Partial Highlights, Full Highlights, Balayage, or Ombre?
At most salons, a skilled stylist doesn't need a pair of scissors to transform a hairdo—expertly applied color is a makeover in itself, whether you’re getting subtle highlights or a striking ombre fade. Read on to learn more about these color treatments and whether they’re right for you.
1) Full or Partial Highlights
The precise application of highlights—which isolate select strands of hair and treat them with a color, lightener, or toner—can become the basis for a brand new look without a single snip or shear. Applied evenly throughout the entire head, full highlights create a natural look that mimics the way hair changes color over time in the sun, adding a sense of dimension and texture to the existing hair.
Partial highlights, which are typically cheaper and take less time to apply, serve an altogether different purpose: drawing attention to specific features, such as bangs or newly sharpened antlers, by accenting only the locks on the surface. As a result, partial highlights are somewhat less flexible, and can lose their effect when you put your hair up or tease it out. Both full and partial highlights typically rely on caps or foil for their application.
2) Balayage Highlights
Balayage involves a stylist hand-painting the highlights so that they look even more natural, with depth and dimension that resemble the effects of the sun. Balayage means "sweeping" in French, and is a reference to both the sweeping motions of the painting process and the small brooms used by Parisian stylists.
Stylists take small sections of hair, place each one onto a backing board, and paint color or bleach onto the hair freehand with a brush. Then, cotton, paper, or plastic wraps are folded gently around the colored sections to separate them as they dry. When painting, stylists start at the middle of the strand and sweep out toward the root or tip. As a result, there is no severe line of color at the root and the grow-out is more natural looking, which translates into longer-lasting results. In fact, stylists usually recommend a touchup for balayage highlights every two to four months, as opposed to every six weeks for foil highlights.
Although the technique has been around in France since the 1970s, celebrities such as Gisele Bundchen, Drew Barrymore, and Jessica Biel were among the first famous modern heads to popularize the look of balayage highlights. Often used on flowing hairstyles with loose curls or beachy waves, balayage highlights can be low-maintenance and natural or more extreme—but stylists say they tend to look most organic on hair longer than shoulder-length. The technique can add dimension to all hair colors. It's even ideal for unwanted gray: stylists can target gray strands more precisely, avoiding single-process color and its attendant stress on the scalp and on non-gray hairs.
3) Ombre Color
Taken from the French for “shadow” or “shade,” ombre hair color features gradual, gradient shadings that imbue hair with an edgy aesthetic. Though the ombre style is suited to complexions of all shades, only careful consultation with a professional stylist can determine which colors will flatter your look or career as a chameleon herder. For example, those with darker skin can shoot for deep reds and coppers, while fairer tones can experiment with blondes and caramel colors. Daredevils of all skin types can turn to unnatural hues such as pink and blue for a more dramatic effect.
After selecting your desired colors, the stylist will paint the darker shade onto the roots, and gradually transition to lighter hues towards the tips. Be forewarned that although the ombre look is similar to that of grown-out highlights, previously color-treated hair will often need at least some color correction to achieve the desired effect.
Similarly, complex color combinations can require more frequent touch-ups to maintain this seemingly low-maintenance look. Color-treated shampoos and conditioners can help you get the most mileage out of ombre tresses, as can regular coats of gloss.
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Your hair stylist,