Ombre vs. sombre: Which one’s for you?

Ink | 24 April 2016

We dissect the differences between the colouring techniques du jour to help find the right one for you.

Ombre and sombre: what are they and how do they differ? With these two terms being used interchangeably, and so often mixed up with dip-dye, babylights, and balayage along the way, it’s no surprise many of us still can’t really put a finger on the exact point of difference. Which is why we made it our mission to get down to the nitty gritty and clear up the confusion once and for all.

So if you’re thinking about trying out either ombre or sombre (still not quite sure which, right?), this is the perfect chance to brush up on your knowledge of one of this year’s hottest colouring trends before heading to the hairdressers and taking the plunge.

Plus, see a few of the best ombre and sombre examples below to inspire your next visit to the salon. Just don’t forget to show them to your stylist!

Leighton Meister ombre hair
Ombre or sombre – can you tell the difference? Leighton Meister. Credit: Getty Images

So, what is ombre?

Essentially, ombre is a shading technique used to seamlessly blend dark and light hair, normally starting darker at the roots and gradually fading into a much lighter shade towards the tips. Often applied using balayage (a highlighting technique that sees colour painted onto the hair freehand), ombre is a much subtler, more elegant take on dip-dyeing, a colouring trend that was all the rage with celebrities like Kylie Jenner and Vanessa Hudgens last year.

And sombre?

Think of it as a softer, subtler update on ombre (soft ombre = sombre!), which uses more shades and tones – several darker and several lighter than your natural colour – throughout the hair to create depth and texture. The natural colour of the roots is usually maintained and subtly woven through the entire length of the hair for an even more gradual contrast.

Ombre hair Jessica Alba
Ombre vs. sombre: Jessica Alba. Credit: Getty Images

How do they differ in terms of maintenance?

Both are pretty low maintenance, but because for sombre hair the roots are usually kept natural, it’s even easier to maintain than ombre, with regrowth barely being of concern at all.

Note that you’ll need to switch up your hair care routine if you’ve dyed your locks. Try the TRESemmé Colour Revitalise Shampoo and Conditioner (500ml, £3.69 each*) to help maintain your colour vibrancy.

Which should I go for and how do I ask for it?

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to ombre and sombre; like most dye jobs, it’s purely a matter of taste. Ultimately, it’s about the desired effects and how much upkeep you’re willing to do.

sombre vs ombre hair lily james
Lily James has got sombre down to a T. Credit: Getty Images

For those new to coloured hair, sombre is a brilliant way to test the waters, as the end result is less dramatic and the maintenance minimal. Likewise, if you have lighter coloured hair, sombre may also be a better option; ombre hair tends to be a trickier for super fair blondes. But luckily for you brunettes, ombre and sombre were practically invented to flatter you, and either are brilliant for weaving in lighter shades of gold, bronze and caramel to help enhance that glamorous summery glow and brighten up your complexion.

As for how to ensure you get what you want from your hairdresser? Bring in picture references: lots of them! Be articulate and clear when communicating what kind of results you’re after, and be open to advice and suggestions from a stylist you trust. Not every ombre or sombre example you love will necessarily work in relation to your hair, but remember: it’s all bespoke, so a seasoned colourist will be able to help figure out the best solution for you.

*RRPs are Unilever suggested retail prices only, it is at the discretion of the individual retailers to set the actual price.

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