How Do I Do Balayage?

Andrea Cross

Balayage, or to sweep, is a very popular method of highlighting hair. Used by both men and women, the technique produces natural-looking highlights that are easy to maintain. It differs from traditional methods of highlighting in that the color is hand painted onto the hair with a freestyle technique and mainly onto the midshaft and ends. This produces a more natural, less uniform look, with hair gradually lightening toward the tips.

Balayage gives the hair a natural looking highlight.
Balayage gives the hair a natural looking highlight.

This technique tends to achieve the best results from natural hair because removing the color is less likely to produce an orange or yellow-tinted result. Once the original color is removed, however, you can apply a new, brighter color if you do not achieve the desired result. To apply highlights using this technique, you will need a bowl, bleach, and developer. Other necessary tools include a small brush, a wooden paddle or piece of cardboard, and some cotton wadding.

Hair dye is painted on to dry hair with the balayage method.
Hair dye is painted on to dry hair with the balayage method.

Begin the balayage process on clean, dry hair. Section the hair diagonally as this will help the color to fall naturally. Start at the back of the head and on the underside layers of hair, and twist the front and upper sections up and out of the way. Comb the section of hair that you are applying the highlights to, making sure it is smooth and tangle free.

Dip your brush into the bleach, collecting the solution on one side of the brush only. The brush should be fairly small and stiff with long bristles to help facilitate a sweeping motion. Touch the brush to the hair, and sweep it downward from the root to the tip. How far up the hair shaft and how wide the highlighted section will be is down to personal choice and can be as high or low, as thick or thin, as you like.

Use a very light touch, keeping to the surface of the hair and avoiding pressing the brush into the hair, which may oversaturate the strands. The ends of the hair should be the lightest with balayage, so apply the greatest amounts of bleach here. Start a few inches from the tips and brush down, then go a few inches higher and repeat until you have gone as high as you would like. Use quick, light strokes. To avoid getting bleach on your fingers, place the board or paddle under the ends of the hair, and apply the mixture by brushing the hair down the board.

Once you have completed the section you are working on, place a wad of cotton on the uppermost bleached portion to act as a barrier and protect the rest of the hair from the upper layers. Continue the process until you have put in as many highlights as you want. Once you have let the color lighten for the required time and it has been rinsed from your hair, you can apply color if desired. Different tones can help create an even more natural look. Although time-consuming, balayage, once done, is easy to maintain and gives you vibrant color without the worry of visible roots.

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