Ombré vs. Balayage: Which Style Is Right for You?

By: Kenra Professional

Are you in the mood to change up your hair? Are you possibly looking for something subtle but impactful? Perhaps you are thinking of going blonde but aren’t quite ready to take the leap. Chances are, the solution to your itch for something new could be solved with ombré or balayage hair.

So what is ombré and what is balayage, and how do you know which one is the right choice for you? At Kenra Professional, we are committed to bringing you the best educational content from color tips to style tutorials, so read on to hear all about both and to get one step closer to having a brand new look!


Balayage is a color application technique for highlighting or coloring hair in which the highlights are hand-painted with a brush without the use of foils. Only select strands of hair are targeted. Specifically, colorists brush vertically with strips of saran wrap or sometimes cotton between each section. This helps to avoid spotting without the use of foil.

Balayage highlights focus more on the ends of the hair and feather out as it moves up, stopping about two inches away from the roots. The underside of each painted strand remains darker, making for a more natural look.

The technique can be done on all hair colors and is typically executed using lightener and toner. A successful balayage tends to look brighter around the face and is naturally blended at the roots.


Interestingly enough, ombré is actually a particular style of hair that can result from the technique of balayage. Ombré generally involves the blending of one hue to another. Typically starting with a darker base color, the hair is gradually lightened with color that is placed horizontally and then blended upward. This is done to diffuse any visible separation between the changing colors and result in a gradient transition.

Most typically, the tint will move from light to dark with the darker color staying on the top half, primarily surrounding the roots, and the most highlighted parts being the very tips.

Still, having ombré hair can technically mean going from dark to light or light to dark depending on one’s preference. A successful ombré look will have a dip-dye effect with a seamless transition in hue.

One variation of ombré hair worth mentioning is called sombré. Sombré, like ombré, is characterized by a hair color transition from root to tip and is applied in a similar horizontal fashion.

Sombré, however, is notably more subtle. Therefore, the shading should be more seamless than the shading seen in ombré hair but is overall softer in effect. This style of hair is particularly ideal for brunettes interested in adding blonde or caramel tones to the ends of their hair.

Color Melting
A technique similar to—though not to be confused with—ombré is called color melting. Color melting is achieved when three or more colors are overlapped to result in an organic-looking blend of shades.

A seamless blend is typically achieved with a hair color application brush that blends two or three shades together on a single strand. The colors are meant to appear to melt into each other, hence the name. While this technique can be done using natural shades, it is most commonly done using unnatural colors.

How Are Balayage and Ombré Similar?

There are several similarities between balayage and ombré hair that can make picking between the two particularly tricky. For starters, both balayage and ombré are borrowed from French words.

The former means to sweep or paint, which refers to the process of a balayage in which the color is hand-painted onto each strand of hair. The latter means shaded or shading, which alludes to how ombré hair involves the blending of one hue of a single shade to another.

A second similarity between the two is the overall effect of the finished styles. While both techniques target different areas, they both involve the highlighting or coloring of hair without altering the hair in its entirety. It is this exact similarity that makes them both ideal choices for someone looking to make a minor but noticeable change.

A third similarity is that they both work best on similar hair types. While both balayage and ombré can technically be done on any length of hair with the right stylist, the styles are most effective when done on medium-length to long hair because they both involve a transition in color and need long enough strands to showcase this change.

As previously mentioned, a balayage typically starts about an inch or two down from the root and gets heavier as it travels down the strand. This, logically, requires hair longer than this length to have the appropriate starting point and to take full effect.

Ombré hair also relies on length to show a change in hue. Without enough hair, the transition may be understandably less seamless than usual.

How Are Balayage and Ombré Different?

While there are many similarities between balayage and ombré hair, they do have their share of differences.

One difference is how they affect the ends of one’s hair. With balayage, because the strands are individually painted, not every strand will be highlighted.

This creates a particular distinction between itself and ombré hair in that not all the ends of balayage hair will be affected. With ombré hair, all the ends will be painted because the look relies on lightening the hair horizontally and blending upwards.

As previously discussed, another difference between balayage and ombré comes in the form of application. As in the instance of balayage, colorists apply color or highlights to the hair by hand in a vertical fashion. Inversely, ombré tends to start with a darker base color and is gradually lightened with color that is placed horizontally and blended upward.

Perhaps the most literal difference between balayage and ombré is that the former is a technique and the latter is a gradient. Ombré is actually accomplished via balayage. The technique of balayage is used to create the transition in color that starts at one end of the hair and finishes at the other, which we call ombré. While ombré is the result of balayage, the actual technique of balayage can create several different effects outside of simply the ombré style.

Which Is the Right Choice for You?

Now that we know about the similarities and differences between ombré and balayage, how do we know which one to get? There is no one-size-fits-all answer, but the most efficient way to decide whether ombré or balayage is the right choice for you is to examine the benefits of both and decide which best aligns with what you are looking for.

Benefits of Balayage
One of the main benefits of balayage is that it results in lightened hair that still looks natural. Part of what makes this possible is that the technique is done by hand. Since balayage involves painting individual strands of hair with a brush, the technique is essentially customizable. This offers up another benefit in that the look can be done in a way that specifically suits you, your skin tone, and your hair type.

Another benefit of balayage involves hair growth. As roots grow, balayage highlights tend to grow out evenly and softly, lacking the dreaded color separation that often accompanies more traditional salon techniques.

This also makes balayage the perfect choice for you if you would rather prolong your next visit to the salon. Since it typically grows out softly, you are able to go longer between touch-ups.

Benefits of Ombré
One of the main benefits of having ombré hair is that it is considerably low-maintenance. The standard ombré look of having darker hair surrounding your roots that gets lighter as it travels down means that it is difficult for others to notice when your hair is growing out.

This alone has many benefits. Having your ombré hair grow in a way that mirrors natural hair growth means having the choice to make fewer visits to the salon. So long as you are fine with transitioning back to your natural hair, you are able to save time and money on touch-ups and redos.

While ombré growing out faster than balayage may seem like a disadvantage, it is the ideal situation for someone looking for a temporary change or for someone who is interested in eventually coloring all of their hair. Ombré can provide you with a happy medium between natural and colored hair for a temporary amount of time.

Wrapping It Up
Ultimately, it comes down to the look. While similar in process, balayage and ombré are still different in their final results.

If you think both are equally as cute and are still having trouble deciding, remember to consider such factors as hair length, hair color, budget, and touch-ups to help you make your final choice.


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