Mistakes are common with any color process, but with perfectly blended balayage, the stakes are that much higher. We tapped colorist at Meche Salon and Redken brand ambassador Matt Rez, a true balayage maestro, for his take on goes wrong during balayage and how to control the elements.
Lightener Bleeding Over
The most common balayage mistakes, according to Matt, are hot spots or the bleeding over of lightener and/or color. Fixing this comes down to separating painted areas from negative space and achieving balance overall (like in fine art). To achieve targeted color application, Matt suggests using cotton or a plastic sheet on the top layer of the hair and painting subsections below it to prevent the lightener from bleeding over or traveling.
Uncontrolled Saturation Levels
The easiest thing to mess up (or just plain forget) when doing a balayage process is controlling the level of saturation. These levels are dependent on the degree of pressure that gets applied when sweeping lightener over the root area, so that the product penetrates the mids and ends of the hair – this is what creates the gradient that is so key to the color.
Achieving a Heat Equilibrium
The look is admittedly difficult to achieve – aside from obvious issues with getting the application down pat, there are a ton of variables that need to be controlled. Heat is definitely one – “you need enough to get the desired lift, but not too much so that painted hair dries out,” cautions Matt.
Increasing the Developer for Consistent Color
You also need to increase the volume of developer as you go, so that even the last color applied stays consistent — this is easier said than done because washing areas of the hair that are finished, without disrupting other areas, is no easy feat.
How to Tell If It’s Right
“Perfect” balayage should look “pronounced, but blended ribbons of lights that are gradient,” says Matt, who shares that balayage is dim at the roots and brighter towards the ends, which creates the signature grown-out summer highlights look.
To succeed at the technique, Matt recommends practicing on doll heads until you’re confident enough to try it out on someone. “Balayage is an art that needs to be perfected and is easy to create a mess until you have!” he says.
If you’ve had a balayage process that doesn’t look like your IG inspo, however, talk your colorist through it instead of hating on them. “Let them see what it is that may need doing based on your dislike,” advises Matt, who cautions to steer clear of any at-home color remedies, which will most likely exacerbate the problem. “Depending on what it is that client is not happy with, a professional colorist can devise a plan to correct it,” he continues.
Tip Them Out
While Matt has taken a break from doing dull balayage as-of-late, he will still refresh his client’s ends to get a brighter pop or paint hairlines at the sink to lighten baby hairs. “I painted as a child and had a great sense of depth and dimension as well as shadows and highlights in a 2D image. When I started doing the balayage technique itself, It took me a few months to really take that sense and pair it with a chemical product on a 3D canvas,” he shares of his background.
While balayage is one of the most flattering hair color techniques you can request, Matt likes it best for clients who are looking for a “true beachy sun-drenched result.” If you’re having issues perfecting the look, Matt suggests cheating for the same result by foiling in highlights for maximum precision while using lower volumes and trying a mid-light technique. Balayage or subtle highlights are great for those with dark base colors that don’t want highlights with a life of their own and are instead looking for the perfect blend.