The traditional, salon-approved method consists of painting or sweeping on colour (typically bleach) for a soft, natural, sun-kissed finish that looks much more believable and less harsh than highlights. Recently we've spotted balayage mapping (mapping out sections of hair against the contours of bone structure to work out the optimum placement of light and dark tones) and negative space balayage (leaving pinches of strands free of colour to create a multidimensional effect), but salons in the US are making a case for a new technique. Enter: 3D balayage, currently blowing up both Instagram and Pinterest here in the UK.
What is 3D balayage?
"3D balayage is great because it takes traditional balayage and makes it more multi-tonal, instead of streaky or flat," explains Shannon Lewis, colour specialist at Jo Hansford salon in Mayfair. "It’s very similar to hair contouring," Shannon continues. "Rather than dyeing the hair with one single lighter colour, there are two shades, and one is always slightly darker."
Katie Hale, head of colour at Charles Worthington, mentions that 3D balayage can often be a mixture of bleach to achieve the lighter strands and a darker hair gloss treatment. "Mixing the two tones creates a 'bleed' or gradient effect on the hair as the colour goes from light to dark seamlessly, and this allows for a softer, easier blend. Subsequently, backcombing (a step taken during balayage treatments or highlights), is not needed." That means much less breakage.
Thanks to the juxtaposition of light and dark, Shannon says the hair really pops compared to traditional balayage. "The lighter shade will look brighter especially, while the darker tone adds depth and plumpness, giving the illusion of thicker, fuller hair without any harsh lines. In fact, I think 3D balayage can actually make the hair look longer, too." This makes it a great match for those with hair on the finer side, as it lends a semi-permanent volume boost without the need for excessive teasing or hairspray.
How is 3D balayage done?
Most of the time, the roots are void of bleach, but Shannon mentions that peppering the hairline with strandlights (lightening minute sections of hair) helps make the finished result look natural and more blended. Because of the even distribution of bleach and darker colour, experts argue that 3D balayage is much kinder on your hair, too. "The technique used depends on how much lift you need," explains Shannon. "You won’t really need to sit in foils, but if your hair needs an extra boost and you want it to be lighter, you might enlist a foil here and there." That said, your colourist won't completely envelop the section of hair in foil, so that more air can flow through. This makes the colour a little more subtle. "Because of this, you aren't distributing much bleach through the hair, which means there is less of a build-up," adds Shannon. And thanks to the more believable, understated look, you won't have to go to the salon every month for a top-up. "Perhaps only every six months or so, depending on your hair type and routine," adds Shannon.
Who suits 3D balayage?
Contrary to Instagram, 3D balayage is not just for blondes. "Brunettes can achieve this 3D effect by adding soft caramel and honey tones to the mid-lengths and ends of the hair," explains Katie. "With copper being a go-to colour for more clients now, this shade can also be applied through brown hair to give it more dimension and warmth." So what should you ask for in salon? Both Katie and Shannon agree that it pays to bring a couple of pictures along, but mention that your colourist will suggest colour tweaks to suit the length and thickness of your hair and your skin tone, as well as how you're willing to maintain the look.
Another thing colourists recognise is that 3D balayage looks better on hair that has movement to it, although it might not be suitable for anything above bob-length. "I love waves," says Shannon, "but if you don’t want to use a tong or aren't a dab hand at a wavy blow-dry, invest in some salt spray." R29 rates Beached Urban Waves, £18.95, OUAI Wave Spray, £22, and Osmo Matt Sea Salt Spray, £4.50. "Spritz the product through damp hair, scrunch and blast with a hairdryer on a low heat. You can leave it like this or do a wavy blow-dry or go through with a tong to give the hair more shape."