To Balayage, Or Not To Balayage

When foils give you a better "balayaged" result than actual balayage does.

We all have guests sit in our chair with a picture of a soft rooted blonde as their inspiration. This trend won't be going away any time soon. It's beautiful, it grows in gracefully, and it's low maintenance which has opened the world of hair color up to people who before wouldn't have considered it. This guest came in with outgrown balayage wanting to refresh her color and maintain a controlled warm tone overall.

Looking at her before pictures, we can see what commonly occurs as an issue of balayage application, especially when it isn't a regular task for the stylist applying it. This guest has a "black hole" in her crown area where there is no color or dimension. Her smaller side is very outgrown, and her heavy side has color higher up causing it to look like the most recently colored hair. The problem is, even when color is applied evenly this can tend to be the normal way that hair color grows in. With an off center part, the hair on her heavy side has a longer way to travel on the round of her head causing it to LOOK fresher than it is. With the hair on her lighter side, it is already draped lower on the round of her head causing it to LOOK more outgrown than it is. Luckily for us, color placement is all about creating balance, and the color placement I chose for this first time guest was very intentional.


It had been three months since this guests last hair color service, and this was my first opportunity to color her hair. She prefers low maintenance, lived in looking color with bright blonde and a soft root. She prefers her blonde on the warm side of neutral for a natural sunny look, and I LOVE the way it reflects against her skin tone!

This is where most stylists would get excited to start painting hair. Just because my guest is saying the word balayage does NOT mean that I will be using the technique balayage. I get more in depth on this topic here and here. Because this hair was already a variation of levels 9 & 10 through her ends, I didn't love the idea of using balayage as my technique. Because of the way the lightener is applied, it's very easy to overlap onto already blonde lengths and ends which causes breakage. Working with foils gives you the cleanest palette for precision application.

I chose to apply a "full" babylight using a wide fine weave with shallow sections. The end goal wasn't to make her MORE blonde, it was to blend her very blonde ends into her darker base, and give her a soft organic blend that would last her the 12 weeks in between appointments. By taking a fine widespread weave in shallow sections, I would be able to give her small threads of blended lightness through where she was currently dark, marrying the two sections together in a natural way.

Babylight Formula :

12g violet based lightener

24g 20, 25 and 30 volume

Remixed every 10 minutes, each remix the developer was bumped up

The main challenge in this application was to ensure that all of the babylights lifted evenly. Because I wanted to offer seamless blend rather than make her much blonder, I took 1 inch sub sections between her foils (with the sections being roughly 4 inches wide), skimmed 1/8 inch from the top, and wove between 4-6 strands. I applied the lightner halfway between her base and line of demarcation, fully saturate the hair from my lightener to her existing blonde, then feathered up to her base to offer a soft blend on an already soft placement.

Because our sectioning was larger than usual for a head of foils and we applied lightener to so little hair, this ENTIRE application took 30 minutes. Who else wants to offer a dimensional color / "balayage" service / foils in 30 minutes?! I was thrilled.

We processed for a total of 20 minutes post application and she lifted to a clean level 10 in every single foil.

Toner (liquid demi-permanent color):

20g 9,32 (level 9 gold with violet)

30g gloss (clear)

50g 10 Volume

When her processing was finished, I cleansed her twice with a nourishing shampoo to ensure that all bleach residue had been removed from the hair so that the toner could properly do its job. I towel dried her hair and applied the above formula from scalp to ends, then left to process for 10 minutes. Our desired end result was a sunny California blonde, so controlled warmth was our best friend!

After her processing time was complete, I shampooed her again with a nourishing shampoo and conditioner, razor cut her to relieve weight and give movement, and prepped her with a hydrating mousse and nutrient rich oil. THESE RESULTS. This hair looked EXACTLY like the pictures she brought in, felt amazing and took 90 minutes start to finish. Guys. 1.5 HOURS FOR A FULL "BALAYAGE", TONER, HAIRCUT AND BLOWDRY. Do the math and count the dollars, this is the way to go. Quick application, even lift in a short amount of time, quick single process toning, then finishing the look with a cut and blow out. This was a $200 service in 1.5 hours to equal $133 and change per hour. I cannot stress this enough, as a professional, YOU choose your technique to achieve THEIR end result.


Do everything with intention. As hairdressers, it is our responsibility to never be on auto pilot, and to always offer our guests the customization that they deserve. If you have questions on color theory, please don't hesitate to DM me @theformulationfiles or @hairbywillow on Instagram, email me at, or read in depth about it from my book Dreaming In Color. Until then, scroll through these before and afters because they're GIVING ME LIFE!



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