What Is Freehand Balayage?

Published 25th Oct 2023 by Josie Jackson

Balayage is said to have originated in the 1970s in Paris, but can now be found in salons across the globe. From Ombre Balayage to Sombre Balayage, there are so many variations of the much-loved technique, but sometimes you can’t beat a classic – so here’s everything you need to know about freehand balayage.

What is Freehand Balayage?

 As the name suggests, it’s a freehand colouring technique which involves hand-painting the hair. While colourists often have their own variations for techniques such as these, Christel Barron-Hough, Founder & Creative Director STIL Salon and Wella Top Artist, explains: “Traditionally this is done without backcombing the hair and instead just uses tension and a freehand painting technique.” Freehand balayage is also recognisable by the lack of tools required, with Michelle Summers Davies, Matrix Artist Ambassador, sharing: “It’s a technique that involves painting or sweeping hair colour onto sections of hair without the use of foils or other tools.”

What are the Benefits of Freehand Balayage?

Freehand balayage allows colourists more freedom when it comes to applying colour, which in itself presents some great benefits. “It’s a great introduction to colour,” says Siobhan Jones, Global Ambassador for L’Oréal Professionnel, “as it can be applied in a personalised way.” Because you have more control over the colour placement, she also explains that it often leaves the hair in better condition, which is a great selling point for clients who are colour shy. Coia Dahill, Alfaparf Milano Professional Brand Ambassador also sings its praises, adding: It gives a gorgeous multi tonal affect and can create light and depth in the hair without too much maintenance. Plus, it can be applied to a lot of colours, and it is also a technique that is super impactful with minimal lightening.”

Credit: Coia Dahill

Are There Any Pressure Points When Doing Freehand Balayage? 

While freehand balayage can create stunning results, as with any colouring technique, there are some pressure points to consider. Siobhan highlights: “Traditional approaches to balayage can have limited lift and, if not applied effectively, can leave a warmer tone on the hair.” Michelle also raises some concerns, particularly when it comes to your tools. She says: “Ensure you’re working with clean gloves to avoid any spotting.”

Lisa Whiteman, Alfaparf Milano Professional Brand Ambassador, discusses issues with the application process, adding: “When working on mid-lengths and ends, the hair can move freely, so this is something you’ll need to bear in mind.” Christel also shares some things to watch out for, noting: “Balayage is all about bringing out shape and form, so understanding the natural fall of the hair is super important ­– as well as mastering the tension and freehand painting technique so you don’t get any lines in the hair without back combing the hair.”

What Looks Does Freehand Balayage Work Well For?

With so many different variations of the technique, balayage can create a whole host of looks. However, when it comes to freehand balayage specifically, what looks can be achieved? “Freehand balayage works well for various hair looks, including natural-looking highlights, soft gradients, and even bold, fashion-forward colour combinations,” says Michelle.

“I think freehand balayage works well when clients are after longer, sun-kissed looking hair with natural root growth,” shares Lisa, “or if they want blonde hair with natural looking movement of colour.”

Coia once again highlights the versatility of freehand balayage, explaining: “I love to use freehand when I am creating a multi tonal brunette, I also love it for adding interest to my coppers and reds. If a client is looking for a creative colour but still not too much maintenance, I will use freehand and apply my vivid colour on top.”


Josie Jackson

Josie Jackson

Published 25th Oct 2023

Josie supports the team with content for the print magazine, website and social media channels at HJ. Having grown up in a salon environment (thanks to her hairdresser mum) and even working as a Saturday girl before getting her degree in English Literature, Josie feels right at home in the industry. Although she’s experimented with a few creative colour looks in the past, she always comes back to blonde, and loves all things hydrating and bond building.

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