much easier to maintain than full or partial highlights.

Foil Highlights

This is where the stylist colors sections of your hair and then wraps them in aluminum foil. Foil traps heat, making the lightener more effective. Since traditional foil highlights enhance the effects of your dye or bleach, your hair is more susceptible to damage.


The process is similar to when your stylist gives you highlights. The only difference is that lowlights darken your hair by a few shades rather than lightening it. Lowlights can make the base color moderately darker or add dimension or depth to the all-over color.

Cap Highlights

The technique involves placing a plastic cap with holes over your hair. The hairstylist pulls out strands of hair through the holes and lightens them.

Cap highlights usually look subtle and natural, although they can look like zebra stripes if done incorrectly. The cap creates a barrier between the dye and your scalp, which is a good option for people with sensitive skin or allergies.

Cap For Highlights

Main Differences 

When it comes to choosing between balayage and highlights, it all comes down to the look you are going for. Balayage creates a natural, sun-kissed effect giving you that “I just came back from the beach” look every woman wants.

If you want a more structured hairdo, you are better off choosing traditional highlights.

We’ve broken down the main differences between balayage and highlights to make it easier for you to choose between them when you want to change your look in the future.


While highlights and balayage are similar, they differ in application. Highlights almost always involve aluminum foils, while balayage is an exclusively hand-painted technique. Balayage creates more subtle results than highlights and gives you a more natural glow.

Balayage starts a few inches down from the roots, with the lighter shade blending beautifully into your natural hues. Highlights, however, result in a dramatic color change that starts at the roots and creates a face-framing effect.

Longevity and Maintenance

If you’ve always wanted to try caramel balayage hair, one thing you should know is that balayage is incredibly long-lasting. The painting technique creates a soft transition between the highlights and your base color.

Since there isn’t an obvious line of demarcation, your natural hair color seamlessly blends into the lightened shade. As a result, the roots aren’t as noticeable when they start growing out.

On the other hand, traditional highlights create a dramatic effect that requires touch-ups every 6 to 8 weeks. Balayage can last well over 3 to 4 months before needing a touch-up. Some women even go for more than 6 months.

Hair Damage

This is something you must consider. Balayage doesn’t use foils and therefore generates less heat. Heat works by opening up the hair cuticles so the chemicals in the lightener can penetrate the strands better.

While heat can help achieve lighter and better shades, it can also lead to hair damage in the long run. So, balayage is a much safer option than traditional highlights. However, with the proper hair care routine, there is no reason why you can’t maintain healthy hair strands and rich hair color.


While individual hair stylists and salons vary, balayage is generally more expensive than regular highlights. Balayage is considered a luxury hair coloring technique with a price tag that reflects that.

The balayage technique also requires more training, which adds to the high cost. Highlights typically cost between $75 to $150, while balayage can cost between $75 to $500.

This price will depend on the stylist’s experience, the type of salon, the length and thickness of the hair and the amount of hair to be colored. All in all, while balayage costs more, it’s worth it in the end.

When you think about it, it’s more long-lasting, looks better, and doesn’t damage your strands like traditional foil highlights. However, as mentioned, it all comes down to your personal preference.

Pros and Cons of Balayage

While balayage is a form of highlights, key differences give it an edge over regular highlights. Similarly, there are instances where highlights are the better choice. We look into the best and worst of balayage so you can make a more informed choice.


  • Balayage creates more natural-looking highlights due to the seamless transition of color from the roots to the rest of the hair.
  • The technique is low maintenance and requires fewer touch-ups.
  • Balayage results in less chemical damage to your strands.


  • It is a more expensive hair coloring technique, with some salons charging almost twice more than traditional highlights.
  • It isn’t effective on hair that has previously been colored.
  • Since the method doesn’t generate much heat, it leaves your strands susceptible to a brassy effect.
  • Balayage takes longer to complete than traditional highlights.
  • Finding a stylist skilled in balayage can be challenging.

Pros and Cons of Highlights

Like balayage, we’ve highlighted the best and worst of this hair coloring technique if you are still unsure about highlights.


  • Highlights are cheaper to get than balayage.
  • Highlights do an excellent job of covering gray hairs than balayage.
  • It’s much easier to find a hairstylist skilled in doing highlights than the specialized balayage technique.
  • Highlights take little time to complete.
  • It’s easy to layer foil highlights over other color types like semi-permanent dyes, demi-permanent dyes, or henna.


  • Since highlights involve heat, they can lead to hair damage and result in severe dryness or breakage.
  • They also require more maintenance; you must consider touching up your color every 6 to 8 weeks.
  • Depending on the highlights you get, you may end up with an unnaturally-looking effect.
  • If they are not placed correctly, they may look stripy or chunky.
  • Once your hair starts growing out, there will always be a clear line of demarcation.

