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The Difference Between Highlights and Balayage

Updated: April 1, 2024

When it’s time to freshen up your look, a few well-placed highlights can work wonders. And depending on the look you’re going for. You can choose between two well-known techniques: traditional foil highlights or balayage. 

Many skilled stylists and colorists are experienced in both of these techniques, so it’s simply a matter of deciding which one will achieve your desired result. We’re taking a closer look at foil highlights vs. balayage, so you can better understand the best option for your hair.

What is Balayage?

The term “balayage” stems from the French word “to sweep,” referring to the sweeping motions used in this hand-painted technique. In balayage, the stylist paints a lightening solution on certain portions of the hair, aiming for an approach that’s more freehanded than exact. Think of it as “contouring,” but for your hair rather than your face.

Typically, the colors used for balayage are slightly lighter shades than your base color. This lighter coloring, combined with the application method, creates a natural-looking depth and dimension.

What are Highlights?

In contrast, highlights involve using a lightener or hair color strategically applied to hair strands, which are then placed in foils, the more traditional technique of the two, requiring greater precision than balayage. 

There are four basic types of highlights: foil highlights, frosting, hair painting, and chunking. Another popular highlighting style is very subtle babylights and natural-looking (much like the highlights that occur naturally in a child’s hair). 

Balayage vs. Highlights: What’s the Difference?

So, how do you choose between highlights vs. balayage? Let’s break down a few key differences to see which one might be ideal for you.


If you’re aiming for a more dramatic color shift, highlights are generally your best option because foils are generally the preferred option for taking hair four or more shades lighter. Also, if you are hoping to achieve a lot of contrast (with highlights and lowlights) or want evenly distributed color, the results of foil highlights are likely to line up with your expectations. 

On the other hand, if natural-looking color is your goal, balayage is a better choice. The non-uniform application gives your stylist a lot of flexibility to create a look tailored to your cut, face shape, and personal preference. Whereas foils usually target the entire hair shaft, balayage is typically used for highlights that start mid-length and go to the ends. The result is a softer, more natural root and “carefree” effect.

For clients in a transition phase – for example, hoping to grow out their roots without being too obvious – balayage can also be a good fit. Or, if you want to cover a few gray patches, your stylist can use balayage to target key areas without coloring your entire head.


One of the most notable differences between foil highlights and balayage is the upkeep.

Balayage is a promising option if you like a low-maintenance approach to hair color. You can go just three or four times per year for salon appointments because of the subtle look and easier grow-out. 

On the other hand, highlights are your best bet if you prefer a fresh, consistently “touched up” look. Most clients with highlights will come in every six to eight weeks to manage regrowth. New growth is more noticeable with highlights, so you’ll want to pay extra attention to maintaining your color at home with sulfate-free products, heat protectants, and the like. 


One of the most common questions on the topic is: how much does balayage cost vs. highlights? Several factors affect the price of balayage and highlights, including your selected salon, stylist, and even the length/thickness of your hair. 

But generally, balayage will cost slightly more than highlights, mainly because the balayage technique requires specialized expertise and more time.

Which is Better: Balayage or Highlights?

Ultimately, choosing between balayage or highlights comes down to personal preference. Neither one are necessarily “better;” they are simply two different techniques that produce two different looks. 

Balayage might be the right choice if:

  • You want a subtle, natural effect
  • You have never colored your hair before
  • You prefer low-maintenance results
  • You would like face-framing highlights
  • You want natural coverage for grays

Highlights might be ideal if:

  • You want noticeable, higher-contrast color patterns
  • You like a more uniform hair color with ample dimension
  • You don’t mind committing to regular touch-ups

If you’re struggling to decide between balayage vs. highlights, side-by-side photo comparisons can be helpful. Ask your stylist if they can provide examples of each from their portfolio, so you can better understand which one is right for you. You can even ask for a combination of foil highlights and balayage, creating a completely customized look.

Trust the Dallas Hair Stylists at Daireds to Create a Look You Love

Whether you’re considering balayage, highlights, or another coloring technique, the most important decision is selecting your stylist. At Daireds, our stylists are extensively trained and highly talented, using advanced techniques to deliver stunning results. And because we take pride in truly listening to our client’s wishes, you can be confident that your hair will turn out exactly as you envisioned.

Searching for where to get balayage in Dallas-Fort Worth? Or, maybe you’re on the hunt for the best salon for highlights in the area. Regardless of your desired style, color, or cut, Daireds will exceed your expectations.

Contact our Arlington salon for more information, or book online today!

Image credit to Shutterstock users: Radu Bercan & Dmitry Kalinovsky

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