A little highlight goes a long way, especially in the winter when natural sunlight is at a premium. It can be that elusive element that transforms hair from simply pretty to absolutely stunning. But the foil process employed by most salons can be uncomfortable and it’s not particularly good for the hair. The worst part is that as soon as your locks start growing out and your roots start showing, it becomes clear that your lovely natural look is anything but.
Balayage (French for “sweeping”) is an alternative highlighting technique that surfaced in Paris during the 70s. It peaked in popularity in the US by the 90s but is currently enjoying a revival. The method was developed to create natural-looking highlights that grow out without leaving discernible roots. The color is painted on the hair freehand, starting very lightly near the scalp and more heavily as the brush moves toward the ends.
Curious about highlights without the omnipresent roots, I booked a treatment at Renaissance Salon with just a few clicks on their Facebook page. I told owner Jessica Wall that I was looking for subtle, face-framing caramel highlights, not a drastic color change. “That’s perfect for balayage,” Jessica said. “It’s best for a sun-kissed look, not for someone seeking a lot of lightness all over.” Another of balayage’s benefits is it’s less damaging to your hair because the dye is left on for a shorter period of time and no heat is used.
Jessica is one of four master colorists at Renaissance trained in the balayage technique, which is not something taught at beauty school. She prefers to paint the hair against a plastic palette, but others use plastic wrap. Cotton is layered under each section to prevent the dye from transferring. The end result was subtle as promised and looked more random and less stripy than a foil job. Touch-ups can last up to 12 weeks, making it a good option for those who aren’t able to keep up with the routine of regular highlights.
Some time has passed since my visit and my hair still looks great. It’s just around the time regular foil highlights would have faded away, shouting my roots out to the world and contrasting starkly with the lighter chunks. The color has grown out some, but it’s so gradual that it really does look like the remains of a weeks-long vacation in the sun.