Balayage vs Highlights Side by Side

balayage vs highlights side by side

When it comes to hair coloring techniques, balayage and highlights are two of the most popular choices for those looking to add dimension and movement to their hair. Although they share some common goals, the techniques, results, and maintenance requirements differ significantly. Let’s dive into the specifics of balayage and highlights to help you decide which is right for you.

Balayage: An Overview

Technique: Balayage is a French coloring technique that has been around since the 1970s. It involves hand-painting color onto the hair, creating a soft, natural-looking, sun-kissed effect. The term “balayage” itself means “to sweep” in French, referring to how the color is applied.

Appearance: The result is a gentle gradation of lightness towards the ends—much like natural hair lightening from exposure to the sun. The most noticeable color is at the ends of the hair, and the transition from the dark roots to the lighter ends is seamless and fluid.

Maintenance: Balayage requires relatively low maintenance. The grow-out is less noticeable, which means fewer salon visits. This technique is easier on the wallet and on the hair, as less frequent coloring means less damage.

Best for: Balayage works best for individuals looking for a natural-looking enhancement to their hair. It’s versatile and can be adapted for different hair lengths, textures, and colors.

Highlights: An Overview

Technique: Traditional highlights involve applying color to select strands of hair from root to tip, using foils to separate the colored hair from the rest of the mane. This provides a uniform and consistent lightening effect.

Appearance: Highlights create a more uniform dimension throughout the hair and can significantly lighten the hair’s overall appearance if that’s the desired effect.

Maintenance: Regular touch-ups are required every 6-8 weeks to maintain the look of traditional highlights and to address root growth.

Best for: Highlights are ideal for those who desire a more pronounced, consistent color change with more even distribution throughout the hair.

Side by Side: Balayage vs Highlights

Application Method:

  • Balayage is hand-painted onto the surface of the hair strand and not saturated through until the very tips, unlike highlights which are applied evenly from roots to ends.

Growth Out:

  • With balayage, the outgrowth is more diffuse and less noticeable, whereas with highlights, the regrowth line is more apparent.


  • Balayage allows for more customization due to the freehand technique, whereas highlights are more structured.

Color Placement:

  • Balayage gives a more random, natural effect, mimicking where the sun would naturally lighten hair. Highlights are more uniform and symmetrical.

Time in Salon:

  • Balayage often requires less time in the salon compared to traditional highlights, as the process is generally quicker and less intricate.


Q: Can I switch from highlights to balayage? A: Yes, it is possible to transition from highlights to balayage with the help of a professional stylist. They can work with your existing highlights to create a more blended, balayage look.

Q: Is balayage more expensive than highlights? A: Balayage can be more expensive than traditional highlights due to the skill required; however, it may cost less over time due to fewer maintenance appointments.

Q: Which lasts longer, balayage or highlights? A: Balayage typically lasts longer in terms of grow-out appearance, but both techniques will require touch-ups to maintain the look due to new hair growth.

Q: Are balayage and highlights damaging to hair? A: All coloring techniques can be damaging, but because balayage often doesn’t use heat or require the dye to sit as long, it may result in less damage than traditional foil highlights.

Q: Can I have both balayage and highlights? A: Absolutely. Many people choose to combine both techniques to achieve a highly customized look. Your stylist can recommend the best approach based on your hair color and condition.

Understanding the key differences between balayage and highlights can guide you in choosing the right technique for your desired look. Consult with a professional stylist to see which option aligns with your hair goals and lifestyle. Whether you choose the sun-kissed effect of balayage or the defined dimension of highlights, both techniques can bring a beautiful transformation to your locks.