Balayage vs ombre: what’s the difference?

ombre vs balayage – which is to be?

Ombre hair

Ombre is a colour technique. It means to shadow and goes from dark to light hues in a very soft graduation of colour. No harsh lines anywhere.

This technique works best on longer hair with few layers. It’s done with a pre-lightener and can be as soft (sombre) or as strong as you’d like depending on the choice of shades – the key thing is that the transition from dark to light (or bright) is seamless.

Ombre colour technique works in horizontal colour blends, but personally I always love to put a face frame of balayage around the front for maximum impact and to connect the whole look.

What is Balayage?

Balayage – even the name sounds attractive – is a French word meaning ‘to sweep’ or ‘to paint’. In its truest form it’s a highlighting technique that allows for a sun-kissed natural look on any hair colour.

The beauty of balayage is that it works with the natural fall of your hair and your own natural variations of tone to create a look that is fresh and modern and totally tailored to you.

Balayage is all about soft contrasts for an effortless look. It’s a freehand technique that is quicker than foil highlights and lower maintenance too. It’s no wonder it’s so popular!

The hottest balayage trends

Over time trends change and balayage has now evolved into four distinct types of application. They can be very natural looking highlights or more dramatic colour transitions, but should all grow out very softly without harsh visible lines.


Love the Victoria Secret girl look? Then the classic balayage is your look. With this technique the product is loaded on the mid-lengths of the hair, feathered up to the root then spread down over the surface of the section, and saturated on the ends to create a seamless finish.

Is it for you? It’s perfect for longer hair, with upkeep every 8-10 weeks.


If you’re a low maintenance kind of gal (or guy) who’s rather fond of their dark base, but still fancies lightening (or brightening) up through your ends, Creative balayage is  your ideal colour technique. The tint is loaded on the middle section of hair, but only feathered slightly up the shaft for natural roots and a more lived-in finish.

Is it for you? If you like the rooty feel, you’ll love it. It works on all hair lengths and the upkeep is a very wallet-friendly 10 to 16 weeks.

Micro (sometimes known as babylights)

When you’re transitioning out of foil highlights to more natural-looking balayage or want a sun-kissed look through your short hair or fringe, the delicate approach of micro balayage is the answer. This finer technique goes all the way to the roots and can give a heavier coverage.

Is it for you? This is great for guys who want to look sun-kissed, bobs and shorter hair. Expect this technique to last about 8 weeks.


Soft at the root with heavier coverage through the mid shaft and ends, this is the most instagrammed look of the moment. The challenge with California balayage is that it can end up losing its contrast, this can be avoided with root stretches, root smudges or by merging classic balayage with ombre.

Is it for you? If you want to be a beautiful blonde, Californian balayage could be your perfect choice. Be prepared to invest in its upkeep – this is your high maintenance balayage.

To find out what the right technique for you is, speak to your colourist but never risk a box colour (I’ve seen too many colour correction clients to ever let you go down that route!). Alternatively, book in for a consultation with me at Paul Edmonds in London to discover which shades and techniques would bring out the best in you and your hair.