The Difference Between Balayage & Ombre Hair Colour

Balyage vs Ombre Hair

There are so many hairstyle buzz words around these days, ombre, sombre, balayage…it can be hard to keep up, so lets get straight to it! 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 whatever colour you choose. 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?

Balayage hair colouring is a French colouring technique that was developed in the 1970s. 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.

Ombre vs Sombre HairBalayage 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.

So here’s the difference between balayage and ombre. The technique is called balayage, while ombre refers to the “style”. There is of course different styles produced from the balayage hair colouring technique, so let’s explore these trends a little further!

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 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.

Why choose Ombre Balayage?

  • Ombre is potentially less maintenance than a solid colour or highlights if you have your own natural colour, or one tone deeper or lighter, as the root/base colour. If this is the case you won’t have to be religious over the timing of your appointments. That is unless you still want to cover grey.
  • it is creative colour.
  • 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.

Here are some dramatic light to dark and dark to light Ombre colour transitions…

Balayage Ombre Hair IllustrationReverse Ombre Hair ExampleLight to Dark Balayage Ombre HairDrew Barrymore Ombre Hair










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.

1 reply
  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’.


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