Ask the Experts: Ombre VS. Balayage....What is the difference? September 25, 2018 12:03

If you’re ready to change up your hair colour and you can’t decide between Ombre and Balayage because, well, you can’t know the difference between Balayage and Ombre: you are not alone.

Salon Owner & Educator Jennifer Morgan admits it can be hard to understand what sets them apart and which one is right for you.

We asked her to help you decode the difference in the ultimate match up: Ombre vs. Balayage.


Balayage is all about HOW the colour is applied. The word Balayage originates from the French term “to sweep.” With Balayage, not necessarily all the ends will be affected and the transition between dark and light will be much longer and more natural looking.


Ombre is a hair colour technique where ALL the ends are going be affected and the transition from the deeper roots and light ends is going to be pretty short. The definition for Ombre is the French word for "colour that is shaded or graduated in tone

So the Ombre effect is more of a two tone hair colour. It is usually darker (or natural) at the roots and the dark shade blends into a lighter color however there is a distinct difference between roots and ends.

In essence: Balayage is a technique and ombré is a gradient of colour!

Whereas traditional highlights start at the root and get painted down to the tips, balayage begins at the tips and feathers up the top 

And while balayage is usually painted directly onto the hair, highlights are woven from the roots and folded in foil. Sometimes (especially on darker or previously coloured hair) we may cover the balayage in foil or clingfilm to capture the heat...but the application is very different

At the end of the day, a picture paints a thousand words and it is way easier to show your colourist the effect you are looking for rather than getting caught up on the words.


Ombre is typically done with sections taken horizontally and the lightener is applied to all the hair (for full saturation) and then blended upward to diffuse the line.  

The effect that most people attribute to 'Balayage' will take smaller sections, where colour will be painted onto the surface of the hair. This effect looks like natural sun kissed hair (or children's hair) while the ombre result to more deliberate and has much more obvious colour

Both result in a pretty low maintenance routine, since the hair colour placement is not strict but done in gradual (for Ombre) or sweeping (for Balayage) placement.

Regular foil highlights, for example, require more regular visits to the salon. However, whether is is ombre or Balayage that you are looking at, getting the actual service done and achieving the result you’re looking for can be a little more time consuming (as there is often more toning involved).

Balayage and Ombre are both specialized, often times requiring a higher beauty budget and time in the salon. It is a low maintenance result, but important to continue haircare treatments and consistent visits to the salon to maintain optimal colour results.

The good news is that anyone can try either look, depending on their desired result. The two techniques can even be used together on any hair colour for any desired hair colour.

Choosing which one is right for you really depends on the look you’re trying to achieve.

Whether you’re looking for a blonde, brown, red, rose gold or even vivid colour look, your colourist should be able to work with you on either technique to create what the colour effect you’re going for.

The creative possibilities are endless

Depending on how much you’re changing your hair can also determine how many times you might need the processes done at the get go.

For example, if you’re looking to lift your natural colour to a much lighter state, your stylist will probably need to work on achieving your desired colour over a few visits. “It takes time and is not guaranteed that your hair will lift that much in one visit,” she says. “A slower lift is a safer lift.”

Keeping your hair protected during Ombre or Balayage is vital for achieving and maintaining the colour.

When your hair is coloured in any way, whether it’s lifted to a brighter colour or altered to a darker one, it changes the pH balance of your hair. You should talk to your stylist about what’s best to keep your hair feeling and looking healthy.