Your Leading Melbourne Hairdresser Explains: How to Do Balayage

It’s easy to love the balayage look – the effortlessly cool hair styling trend that appears across social media and red carpets with its dazzling shine. Every day, our Instagram feeds are flooded with pictures of dimensional locks with super-bright, face-framing pieces tagged #balayage.

The look took off for a good reason – this free-hand highlighting technique is a low maintenance way to lighten your hair as it keeps your natural colour and blends with the roots for a softer grow out. Those with this style look like they’ve just returned from a long lavish trip to the beautiful Whitsundays, and if you want the same sun-kissed style with less noticeable regrowth, balayage is your friend.

What is balayage anyway?

Balayage is a highlighting technique made by French colourists back in the 70s – there’s a reason they’re the masters of high fashion! The term ‘balayage’ comes from the French word ‘balayer’, meaning ‘to sweep’, and it perfectly describes how the highlights are applied to hair. Balayage gives hair a graduated, more natural-looking highlight effect with softer regrowth lines. This look is bright around the face, has lighter ends, and is blended at the roots leaving you with a natural sun-kissed glow.

Balayage highlights are painted on using a brush and are done entirely free-handed. This means there’s no guide of any sort, and it’s all about where the stylist thinks the highlights will look best – meaning that you’ll need to work with the right one! While traditional highlighting techniques use caps and foils to give you a uniform finish, the balayage technique allows hairdressers to apply colour in select places to highlight and feature your gorgeous facial features.

Today, balayage is one of the most requested styles we get in the salon because it’s customised to every person. Our stylists will look at your hair to figure out where your highlights will look best to flaunt your features or suit your haircut.

Celebrities have also played a part in popularising balayage with Chrissy Teigen and Kim Kardashian being some of the biggest stars to rock the look. Jump on Instagram and search the hashtag ‘balayage’ and you’ll see more than 24 million results, showing just how on-trend this hair colour is with all types of people. 

The balayage process

Before you commit to balayage, there are a few things you’ve got to know. Like other highlighting techniques, you’ll have to get your hair bleached. Bleaching can damage your hair, so you need to take proper care of it before and after getting the highlights.

Balayage works on both light and dark hair, but it requires a bit extra for dark hair, especially if your starting colour is very dark, and you want the highlights to be very light. So, you could be in for multiple highlighting sessions to get you the desired results – but don’t worry, the fashionista team at Heading Out can make this work easily. But it’s different for long and short hair, so let’s take a look at what you’ll need to know for both.

Long hair

Every balayage appointment is different based on your hair type and how you want it to look, but here’s a preview of what it tends to look like.

First, your colourist will evaluate your hair and look at any inspo photos to determine your colour plan. Then they’ll mix some lightener and part your hair for the painting process. Since balayage is a free-hand highlighting technique, your colourist will use a paint brush to sweep vertical highlights into your hair, painting specific sections of hair and then covering them up to keep the lightener in one place. 

Your hair will be partitioned into more sections if you want your hair to be lighter. The strokes will be lighter toward the hair’s root and heavier towards the ends to copy the way hair looks when it’s naturally lightened by the sun. This gradual placement prevents obvious grow-out and allows you to go longer between appointments. This will take between 1 and 2 hours.

After this, your stylist will put you under a dryer to speed up the lightening process. If your hair is prone to breakage or you only want fine highlights, you can skip the dryer stage and sit out in the open to let the lightener do its work. This process could take anywhere from 15 – 45 minutes (which is a lot shorter than the dryer but doesn’t mean it should be skipped if you want serious highlights!) and the colourist will check up on you to ensure your strands don’t go too light.

When your hair is the right shade, your colourist will rinse off the lightener and apply protein treatment to restore the bonds in your hair. If you’re a first-timer, you may need two to three sessions to build up the colour. Lightening the hair in one sitting can be very damaging, and we want to take the best care of your hair! Once this is done, you can go up to four months until your next appointment to freshen up the look – but we recommend getting it touched up every now and then to keep your style fresh!

While this process sounds effortless and natural, unlike traditional single colour highlights it’s actually extremely precise and should be left to specialist hairdressers. Avoid any DIY balayage and let the pros work on your hair for the best results. You don’t want your hair to end up patchy or brassy!

Try styling your highlighted hair wavy for special occasions like a wedding or casually for a simple date. Whatever your vibe, balayage will always make you look your best and bring out your romantic side. There comes that French inspiration again!!

The balayage process for short hair is mostly the same as long hair. Your hair will be sectioned and hand-painted with a lightener before it’s allowed to process for a natural, sun-kissed look. Obviously there’s less hair to work with when it comes to short hair, which means you’ll have shorter balayage zones. The colourists will create shorter transitions between the treated and untreated hair to ensure there are no large warm (i.e. one colour) zones that could ruin the look.

What does good balayage look like?

The main aim of balayage is to create a soft, seamless blend. The dyed hair should be closer together, softer at the root, and more saturated towards the ends to achieve that natural look. This is what good balayage looks like, and you need to visit a professional hairdresser with experience in this area to perfect it. They know how much product to apply, when to rinse the lightener to get the right shade and how to make you shine!

However, when the hair is rinsed too early, your hair may not lift correctly, and it’ll get a brassy orange shade (ew!). Also, if the dye is not applied correctly, you will be left with a patchy look that’ll make it look like you did it at home! Choose an experienced hairdresser to avoid looking washed out.

How to take care of your hair following a balayage treatment

The good thing about balayage is that it’s low maintenance. Since the strokes have been painted to have a natural look, you’ve got heaps more time between appointments. In the meantime, use a hydrating mask or a sulphate-free shampoo to maintain your hair’s healthy shine.

Here are just a few of the brands that we recommend for keeping your balayage fresh, shiny and healthy:

– Kerastase Blonde Absolut
– Eleven
– K18
-Kevin Murphy
-System Professional

Our little secret: To maintain the integrity and the quality of your hair after a balayage treatment, you need to wash it with a toning shampoo in order to keep the colour, and with a shampoo appropriate for your hair type (e.g. moisturising, hair repair, anti-frizz) every other day. This will help you keep your hair quality high and your colour bright.


Balayage continues to dominate the hair world, and it’s easy to see why. Who wouldn’t want bespoke hair highlighting that gives you beautiful, tailored hair and brings out your best features? But the best balayage treatment comes from professionals, and if you want subtle, sun-kissed highlights, the team at Heading Out Hair & Beauty can help.Our team of hair experts has the knowledge and skills to transform your hair and give you a natural look you’ll love. We will advise on the best shade that suits your skin tone and personal style. Get in touch today to book your appointment.


Thinking about a new look, or simply just need a touchup?

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