Highlights vs Balayage vs Ombre

Ben Secrets Salon Spa Balayage Ombre

Over the last few years, a stunning trend in hair colouring has exploded in popularity – balayage and ombre. Unlike other hair fads that simmer out and fade away after a couple of seasons, it has actually grown more and more in demand. Some even argue that it will faze out traditional forms of highlighting.

However, this often leaves our clients with a difficult decision to make – “what should I have done to MY hair?” In order for you to answer this question, you need to be well informed about what it is you are asking your stylist here at Ben Secrets Studio to do for you and the level of commitment and maintenance that will be required on your end after your appointment and between visits.

This leads us to the main questions driving this post – what is balayage? What is ombre? And how are they different from traditional highlights? We hope that after reading this post, you will be able to make a better decision about which hair colouring technique will best suit your personal preference, budget and lifestyle.


Highlights, sometimes referred to as “streaks” in the past, are lighter, thin sections of hair placed within or on top of a darker base colour. The shade and tones of the highlights and base colour can vary depending on your personal preference, and what is realistic for and compliments your hair. Highlights, when performed professionally and correctly, do not have a patchy or “streaky” effect. They can be blended quite nicely.

Ben Secrets Salon Spa Highlights

Lightener or high-lifting hair colour is applied to a woven or sliced strand of your hair which is resting on top of a sheet of foil. The foil is then wrapped tightly and securely around your strand of hair. Natural heat from your head is transferred through the foil to help your hair lighten more evenly and to a lighter level than could be achieved with hair colour alone. Depending on the look that you want, your colour specialist at Ben Secrets Studio will section your hair and place your foils in the most appropriate way.

Unlike highlights, balayage and ombre area more free-hand form of lightening the hair. The hair sections are not tightly wrapped in lengths of foil. After application of the lightener to each section, they are either stacked on top of each other or on top of a sheet of foil or mèche to separate them.

Let’s dive further into the difference between balayage and ombre.


Ben Secrets Salon Spa Balayage Ombre

The French verb “balayer” means “to sweep”. Stemming from this concept, balayage is a sweeping technique of lightening the hair. Balayage provides a more contoured look to the hair, because select hair strands are carefully chosen by eye with the free-hand technique. It is not necessary to lighten all the ends of the hair for a natural-looking, beautiful balayage.

The balayage technique was originally intended to provide lighter tones in the hair with a more natural, sun-kissed look. It was designed for a more beach-like effect, where the strands of hair were only a couples of shades lighter than the base colour, similar to what would occur from spending a lot of time in the sun.

It is perfect for those of you who would like a softer look than what traditional highlights can offer. It also a technique that requires less maintenance, because there is no solid demarcation line. Where the lighter strands of the hair begin looks very blended, as if kissed by the sun. The difference in your hair regrowth is much more gentle than traditional highlights, meaning it requires less frequent touch ups.

Ben Secrets Balayage Blonde Thornhill Vaughan

Overtime, balayage also began to transition from a subtle look to a higher contrast look for individuals who wanted a more dramatic contrast. Funky, high fashion colours also began to be introduced with this technique.


The word “ombre” in French means “shadow”. Essentially, with the ombre technique, a lighter shadow in colour is created, resulting in a gradient effect. This transition is typically shorter than with the balayage technique because the lighter shades begin lower down in the hair than in a balayage. Unlike with the balayage technique, all of the ends of the hair are lighter in an ombre colouring.

Ben Secrets Ombre Blonde Thornhill Vaughan

The ombre technique is often completely free-hand. It provides higher contrast in tones but still maintains a transition in tones. It is not a natural, sun-kissed look. It is more dramatic, with two colours that are clearly and solidly differentiated at either end of the gradient.


Ben Secrets Sombre Blonde Thornhill Vaughan

If you hear the term “sombre” (the abbreviation for “soft ombre”), you are dealing with a mix between balayage and ombre for a softer ombre look that starts a little higher up in the hair. It is a subtler version of an ombre. More tones or your natural root colour are visibly weaved or ribboned into the lengths of your hair to break up the sharper contrast of an ombre.

How are the Balayage and Ombre Look Achieved?

In traditional highlights, bleach is typically applied closest to the roots, moving downwards towards the ends of the hair. The placement and focus of the lightener are much different in a balayage or ombre. For example, the application may begin on the ends. With ombre, the lightener is oftentimes more concentrated on the ends of the hair than at the roots. Sometimes a backcombing technique is used or a more natural, blended look and sometimes triangular placement patterns will be chosen. Your colour specialist at Ben Secrets will use the best technique suited for the look that you want.

Can I Change My Solid Blonde Into a Balayage?

If you are getting tired of the maintenance and look of a solid blonde, you can transition to a balayage or ombre with a root melt and any necessary toners. Essentially, a reverse balayage or ombre will need to be performed, where instead of adding lighter strands, darker strands will be pulled down from your roots to your mid-shaft to match your natural growth colour as closely as possible.

Will Balayage or Ombre Work for Me?

Ben Secrets Balayage Blonde Thornhill Vaughan

Balayage and ombre are suitable for straight, wavy and curly textures. Balayage and ombre can also both be executed beautifully on shorter and shoulder-length hair, as well as long hair. Those of you battling grey hair may require a root or base colour in addition to the balayage or ombre in order to blend everything in perfectly and cover unwanted greys. At the end of the day, balayage and ombre are versatile. Your colourist at Ben Secrets Studio will use the technique that is the best for you.

With your complimentary consultation in our salon, feel free to tell us your ideas and desires. We will let you know how long it will take, the cost involved to give you the look that you will love and we will provide our own recommendations for you based on our expertise and professional experience. If your hair is a darker colour and you wish to go much lighter, we will explain to you how it may take more than one session. We will be honest and upfront with you regarding what is realistic for your budget and level of commitment.

Check out some of our transformations!

Ben Secrets Balayage Blonde Thornhill VaughanBen Secrets Balayage Blonde Thornhill VaughanBen Secrets Balayage Blonde Thornhill VaughanBen Secrets Balayage Blonde Thornhill VaughanBen Secrets Balayage Blonde Thornhill VaughanBen Secrets Balayage Blonde Thornhill VaughanBen Secrets Balayage Blonde Thornhill VaughanBen Secrets Balayage Blonde Thornhill Vaughan


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