The Difference Between Balayage and Ombre, Plus Which One To Pick

Balayage, ombre or a mix of both AKA balayage ombre? We help bring clarity to these popular colouring techniques.

Balayage and ombre are two of the most common hair colouring techniques, but it’s easy to get them confused. They are, after all, quite similar! Balayage is the process of hand-painting lighter streaks through the hair, while ombre involves creating a graduated fade of colour from root to tip.

Thinking about trying a new hair hue but can’t work out which style will give you the results you want? Our cheat sheet will help you work out the difference between the two colouring styles and decide which option to go for.

Balayage ombre: Woman with ombre balayage brown hair walking outside
Make no mistake: this is an ombre fade. Credit: indigitalimages.com

What is balayage?

Balayage = Subtle hand-painted streaks through the lengths and ends for a natural effect.

The French word ‘balayage’ translates as ‘to sweep’ and is a highlighting technique that involves a stylist ‘sweeping’ or painting individual sections of hair to create a subtle sun-kissed effect.

Using a freehand technique and barely touching the roots, the aim of a classic balayage is to create a natural-looking result that can’t otherwise be achieved with foils or meche highlights.

Depending on the desired results, this bespoke method usually uses colour only a few shades lighter and/or darker than your natural hair. So if you’re looking for a subtle change to help make your natural tones pop, balayage is perfect.

What is ombre?

Ombre = Concentrated colour through the ends for a more dramatic graduation, usually from dark to light.

Ombre is the effect of seamlessly blending two contrasting colours on hair, normally starting from a darker shade at the roots, and gradually melting into a lighter shade towards the tips. If you like the look of a more graduated colour, or a dramatic colour blend (e.g. pastel coloured tips) is what you’re after, then ombre might be more suitable. The fading from one colour into another usually starts from half or two-thirds of the way down the hair shaft, and resembles a fairly straight (but still soft) line.

This two-toned effect can, however, (and here comes the confusing part!) be achieved using the balayage technique for ultra-precise results. This is also known as a balayage ombre or ombre balayage.

Editor’s tip: However you colour your hair, make sure you’re using a shampoo and conditioner that are designed to care for it. We suggest using the TRESemmé Colour Shineplex Shampoo and Conditioner to gently cleanse and protect the vibrancy of your hue.

Balayage ombre: The best of both worlds

Still can’t decide? Thanks to technology and the increasing number of highly skilled colourists, finding a method that’s completely bespoke to you is no longer impossible, so combining two or more techniques in conjunction to get your perfect look is becoming more common. In fact, we highly recommend taking the extra time to discuss all the possible options with a stylist you trust.

It’s very likely they’ll know about a trick that you don’t, and can even suggest the most appropriate colouring methods for you. Want a reverse ombre? Or a more dramatic balayage? There’s always sombre (subtle ombre) and flamboyage (with lighter ends to add more depth and polish) to consider, too.

Balayage ombre hair colour on brunette woman
Ombre balayage or highlights? Make sure you do your hair homework. Credit: Instagram.com/erincoylehair

Who should get balayage vs. ombre?

The length and texture of your hair play into the decision-making process. While balayage works well on both straight and curly locks, subtle waves and curls can make the effect appear more natural-looking.

A similar principle applies to ombre, but because the two-toned effect is not designed to look natural, the results are bound to be more dramatic than balayage. What this means, in simpler terms, is that the effect on straight hair will be far more prominent than on curly or wavy tresses.

Generally speaking, both balayage and ombre are suitable for long and short lengths. However, that said, if you have a short pixie, the balayage effects may not be as visible.

Is your hair in good condition? Can it handle bleach? If you’ve answered no to one or both of these, you might want to rethink both options.

Because the ends are usually much lighter than your natural shade, it’s likely that the dyeing process will involve bleaching your hair. However, the colours picked are no more than a few shades lighter than your natural colour, bleach can be avoided, depending on the desired results. So, these are all factors to consider when you book in for your colour consultation. Credit: @erincoylehair

Balayage ombre: Woman with straight brown to blonde ombre hair
Dark brown to light blonde ombre. Credit: indigitalimages.com

How to care for your balayage/ombre hair

Once you’ve got your beautiful balayage or ombre, the aftercare is important not only for maintaining your colour but also the health and condition of your hair. Just because ombre and balayage are more natural than an allover colour, don’t forget that your hair has still been lifted with bleach so will be more prone to damage and dryness.

Ask your stylist about treatments they would recommend and at-home try to use masks and leave-in conditioners to keep hair soft and nourished. We also recommend reducing the heat you use on your hair as much as possible (that includes blow-drying!).

Editor’s tip: For coloured hair, we suggest working a moisturising mask like the Love Beauty And Planet Blooming Strength & Shine 2 Minute Magic Masque into your hair routine once a week. It’ll strengthen and nourish the hair, revive your colour and leave it looking healthier.