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The Difference Between Balayage & Ombre Hair Colour

There are so many hairstyle buzz words around these days: ombre, sombre, balayage and bronde …it can be hard to keep up!

Don’t fret, we’ve created a simple outline so you know exactly what to ask for on your next visit. This way you can gain understanding of the techniques we use to achieve perfect Instagram ready colour. As colourists reinvent and improve techniques, the resulting colours are “re-branded” to differentiate it from other techniques and keep hair colour exciting for clients.

Traditionally, foils are used to achieve different hair colouring techniques. Balayage and ombre are modern, massively popular trends in hair colouring.

Where foils produce a uniform, defined colouring, balayage and ombre produce a more random or blended transition of colour for your hair. It can be done with blondes, browns, auburns, or bright colours like red, purple or even grey. The technique has developed to such a level of expertise that now the best hair colourists have down pat the perfect blend or fade for your hairstyle.

So what’s the difference between balayage and ombre hair?

About Balayage

Balayage hair colouring is a French colouring technique that was developed in the 1970s and has become wildly commercialised over the past 10 years being popularised by its “lower” maintenance (note not NO maintenance) and versatility.

Balayage is a french word meaning “to sweep”, and if you’ve seem the technique in action you’ll understand why. It’s a freehand technique where the colour is painted onto the hair to add highlights in a gradual blend as opposed to doing traditional highlighting with foils that are the one colour from root to end.

Nowadays there are many different variations of the balayage technique but the fundamental technique is consistent. Every stylist has a range of balayage practises that they prefer to use – from free hand, to foils, free-lights, heat tables the list goes on. This however doesn’t effect the result in anyway, there’s no techniques that are designed to achieve specific looks, so don’t be scared that your stylist isn’t using the “right” technique, there’s no specific way just variations of a fundamental skill.

Ombre vs Sombre Hair

The purpose of any balayage technique is to create a blended sweeping highlight which diminishes softly toward the roots. This method is the baseline for the variety of blended results and styles were seeing today from ombre to bronde.

Balayage application technique gives the colourist greater control to create a soft and customised colour result, that will not give a defined demarcation or noticeable regrowth, but rather the applied colour blends seamlessly into your natural or base colour. This is known as the “ombre effect” from the French word meaning shading and colour fade.

Balayage is also a look or “hair colour style” of its own. It describes a result where highlighted Balayage pieces are mixed with darker and/or natural depths and tones extending through to the ends giving a multidimensional and defined effect.

About Ombre

Balayage and Ombre are terms that are often intermixed and confused.

Ombre is a French word meaning “to fade”.

Light to Dark Balayage Ombre Hair

To achieve an ombre result, stylists employ the balayage “sweeping” technique, however rather than creating multi-dimensional highlights to only some sections of the hair, with the Ombre colour techniqe, all of the ends are lightened (or coloured) so that your base shade fades seamlessly into a more solid highlighted colour at the ends.

The result can be quite dramatic or subtle depending on the contrast of depth and tone between your base and highlight shades. The transition or blend however, should always be soft and blended. A softer contrast between the base and highlight colours is sometimes referred to as a “sombre” or ‘root shadow’.

So that’s the difference between balayage and ombre.  The technique is called balayage and can be a “style” of it’s own, while ombre refers to the “style”.

There are of course different styles produced from the balayage hair colouring technique, so let’s explore these trends a little further!

Combination Hair Colouring Styles using the Balayage Technique

Ombre vs sombre hair colouring

Ombre can be subtle or dramatic.

Enter “Sombre”. The Sombre style stands for “subtle ombre”, as the name suggests it’s based on the ombre hair colour style but aims for a softer more natural looking result. Sombre hair colouring involves using more colours for a subtle transition, weaving or teasing hair and starting highlights higher. You can see in the examples below hair colour is painted lightly around the roots to mid lengths and heavier on the ends to create a natural sun-kissed look. The process varies depending on the length of the hair and the desired result.

Here are some examples of “sombre” or subtle balayage ombre colours…

Balayage Ombre Hair Example 1Balayage Ombre Hair Example 2Balayage Ombre Hair Example 3








The resulting look from dramatic Ombre is sort of like the examples above taken to the extreme; that is, adding more contrast in colour and creating a noticable fade. Ombre involves shading the hair from dark to light, usually roots being the darkest and ends the lightest, however there is also the trend seen every now and then of the reverse ombre. Hair is teased and then colour applied to achieve a seamless shading of the chosen colour.

Combination Balayage and Ombre Techniques

a beautiful example of Colour Melt Balayage

Not our work but this is a beautiful example of Colour Melt Balayage

Bronde: Hair by Lily Jackson Hair & Makeup

Bronde: Hair by Lily Jackson Hair & Makeup

Strawberry/Rose Gold Balayage by Lily Jackson Hair & Makeup

Strawberry/Rose Gold Balayage by Lily Jackson Hair & Makeup











More often than not, stylists will  employ many different techniques at a time to create those beautiful complex colours you see online and then these results get given totally new names. In realty these aren’t “new” techniques, they’re reimagining’s and creative combinations of the fundamental techniques.


