Adding color to your hair is one of the best ways to refresh your look and make a statement—but many of the terms thrown around in the hair color world can be so confusing. 

Two of the most well known are ombre and balayage, and they’re also the most mixed up! So what are these techniques anyway, and which one is best for what look you’re going for?


The term ombre originates with the French word for “a color that is shaded in tone,” which more or less describes how this style looks. 

The ombre look is a dramatic shift in color where the lower part of the hair is a completely different, usually much lighter, shade that is blended upward into the darker or natural shade. 

With ombre, all of the hair strands are colored all the way across—consider it a “horizontal” technique compared to balayage’s more “vertical” one. Ombre is really more of a style of hair color.


Balayage, on the other hand, is all about technique—coming from the French word “to sweep.” 

With balayage, color is applied in sections from the bottom up, which means not all strands get the same treatment. 

Where the color shift in ombre is pretty short and sudden right around the middle, balayage’s shift occurs over a longer section of the hair at varying intervals. This lends itself to a more natural, less dramatic shift in color than ombre.

However, some unskilled salon professionals can be notorious for doing a bad job – see what we mean here

What does the difference mean?

The good news is, though both styles may require more than one salon visit to achieve the desired look, both ombre and balayage result in a fairly low-maintenance color compared to other techniques. 

They’re very accessible and forgiving for someone who is unused to dealing with color-treated hair. It ultimately comes down to the intensity of the look you’re going for.

Opt for ombre if you want a high-impact look that will require less touch-ups over time—the top of the hair remains dark, so it will still look great as your hair grows out. It’s also easier to keep up an ombre that involves bolder, less natural colors for this reason.

Go with balayage for something softer and more natural. It may require more touching up than ombre as your hair grows, but with a great style that will turn heads without being too bold.

Different techniques of balayage can impact just how much lighter your hair actually gets, but it’s still much more subtle than ombre.

If you’re still unsure which look  is right for you, your stylist at the salon can work with you to make sure you’re getting the look you really want. A professional touch will ensure that your hair leaves a lasting impression, whichever style you decide on!


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