Read this before you balayage your hair

Anna Walker

Balayage is the soft highlighted hairstyle seen on anyone who's anyone for the past few years. The style creates beautifully subtle highlights for a sun-kissed finish. Here’s everything you need to know before sitting in that salon chair.

What is balayage?

an example of soft light blonde balayage
Balayage created by MayFive salon

Balayage is a technique in which hair is highlighted using a freehand painting style, to create a natural-looking, soft and subtle effect. The focus of balayage is to lighten the hair in the places the sun would naturally hit, to achieve that sought after sun-kissed look. For this reason, it’s important to go to an experienced colourist, who will be able to create a bespoke balayage look for you, based on your hair’s natural colour, texture and cut.

As the dye isn’t applied to the roots during balayage, the style grows out beautifully and can be topped up as rarely as once a year, without losing its signature style. From start to finish, the process usually takes between 45 minutes and two hours, depending on the complexity of the style, and length of the hair.

The word itself is the French for “to sweep”, as the style originated with French stylists in the 1970s.

 

Is balayage right for me?

an example of soft brunette balayage
Balayage created by MayFive salon

Balayage is a great choice for those making their first foray into colouring their hair. As the technique is subtle, the effect isn’t as dramatic as changing your overall colour but is significant enough to give you a new look. A good colourist will consult with you prior to application, to ensure they are clear on whether you want the look subtle or made more dramatic by lifting the colour around your face. For newbies to hair dye, the style is also very low maintenance, as you don’t have to worry about retouching roots or visit your salon for regular touch-ups.

It’s worth bearing in mind that this style does still involve bleaching the hair, and if you’re starting off with a dark base colour, it could take multiple sessions to achieve the final look you’ve envisioned.

If you’re not new to colour, don’t worry. The style can still be achieved over existing colour. It can be used with grey hair too.

If you have afro hair, the balayage look is just as achievable, but be sure to inform your hairdresser if you’ve processed your hair in the past—for example by relaxing it—as this can affect the ultimate outcome of the process.

 

What aftercare is needed for balayage?

an example of soft bronde balayage
Balayage created by MayFive salon

Although balayage grows out well and doesn’t require regular touch-ups, you should still take extra steps to protect your style.

Try to use sulfate-free products and be sure to use a mask on your hair at least once a week, to nourish the dyed sections. If you're a keen swimmer, be sure to invest in a good swimming cap. Chlorine is not your hair's friend.

 

How to prepare for balayage

an example of soft light brown balayage
Balayage created by MayFive salon

First, source several photographs that represent the end-look you want to achieve and take them to your colourist. They’ll be able to tell you whether the style is realistic for your hair type, and advise you on ways you could tailor the style to make it best suit you.

Be sure to do this at least 48 hours before your appointment, so that you can also undergo that all-important patch test, to ensure you’re not allergic to any of the products used to achieve your dream balayage.

You should also ensure your hair is as healthy as possible prior to your colour treatment, so give your locks some extra love in the weeks leading up to your balayage appointment.

 

Where should I go for my balayage?

MayFive salon in Chiswick interior
Interior of the MayFive salon

The best way to find your ideal salon is usually word of mouth. Know somebody with a fantastic balayage and envy their style? Ask them which salon they go to.

Scouring your local salons on Instagram is also a good place to start—you’ll be able to see before-and-after photos of their work and decide if they’re right for you. Look carefully at any photos of balayage they post—the style and colour should look different for each client. If they’re all leaving with an identical style, then the balayage hasn’t been considered carefully enough.

If you are within reach of London, our recommendation is the MayFive salon in Chiswick. Owned by Katie Allan—who has 14 years of experience in the industry and previously worked for Charles Worthington—their balayage technique is second-to-none and the salon even has a wall of success-story polaroids to prove it.

mayfive's wall of polaroids
Balayage created by MayFive salon

This boutique salon is a calming haven, complete with lush greenery, massage chairs and Ralphie, the adorable salon sausage dog. It’s also environmentally friendly, using reusable products wherever possible.

Prior to treatment, clients are invited for a patch test, where they can also discuss their expectations and goals for their balayage treatment with their colourist. They will advise on the best colour and placement in order to suit your face, cut and base hair colour. Then all you need to do is return and relax in your chair—even observing the balayage process is soothing, as you watch your professional carefully sweep the colour up and down carefully selected strands of hair.

MayFive have truly elevated the balayage process into an art form. 

Here are before and after photos of our treatment at MayFive:

balayage before and after mayfive mousey brown

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