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Ombré, Sombré and Balayage – Oh My!

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Image by Madison Reed

When it comes to hair color techniques and trends, sometimes the differences between them are so nuanced that it’s hard to keep them all straight. Never fear. We’re here...with a primer that breaks down the hottest hair trends once and for all. Balayage , sombré, ombré, color melting, and more...read on to learn what sets all these striking freehand techniques apart.


In French, balayage means “to sweep.” When doing this freehand painting technique, colorists select sections of hair to, literally, sweep or paint with hair color. It allows them to be more creative with color and placement for results that look incredibly natural and grow out beautifully thanks to the softness of the brush strokes (meaning less visits to the salon). Unlike ombré, which transitions color from darker roots to lighter ends, bayalage can include painting color throughout the entire length of hair, even the ends. It’s an alternative to traditional foils, giving a subtler, sun-kissed look. 


A slightly edgier look than its BFF below, an ombré style is darkest at the roots, gradually transitioning to lighter color at the ends. Ombré is also sometimes called “color melting.” It’s a freehand technique, and depending on the range of hues you or your colorist choose, you can make it as dramatic or as under the radar as you want. A reverse ombré is just the opposite—lightest at the roots, darkest at the ends. It’s a fashion-forward look perfect for those who like to turn some heads, and is amazing on long hair with the space to show the tonal spectrum off. The best part? You can ombré (and sombré) at-home with these easy peasy instructions. 


If balayage and ombré had a baby, sombré would be it. This super subtle ombré style requires less upkeep because it features less color variance from roots to ends. The trick is to take the darkest hue at the roots, then working it through the lengths for a smoother transition from top to bottom. The result is like the most stunning, grown-out color you’ve ever seen, delivering a laid-back cool look that’s polished and chic. It’s also a great way to dip your toes into the ombré trend without going full throttle. 


Otherwise known as tortoiseshell, ecaille is a freehand technique and color trend in one. It uses color to accentuate the natural movement of the hair, adding highlights and shadows to waves or bends. It also includes artistic touches like lightening the middle section of waves to imitate light illuminating hair. Featuring moodier depth and rich warm tones such as golden blonde, chestnut, mahogany, honey, and chocolate, you’re looking at upwards of 3 tones that give strands incredible life and brilliance. The result is delicious. 

So there you have it: the top hair color trends easily defined so you can keep them straight. Or curly. ;)

More Ombre Posts:
How to Ombre at Home
Before and After Ombre Hair with Nicole Chiu Wang
The Great Ombre Cover Up

Introducing Light Works - The First Balayage At Home Hair Highlighting Kit

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