Hair Colour Techniques Explained

When it comes to hair colour, things have become a little more complicated in recent years. It’s not enough to rely on your one-dimensional DIY colour anymore; these days, it’s all about technique. But with a new style cropping up on an almost weekly basis, it can be difficult to know what’s what. But don’t worry, we’re here to help. Find out everything you need to know about the hottest hair colour trends you’ve definitely seen on Instagram here – and finally get to know the difference between balayage and ombré!

Balayage

As one of the best-loved hair colouring techniques on the market today, we had to start with balayage. Though it’s really made waves in recent years, it was actually developed by French colourists in the 1970s! Deriving from the French term ‘to sweep,’ balayage is a freehand hair colouring technique whereby highlights are painted on. This means you get softer, more natural-looking results than you would with foils.

Contrary to what Pinterest might have you believe, you don’t need mermaid-length locks to enjoy the benefits of balayage either; it’s a great way of adding depth to hair of any length. If you’re new to hair dyeing, balayage is the perfect place to start; it’ll subtly lift your look without changing it too drastically. Balayage is also relatively low-maintenance, as roots are less noticeable when your hair starts to grow out. Plus, it doesn’t matter whether you have blonde, brunette, red or even black hair – balayage works on any colour!

One of the key things to remember, is that balayage is a hair lightening technique; bleaching is involved, and you’ll need to keep your hair in good condition to avoid breakage. The darker your starting colour (and the lighter you want your highlights to be), the more it’ll take to achieve the desired results. Book a consultation with your colourist beforehand to discuss what’s going to work best for you.

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Ombré

Though the two often get mixed up, ombré and balayage aren’t the same thing! In fact, ombré isn’t a hair colouring technique at all – it’s a gradient. Balayage is the technique that’s commonly applied to achieve ombré hair colour. Lightener is placed horizontally on the bottom half of the hair, then blended upwards (rather than painted on in sections), to achieve a more noticeable gradient line. Not to be confused with dip-dye hair (see below), ombre should have that caramel-coloured mid-section, so you don’t get such an extreme contrast.

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Sombré

If you’re after a more subtle colour transition, sombré is probably the right way to go. It’s similar to ombré, but softer (soft ombré = sombré!); if you work in a corporate or more conservative environment it’s going to suit your lifestyle that little bit more. To achieve the look, stylists use less bleach to lighten the hair, so the gradient change from root to tip isn’t as obvious.

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Dip Dye Hair

One of the reasons that people tend to get their ombré, sombré and balayage confused, is because often, what’s passed off as ombré is in fact dip dye. This technique creates a more solid colour distinction; you don’t get a line of blended colour as you do with ombré. As such, dip dye hair works really well if you’re after something fun and quirky. Fancy playing with pastels or mermaid shades but don’t want to commit to a full head of colour? Go for a dip dye instead. This style only works on long or mid-length hair; anything less than a bob and you’ll end up with a harsh line halfway up your head – it’ll just look as though you need your roots doing!

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Unicorn Hair

What better way to bring a little fairy magic into your life than with your hairstyle? Unicorn hair – much like mermaid hair – is for anyone looking for something a little bit different. And hey, if you can decide which colour to go for, why not just have them all?! To achieve this look, the first thing your stylist will do is bleach your hair, before applying your chosen colours with the kind of precision that only professionals can achieve (this isn’t one to try at home – trust us!). Whether you go for sorbet shades or turn up the saturation on your sugary hues with some ultra-violets and flaming fuchsias, this trend is all about creating something that’s unique – and uniquely you!

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Highlights

Before balayage took over the mainstream, highlights were the way to achieve that sun-kissed look. Unlike balayage, highlights follow a more structured pattern, since they’re applied using foils or a cap. This technique usually creates a starker finish, whereby the colour isn’t so seamlessly blended. Highlights are more high-maintenance too, because colour is applied at the roots. But just like balayage, they work on any hair colour, and can beautifully frame the face.

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Types of Hair Colour

Now that we’ve identified the main hair colour techniques, let’s clear up the confusion around the different types of hair dyes out there:

Semi-permanent hair dyes coat the hair shaft and aren’t designed to last much longer than 6 weeks; your colour will have lost its vibrancy by this time. They’re a great option for covering greys or touching up your roots in-between salon visits; they also add shine to dull-looking hair. And since semi-permanent dyes aren’t formulated with ammonia, they’re less damaging than other chemical dyes.

Permanent hair dyes open the cuticle to allow for the dye to properly penetrate the hair. If you’re looking to lighten or darken your hair, or cover any greys, permanent colours are your best bet. And although you’ll need to re-apply your colour to accommodate new growth, you won’t need to do touch-ups as often as you would, were you to use a temporary colour.

Bleach decolourises the pigment in your hair shaft. As one of the more damaging colour solutions, it’s important to keep your hair in as good a condition as possible when bleaching. You might have noticed that bleached hair can take on a brassy, yellow-ish tint before you apply a toner. That’s because keratin (the protein that makes up our hair), is a naturally pale yellow colour.

Hair chalks and mascaras are the most temporary type of hair colour. They can be easily washed out, so if you fancy adopting unicorn hair for just a day or two, they’re ideal. To seal, run over the colour with your straighteners before misting over with hairspray.

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