How To Decide Between Balayage & Full Foil


Written By Topknott

Courtesy of Madeline Nachbar OF MSP MAG

With so much hair inspo on the internet (hello, Pinterest and Insta eye candy!), it can be tricky for non-stylists to know exactly what goes into achieving a specific look. That’s where your stylist comes in!

Here, we break down the differences between color techniques and trends, from ombré to balayage to foils. And—most importantly—we’ll provide tips and tricks for helping you decide which color technique is best for your hair type, budget and overall maintenance plan.

Understanding the difference between coloring techniques

Every color technique looks different on every head of hair. You and your colorist should have a consultation to understand what type of maintenance plan you’re comfortable with.

A color consult also helps ensure that you and your stylist are on the same page. So, what should you cover in the consult?

  • Your stylist will take hair length, texture, current color and more into consideration.

  • The two of you can review any inspiration photos you’ve brought, so your stylist can get a sense of your end goal.

  • He or she will likely ask you a number of questions.

    • How often do you want to come in?

    • How much money do you want to spend?

    • What do you like about the photo you are showing me (i.e. is it the shadowed root with pop of color at the end, the natural grow out, the ashy vs. brassy tone)?

    • How often do you wear your hair up or down?

  • Sometimes it takes a professional to really get to the root of why someone likes a look or a photo (i.e. is it the outgrowth; the ashy, cool tone; the natural root; maybe even the filter?!). Answering their questions will help them nail down the appropriate next steps.

Be upfront!

When it comes to creating a custom color plan, it’s important for client and colorist to be as open and honest as possible. This will help you manage your expectations and avoid surprises. For example, if a dark brunette wants to go several shades lighter, you may learn that you’ll need to schedule multiple salon visits to achieve the desired look.

Now it’s time to pick a path …

When it’s time to brighten up hair, you have a choice between traditional foils and balayage (also known as hair painting). There’s a difference between the two techniques and each has its own advantages, depending on the style you’re going for.

What is ombré?

Ombre Hair

Sound familiar? More often than not, the term is. It isn’t a technique, per se, but rather a style. Ombré actually refers to any technique (yes, it does include foiling and balayage!) that goes from dark to light in color. Ombré can actually be created using many different techniques.

Ombre In Process

Balayage vs. foil

Let’s start with balayage (pronounced bah-lee-ahge, meaning “sweeping” in French). Balayage is a freehand method of painting highlights used to achieve a natural, lived-in look. Think sun-kissed, effortless highlights. For clients looking for a natural-looking highlight, balayage is a great way to go.

Balayage In Process

There are many benefits to balayage. If you’re hoping to add face framing highlights or non-uniform sweeps of color, balayage or bust. It provides you more freedom to add color that highlights (pun intended!) a haircut cut, face shape and, of course, your personal style.

Balayage also grows out extremely well and can be perfect for those looking for a color that requires much less maintenance (and consequently, money). The beauty of hair coloring is you can create a custom maintenance plan. For instance, some people prefer to keep their balayage fresh and get it touched up every two months; some may wait 6 to 8 months in between appointments. Again, it’s all about consulting with your colorist.

Balayage can enhance what you already have without drastically altering the look. One thing worth noting is that balayage is all about achieving that soft and natural grow-out (roots really don’t matter when it comes to balayage!). You should be okay with having a pinch of warmth in the hair as time passes. Balayage can be a great technique for someone looking to maximize budget and time spent in the chair.

Balayage Before and After

Foiling basics

If you’re craving more of a high-impact color, balayage may not be the go-to technique. In fact, it’s common for people to bring in Pinterest pics of celebs that may be tagged as a “balayage,” but in reality, the look is achieved using a different technique—such as foils. It’s very likely that you’ll need highlight foils if you want a big color transformation. For example, taking dark hair many shades lighter tends to work best with foiling. This is also true if you want hair with a lot of contrast. In this case, both highlights and lowlights are essential for even distribution of color.

Foiling also helps speed up the process and can lift the hair lighter than balayage. It’s key for someone looking to keep hair ashy and cool-toned.

Where balayage is frequently used to highlight the hair’s mid-section and ends—and for achieving those ombré-looking highlights—foils often target the full shaft of hair. This includes the roots. The end result is brighter overall.

Full Foil Before After

Again, if you prefer to avoid the maintenance of getting a treatment every two months, foil highlights may not be the color technique for you. Foils have a more obvious separation in color, so any grow-out is more noticeable. Balayage allows the client to go longer between salon visits.

Types of foils


A technique where colorists lightening everything people see when the hair is both up and down.

Full Foil In Process


Partial foil means focusing on what people can see when hair is down (primarily the root and hairline).

Partial Foil In Process

Some colorists are also using a combination of balayage and foils, or “foliyage.” This includes starting with painted color (balayage) and finishing with foil accents. Foliyage is great for achieving a very bright, natural look with plenty of dimension.

The beauty of both

More often than not, your colorist may recommend using more than one technique to get the bright, lived-in, natural highlighted look.



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Amy Berry