How to Choose Between Balayage and Highlights

Choosing between balayage and highlights is a personal choice. However, there are a few instances when you might prefer one over the other.

Go for balayage if:

  • You’ve never colored your hair before.
  • You want more subtle highlights.
  • You want a low-maintenance style. 
  • You want a more natural gray coverage.
  • You want face-framing highlights.

Go for regular highlights if:

  • If you want a uniform color with multiple shades.
  • You don’t have a problem with maintenance and regular touch-ups.
  • You want high contrast and prominent color patterns.

In the end, balayage looks more natural, is easier to maintain, and doesn’t damage the strands. If that sounds appealing to you and you have the budget, then go the balayage route. On the other hand, opt for highlights if you want that dramatic color change that will save you money.

The lighting process that goes into highlights is much more brutal than with balayage, but it’s a great option when you want to experiment with different shades, from brunette, red, grey, pink, purple, or orange hues. Both hair coloring processes work best for all hair types, whether straight, curly, wavy, thick or thin hair.

How to Choose Between Balayage and Highlights

Tips to Prevent Hair Damage and Maintain Hair Color

Nothing can beat black hair with highlights, something you can only achieve if you decide to change your hair color. Balayage or traditional highlights both involve changing the color of your hair.

Ultimately, both can damage your lovely locks, especially if you don’t maintain them well. To prevent that and keep that new look for longer, there are specific measures you need to put in place.

Wash Hair Less Often 

One of the best things you can do for your hair is to wait before washing it after dyeing. Essentially, cut down on how often you wash your colored hair. Washing, especially shampooing, can strip away moisture from your hair, quickly fading your new color.

To prevent this, add a day or two between washes and only use shampoo when necessary. If you need a touch-up between your wash days, clean your hair using a cleansing conditioner or co-wash instead.

Protect Your Hair From Environmental Exposure

Sunlight, air pollution, salt water and even chlorine can cause the color to fade quickly, leaving your hair dry and crunchy.

If you must head out:

  • Apply sunblock or a UV filter to your hair.
  • Coat your hair with conditioner before you swim in chlorinated or salty water.
  • Wear a hat or scarf when going out and a swim cap when swimming.
  • Put your hair into buns, twists or braids so only a few strands are exposed.

Invest in Color-Safe Formulas

If you must color your hair, then make sure you switch to color-safe products. These products are specifically formulated to minimize color fading. Some even contain small amounts of color-boosting pigments, which helps keep your hair looking vibrant.

Avoid Heat Styling

Heat opens up your hair cuticles, creating openings that lead to dye bleeding and fading. So flat irons, blow dryers, and even washing your hair with hot water are a no.

If you must use heat tools to style your hair, keep them to a lower temperature setting. You should also consider using a heat-protecting serum before you use heat on your hair.

Moisturize Your Hair

Your goal after coloring your hair is to ensure it looks healthy. Healthy hair retains color more efficiently and looks better. So, ensure your hair has the moisture it needs by giving yourself weakly deep conditioning treatments.

Don’t Miss Your Hair Appointments

Balayage is a low-maintenance hair technique, but even then, it doesn’t mean that you don’t need to do touch-ups. Make weekly appointments with your hair stylist to tone, nourish and restore your hair for both treatments.


Which lasts longer, balayage or highlights?

Balayage lasts longer than highlights. Balayage can last for 3 to 4 months without requiring touch-ups, while highlights need to be redone after 6 to 8 weeks.

Are highlights more expensive than balayage?

While prices differ from one salon and stylist to another, highlights are always cheaper than balayage.

Is balayage expensive and time-consuming to maintain?

Balayage takes a long time since it doesn’t use heat, but it only requires a little maintenance. It, however, costs more. Balayage can cost between $75 to as much as $500.

How long does balayage hair last?

Balayage hair can last between 3 to 4 months, while some women can go for up to 6 months before requiring any touch-up.

How long do highlights last?

Highlights take little time to get, although they also require more maintenance. Most highlights will last 6 to 8 weeks, after which you will need to touch up.

Will balayage or highlights suit me better?

It all comes down to your personal preference. Balayage will suit you if you are looking for something low-maintenance. At the same time, if you are looking for a dramatic color change, then go for highlights.


And that brings us to the end of the endless debate of which is better; balayage or highlights. Both hair coloring techniques will work for you if you want to change your look; the only difference is the effect.

Balayage results in a natural-sun-kissed effect, while highlights have a more dramatic color change effect. You are better off discussing your options with a skilled professional before you decide on either.

Michele Antunes

About the author: Michele Antunes

Michele Meesh Antunes is the lady of the Beardoholic writers team and a genius when it comes to hair and beard styles that suit any face shape. She’s been a barber for years now and, no matter your personal style, she knows exactly what beard, hairstyle and length suit you. She brings the women’s perspective on beards, beard care, haircuts and hairstyles and male grooming.

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