An example of root smudge balayage

Root smudge balayage

Bronde: Is a type of Balayage typically using medium to light brown tones as a base colour with subtle dark blonde or caramel balayaged pieces. The result is a very natural subtle sun kissed result.


Colour Melt: an ombre result achieved by using two or more colours and blended and smudged together in the middle to create a seamless melted transition of depth and tone from roots to ends. Often used creatively on pre-lightened hair.

Root shadow / Root smudge: is a technique used after pre-lightening using a balayage technique, classic foiling technique or combination. A toner is applied to the highest points of the lightened hair to create a shadow and variation of depth which softens the blend further or creates depth at the root for a more super natural result on classic foils.

Why choose Balayage, Ombre or any combination?

  • Due to the hair colour not being taken up to the roots, Balayage can potentially require less maintenance than a solid colour or traditional foils or highlights. BUT balayage is not “no maintenance” (see below).
  • It is bespoke creative colour. No one will have the same hair as you!
  • The style has a bit more edge and flavour in comparison to standard highlights.
  • Ombre Balayage can look soft, feminine and romantic in longer lengths of hair.
  • Darker root colour frames the face, and lighter mid lengths to ends are not so solid or harsh, adding softness to the style and colour.
  • It can be done gradually so that you are not shocked and your hair is not damaged with the colour change.

Most common mistakes we see with Balayage.

  • The biggest mistake most women make is to leave their balayaged hair without
    Image showing bad balayage and bad hair extensions.

    This is an example of how not to do balayage (and hair extensions for that matter!)

    professional attention for 6 months ormore. Most hair colour fades and the tone of the hair will lose it’s vibrancy and richness. As you look at it everyday, you will not notice the richness and vibrancy of the original colour fade to an unattractive brassy shade or the ends of your hair become split or brittle.  So ourrecommendation is to touch up balayage with a toner every 6 weeks and have a haircut every 12 weeks to freshen the ends.  A great hairdresser will know how to do this without chopping off huge amounts of hair.

  • Poor mastery of the balayage technique. A bad Balayage is one that does not seamlessly blend from roots to ends: typical mistakes are unblended contrast, visible lines in the transition of colour, yellow and gold untoned ends.

What will affect your ability to have the perfect Balayage hair colour?

  • Your present hair colour: Is it your natural colour or have you coloured it?
  • Was your colour performed in a salon or at home using box colour? DIY colour is notoriously difficult to remove from hair and contains ingredients that can cause unpredictable results in the lightening process.
  • Your present hair condition: if you have been colouring your hair, what condition are the ends in? If you have dry and damaged ends, balayage will probably make them worse so consider getting a great hair cut and starting out with healthy hair.
  • How drammatic a change you are looking to have: drammatic changes are great but often there is a significant amount of work to be done to create a beautiful result.  Most often this involves colour balancing or colour correction. So expecting a perfect drammatic change in one sitting might be unrealistic or unhealthy for your hair. Consider the advice of your stylist if they are recommending a journey over 2 or 3 visits.
  • The technical ability of the hair stylist.  Do they do a lot of balayage? Do they have a Pinterest or Instagram account where you can view images of their work?
  • The actual types of colour and bleach used by the hair salon. At Lily Jackson Hair & Makeup it’s not unusual for us to use two different types of bleach from two different (large and reputable) product companies to achieve the desired result. Cheap bleaches create sub average results and can damage hair – period. We see it all the time.

So, what are your thoughts?
What do you like and will you be trying any of these colour trends yourself? Is dramatic Ombre too styled or passe for you? Do you prefer the softness of a subtle Balayage? Or do you love how striking dramatic Ombre is? Do you already have or have you experienced these hair colouring techniques and styles before?

Take a look at some more great examples of dramatic ombre on our Pinterest Board Dramatic Ombre Balayage and Subtle Ombre Balayage or check out our Instagram account.

4 replies
  1. Jorkee
    Jorkee says:

    Love ombre, but don’t know if it is just a fad…I think there are so many people doing it these days, this is a style that used to look so original but has now become a bit passe. I guess if you do it, you should do it because you love the look, not just to be current/’on trend’.

  2. Ellen
    Ellen says:

    I just had my balayage done by you guys using that Elumen colour and I couldn’t be happier with the rose gold tones. Can’t wait for a touch up!

    • Lily Jackson Hair & Makeup
      Lily Jackson Hair & Makeup says:

      Hi Georgia, the root smudge is cool isn’t it? To give you a quote we need to see you in the salon.
      Two people can have the same length hair but one might require a lot more colour to achieve the desired look.
      Give us a call on 9360 8708 and we can arrange a free consult.
      Lily Jackson Team

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