What is Ombre Hair? Demystifying and Refreshing this Trend for 2019

You can't put a good trend down.

What is ombre hair, and why has it stood the test of time? Ever since Hollywood celebs and fashion-forward influencers decided to experiment with ombré back in the late 90s, it seems like the end is nowhere in sight. With good reason: It’s evolved to a look that’s oftentimes low-maintenance and subtly sexy (i.e. very wearable), and, perhaps most crucially, affords a few more weeks between touchups for those of us who don’t really coast on an A-list salary.

The gradation of color in an ombre, which is typically dark at the roots to lighter at the ends, is something totally customizable to your taste and preference—meaning the results are highly flattering and can be layered and intensified (or muted, as in the case of a sombré) as needed.

So what color is ombre really, and how can you refresh this look for the year ahead? We put together a few of our fave looks sure to keep you on point for 2019:

What is ombre hair? Your basic definition

First off, your instincts were right; it’s not English (and no, it’s not “ambre hair”, either—best to spellcheck!). Ombre is a French word that means  “shadow” or “shade,” so it’s actually quite an aptly named technique. Ombre hair typically transitions from dark to light, with deep roots lightening towards the ends. The look can range from a grown-in effect to a sun-kissed, highlighted feel to completely two-toned or dip-dyed, depending on how intense you want to go.

How is the technique achieved?

Ombre techniques differ slightly from salon to salon, and there are a few different ways to achieve the look.

A common way of naturally lightening the ends of hair is to backcomb or tease locks just above the transition line to avoid any telltale demarcations. Your stylist will then apply your color from the ends and up onto the teased area, and wrap the section in foil to set. This is called a foil technique and is also a common highlighting method.

Alternatively, some stylists prefer to apply the dye freehand (see: balayage), as this allows them to have greater control over the results—particularly important if you’re after a more natural finish.

What color is ombre?

If you search for ombre looks online or via Pinterest, you’ll probably notice that one of the most popular color combos is brunette and blonde. This is because it’s such a low-commitment yet stylish look, and is one of the more natural, universally flattering options out there. These dyes also offer a more natural fade-out as opposed to red shades, which can fade out quicker and brass out in fewer washes.

what is ombre hair brown curls
What is ombré hair? This color looks most natural on waves and curls, as the transitions are less noticeable. Photo credit: indigitalimages.com

That said, ombre isn’t a particular color; it’s a look that means hair graduates from dark to light. Lots of different hair colors can be used for an ombre dye job—from black to red to neon to even rainbow—so really, the possibilities are endless! This is also great for the color-shy, as you can simply try wash-out shades whenever you want a change but ain’t up for the commitment.

Now that you’re all squared up on your question of what is ombre hair, it’s a good time to tell you that there’s not just one way to wear this look, as we’re sure you know by now. Below, a few of our fave twists on the trend that work as fabulously for day or night:

1. Sombre

what is ombre hair smudged roots
Smudged roots are a popular and more natural-looking ombré technique, where the color starts higher on the head. Photo credit: Allyson Alapont

Sombre (or “soft ombre) is essentially just a subtler version of the look, with the highlights almost imperceptible. It’s the most natural option if you want dimension but want to keep it low on the drama (or upkeep!).

2. Balayage

what is ombre hair balayage
Balayage is the more natural and freehand version of ombre!

Another French technique, balayage means “to sweep” or “to paint,” and, as the name suggests, entails a stylist using a freehand technique to paint on your highlights. She or he first eyeballs where your natural highlights would fall then proceeds to dye your hair without the use of foils or caps and only using a dye brush. It may sound a bit haphazard for some color purists, but fans of the process swear by the natural, sun-kissed, highly personalized results—especially when they hit the sides of your face for a more flattering glow. To maintain your highlights’ shine, invest in a wash and care system specially made for highlighted or colored hair. We’re obsessed with Nexxus Color Assure Shampoo and Color Assure Conditioner.

3. Reverse Ombre

what is ombre hair reverse ombre
The reverse ombre look starts lighter on top and fades to a darker shade. Photo credit: indigitalimages.com

If you’ve got naturally light locks, such as blonde or lighter red,  you’re most likely going to need to darken or smudge up the root with a deeper shade to create more contrast. You can also opt for a complete reverse ombre, which goes from light at the roots to darker at the ends and is equally stunning.

4. Flamboyage

what is ombre hair flamboyage half up bun
Lighter ends are also done in a face-framing balayage technique for a multi-dimensional look. Photo credit: Kristen Soileau

Fun to say, fab to wear! Can’t decide between ombré or balayage? With flamboyage, you don’t have to. Flamboyage combines traditional ombre with balayage highlights to give the hair a look with a distinct color that still looks natural. And hey, is there anything more fabulous than that name?

5. Colored Ombre

whats ombre hair colored
Choose a bold color and do an ombre gradient.

Take the ombre trend to the next level by experimenting with bold colors. Choose your favorite shade and do a gradient look that flows from a lighter version of your color to a more vibrant finish. We love this blue hair ombre and the transition it makes from purple to teal.

No more wondering ‘what is ombre hair?’ Will you try out the ombre look for 2019? Sound off on @AllThingsHairUS.

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