Balayage, the specialised painting technique which creates a natural, sun-kissed effect on hair, has reigned supreme as the hair colour style of choice. From 3D balayage (making hair look thicker and longer) to negative space balayage (giving thinner hair more depth and movement), we've been spoilt for choice when it comes to balayage trends. But according to colourists, balayage might have had its day, as highlights are back in a big way. This time around, however, they are far from streaky or stripy – and they also have a brand new name. Enter: 'ballet lights', the new, salon-approved craze set to transform your signature up-do.
What are ballet lights?
Ballet lights involve a series of well placed micro-lights (tiny highlights) around the hairline, both at the front of the hair and the underside, to make sure colour looks just as great up as it does down. Louisa Moore, expert hair colourist at Jo Hansford salon, explains that the budding technique was dreamed up by the colour team as so many clients had requested understated and chic topknots using inspiration from Instagram, but that the hair in these pictures, especially at the nape of the neck, was filled with unsightly gaps. "The idea of ballet lights is to cover all areas," Louisa told R29. "It ensures there are no dark spaces on the hairline and that there is continuity around the whole head. So whatever up-do you prefer, whether that’s a messy bun, topknot or a ponytail, there’s complete coverage and it's symmetrical."
What's the technique?
Traditional highlights involve lightening specific sections of hair from the root to the ends, leaving some natural hair in between, but rarely any attention is given to the underside, making up-dos look half-done. Ballet lights make sure this important area, as well as the section above the ears, isn't forgotten so that you can wear your hair up and look just as polished.
"Firstly, it's important to find out how the client wears their hair up," explained Louisa. "Then, we paint minute sections of hair at the root, following the client's exact hairline all the way round so that there are no dark areas or shadows whatsoever. We also highlight sections of hair on the underside." Depending on how much lift and brightness you want to your hair, foils are likely to be used, as is the case with traditional highlights.
How do you wear ballet lights?
As ballet lights have been pioneered for up-dos, the look works best on buns and ponytails, whether you prefer them high or low, chic or messy. But you can wear your hair down, too. "It'll just look like you have face framers," said Louisa, "so there will be some highlights hanging around the front of the face specifically."
Louisa's favourite look? A topknot. "To recreate a topknot yourself, tip your head upside down, brush all the hair into a ponytail, scrunch it together and tie a hairband around it. You can’t be neat with a bun like this. Once it’s up, it might look like a complete mess, but you can poke sections of hair back in and secure with hair grips."
Who suits ballet lights?
"Ballet lights are for the client that is into highlights, balayage and wearing their hair a bit lighter on the ends," said Louisa, and it's great for brunettes, too. "In this case, I wouldn't advise going super blonde. Instead, opt for caramel or toffee tones to make the overall look a little bit more subtle and sun-kissed."
How should you take care of ballet lights?
Because the highlights are so fine, it's unlikely that ballet lights will damage your hair, according to Louisa. But if you're worried about the condition of your hair after bleach, Louisa suggests switching up your shampoo. "Sulphate free shampoo is a must to preserve your colour for as long as possible. Try Jo Hansford's Anti Frizz Shampoo, £17." An ingredient like argan oil will also help brittle hair feel soft and smooth. R29 rates Herbal Essences Argan Oil Of Morocco shampoo and conditioner, both £5.99, for shiny, frizz-free hair. The argan oil in both products is approved by the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. Colourists around the globe also like Olaplex and Innoluxe for rebuilding broken bonds caused by colouring.
Aside from switching up your haircare routine slightly, colour maintenance is minimal. Louisa mentions refreshing ballet lights every 8-12 weeks, but if you prefer your highlights lower down lending a more balayaged effect, letting it grow out will result in an ombre, dip-dye look that isn't too obvious.