Although relatively new, balayage is arguably the most popular hairpainting technique right now. But because of its novelty, there hasn’t been any rules on how to go about it. As a result, many hairstylists are left grasping for straws when a client comes in asking for a balayage.
Fortunately, balayage is a freeform color technique and, thus, can be easily done when armed with basic knowledge. Leah Taylor, Educator for Simply Organic Beaity and Owner + Senior Stylist at Smoke + Mirrors Salon in Baltimore, Maryland, shares with us her hairpainting tips and tricks on how to create the perfect balayage without foils.
Balayage Tips and Tricks
1. Choose a lightener with great consistency.
Your choice of lightener is key in hairpainting. Leah recommends Oway Hbleach for the nourishing ingredients of Kukui Butter and pure essential oils in it, which give the lightener a creamy, buttery consistency. As the stylist, using a product that has a controllable consistency like Oway Hbleach makes it easy for you to brush and work with the hair. Hbleach is also great for open air surface painting as well as doing heavier more ombre applications.
For this live balayage class, Leah used a 1:1.5 ratio of Oway Hbleach paired with Oway Hcatalyst 40 volume.
2. Consider the haircut before painting the hair.
A haircut can change the entire look and the placement of your highlights so it’s important to discuss your client’s plans during the consultation. For instance, if she has bangs and wants to grow it out, you might want to add a bit of lightening so it blends well with the rest of the hair as it grows. Think about how her highlights are going to look in, say, a month or six months.
3. Highlight areas where the sun naturally hits the hair.
Is your client going for a beachy all-over sunkissed look? Or want to be lighter and brighter all-over? Ombre? Or maybe more accented highs and lows? Consultation is everything!
During the consultation, look at how the light naturally highlights and lowlights the hair as you comb through. This will help you see where you want your focus points to be.
4. Consider the size of sections, type of product, and technique you’re going to use when choosing your developer.
When the sections are large and non-isolated (like in foil highlights), you need a higher volume to achieve lighter results.
Many stylists get scared of the idea of using high-volume developers, and for good reason. When used incorrectly, it can damage the hair. But because Oway Hbleach and Oway Hcatalysts are super creamy and extra nourishing on the hair, they give the hair extra protection during lightening processes. However, always be sure to keep an eye on it while it’s processing.
5. Areas around the face lighten faster compared to the back.
The hair around the back processes longer than the hair around the face so, depending on the look you’re going for, it’s best to start painting from the back to get even, natural highlights.
Note, however, that the hair around the hairline, both in the front and at the nape, are usually more fine so you may need to change your developer levels around those areas. If you’re starting from back, rinse that area out first if need be, while the front continues to process longer.
6. Make sure the product is evenly distributed on the hair.
Sections with too much product will process longer than the rest of the hair because it’s kept moist longer, causing hotspots and uneven highlights. To avoid oversaturating the hair, start painting halfway down, then soften the highlight with a brush while making your way up. Then, smooth down (not squeeze) any excess product to the ends, adding more when needed. Breaking open the ends also helps distribute the product evenly – a useful technique when you’re aiming for heavier blonde ends/ombre look.
7. Don’t forget to paint underneath as well.
Make sure you’re softening the hair underneath to avoid hard lines.
8. Tension is everything.
You always want to keep the hair taut while painting. It gives you a flat surface to paint on, allowing you to create a soft, smooth blend.
Most of the time, clients’ heads tend to drop and move back while you’re painting their hair. It’s good to remind them once in a while that you need to keep your tension to make sure the product gets to where it should be.
9. Don’t be afraid to play with different patterns.
When you get to the top, drop the remaining hair down so you can see how it falls on the head. Doing so will help you decide what kind of hairpainting pattern to use. Some stylists prefer to do bricklay patterns or paint from the front to back and vice versa. Every stylist has a different method of doing things and it’s up to you to decide which technique you’re most comfortable using.
10. Use the cowlicks of the hair as your guide on how to accent the hair.
As soon as you drop the rest of the hair down, observe how the hair falls on the head and where the light hits. Otherwise, if you’re accentuating an area that should be a lowlight you will get a weird bright piece on top. After examining the hair, section according to how it splits naturally.
11. If you’re having issues creating a soft blend, do a zig-zag pattern.
The zig-zag pattern helps break up the highlights and lowlights and create a natural-looking blend after painting.
12. As soon as you reach your desired lift, remove the saran wrap.
Doing so exposes the hair to air and reduces heat, allowing for the front pieces to catch up with the back. In the tutorial, because the front pieces were more of a fine texture and had some leftover lightened ends, those sections caught up within 20-30 minutes.
13. Finish the process with a pH-balancing shampoo.
Bleaching and color treatments throw off the hair and scalp’s natural pH balance. For this class, Leah used Oway Hbalance Post-Color Neutralizing Shampoo without conditioner to rebalance the hair’s pH and neutralize any alkaline residues.
To create a seamless blend and neutralize some of the warmth, Leah’s toner formula was a combination of Oway Hcolor 11.17 Frosted Platinum (10 g), Oway Hcolor 10.1 Ash Extra Light Blonde (10g), Oway Hcolor 9.1 Ash Very Light Blonde (30g), and Oway Hcolor 0.1 Ash Booster (2g) with Oway Htone 9 Volume Cream Developer.
Oway Hcolor 11.17 Frosted Platinum was used in the toner formula because Leah wanted to have the additional reflect of violet to balance the ash. Toner was processed for 10 minutes.