From stained glass hair to gemlights, there are heaps of innovative hair colour trends popping up in salon and on Pinterest, but the popular balayage technique – painting or sweeping on colour for a soft, natural, sun-kissed finish – shows absolutely no sign of being overshadowed by them. On Instagram alone, there are over 14 million tags for the look (and counting).
Traditionally, the balayage method consists of light, freehand painting, often wrapping pieces of hair in strips of foil to lift the hair and encourage the colour to take, but according to Zoë Irwin, Wella Professionals UK Colour Trends Expert, there's a new, better skill on the horizon: balayage wrapping, and it'll provide you with a much more subtle, believable shade of blonde.
"Wrapping is a French balayage technique," Zoë told R29. "It still uses the freehand painting method – and it's a very specific one at that – but it also harnesses 'wraps' to make sure you get a lift." A handful of salons practising the clever new method use clingfilm, which definitely isn't a sustainable, environmentally friendly option, which is why many hair specialists in Paris are using eco-wraps or eco-plastic, according to Zoë. But it gets better. "Wrapping the hair in this way means it gets lighter, but the shade is much softer than if you were to use foils, which heat up and subsequently lighten, or lift the hair more," Zoë explained, resulting in a muted, modern blonde. "If you used foils your hair simply wouldn't look as natural as it does with a classic balayage technique like this," continued Zoë. "The French also dye wide sections, so we wrap larger locks of hair and mix them with smaller sections of hair, which we call baby balayage or babylights. The new technique also means that any colour won’t transfer onto parts of the hair you don’t want it to."
It's also better for the formula used. "To actually make sure the hair lightens, you have to stop the bleach from drying out, and the wrapping technique does this well, while using the natural heat from the hair to achieve a soft, subtle look," added Zoë. "This means you don’t need to use additional heat, which is what is usually applied with foil highlights to make the hair lighter." Regardless of the bleach used, less heat inevitably means a little less damage to your strands, making balayage wrapping a better option for over-processed hair prone to breakage and brittleness. But you'll still need to consider aftercare.
"In terms of treatments and the overall condition of the hair, I’m a great believer in using products that respect the hair as much as possible to begin with, so I mix Wellaplex in with the product I'm using to lighten the hair," said Zoë. "This helps to give optimal lift and also helps to reconstruct inner hair bonds to make the hair stronger. I’m also a huge fan of Wella Professionals Koleston Perfect ME+, which has a brand new technology that means the more you colour the hair with the product, the less damage there is. I do also think you need to use conditioning products and treatments, because in the long term, that is what gives the hair glow, shine and shimmer. In Paris they use colour glazes over the hair to keep it fresh, give it shine and to provide a colour boost. They sit on top of the hair and can be applied by your colourist in-between visits – for example when you have a blow-dry." R29 rates Bumble and Bumble's Color Gloss, £26, as a DIY treatment you can apply to coloured hair at home.
"There are also lots of great conditioning treatments that you can use at home," says Zoë. R29's fashion and beauty writer Georgia Murray recommends BLEACH London's Reincarnation Mask, £6, while Zoë rates the INVIGO Nutri-Enrich Warming Express Mask, £14. "It's an ultra-nourishing, self-warming treatment that delivers brilliant shine and softness to dry, damaged and stressed hair for improved health and vitality."
But back to balayage wrapping: where is best to get it done in the UK? "I offer the technique at Taylor Taylor at Liberty, while balayage expert Jack Howard currently offers this specific hand-painting and wrapping method at Paul Edmonds," concludes Zoë. "But we will start to see this spreading around the country, and even around the world, as more and more people specialise in balayage." And be sure to ask your chosen salon about using eco-wraps, to help save the planet and your hair simultaneously.