Color Techniques

Trends come and go, but it looks like gradient hair is here to stay. Over the past few seasons, we’ve transitioned from foil highlights and solid all-over colour to softer and more natural looking dye jobs.

These days, the look is sun-kissed, grown out and slightly unkempt. The slow-fade styles add depth, dimension and you don’t have to be visiting the salon every few weeks for a touch-up – and that’s perfect for salon slackers like us.

Yet despite the styles’ popularity, we’re still tripping over the labels. Ombré? Sombré? Balayage? Babylights? What’s the difference? Get familiar with these low-maintenance styles before your date with your colourist.

Then: Foils Now: Balayage

They’re both highlighting techniques, but create subtly different results. With traditional foils, the highlights are uniform and defined. Balayage, taken from the French word meaning “to sweep”, is a freehand technique in which swatches of hair are sectioned and hand painted against a backing board with a lightening agent. After painting, each swatch is covered in cellophane. As balayage highlights are less systematically placed, you end up with fatter, less symmetrical, more random highlights, resulting in a more casual, beachy finish.

Unlike ombré, which worked best for brunettes in the past, sombré works for everyone. Olivia Wilde presents a fine example of balayage, while Poppy Delevingne wore them at her wedding recently. You can balayage a short pixie crop, but for best results, work it on thick, heavy hair that sits below the shoulders. Balayage is a great option if you like the look of chunkier highlights with more contrast and less blonde.

Then: Ombré Now: Sombré

The demand for dark roots and lighter ends started a few years back, worn by everyone from Alexa Chung and Rachel Bilson to Drew Barrymore and Dree Hemingway. Ombré can feature quite a stark dark-to-light fade – making sombré (“subtle ombré”) a much more nuanced take on the dip-dye trend.

With sombré, championed by celebrities like Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Cara Delevingne and Jessica Alba, the lighter sections start up a bit higher and the lower lengths have ribbons of dark colour for a more gradual transition. Just like its predecessor, the worn-in look is perfectly low-maintenance. There’s no need for constant touch-ups due to there being no clear demarcation line or regrowth – making it an economical option, too. Have a read of these expert tips before booking your salon appointment.


Then: Highlights Now: Babylights

We’ve gone into highlights by way of foils and balayage, but did you know there are different degrees of highlighting? As opposed to splashlights – which see sharp flashes of laser-like blonde on dark tresses – babylights are much finer.

The hair is separated into itsy-bitsy sections and colour is applied to each group of strands and left for more than an hour. Yes, it’s costly and time-consuming, but you’re left with a more multidimensional, radiant, natural-looking dye job. Basically, it’s recreating the hair colour you had when you were a precious young one. Unfortunately, the technique only really works on blondes.