Considering Balayage? Expert Tips on How to Not Kill Your Hair
Photo by Edith Young.

A cool thing has started to happen to my hair where, when I get it wet, it turns to crunchy pieces of skinny spaghetti with insect limbs that clamp on to one another for dear life. No conditioner in the world seems to soothe it. My dry hair tangles almost as easily any time a breeze blows by or when an ant sneezes or something. It’s terrible. So many knots. And I blame it all on balayage.

Balayage is a fancy way of saying “highlights, but not the 2002 Kelly Clarkson kind.”  Some salons will tell you it means “hair painting,” others will tell you hair painting and balayage are different, but what all three have in common is bleach: a color-and-nutrient-stripping chemical that makes my hair furious even though the flaxen hue is like, “Hey girl, what’s up, I’m summer ready.”

In an effort to hydrate my extra-thirsty hair before June, July and August takes its toll, I asked hair experts for their advice. Below, a collection of tips and tricks of the trade from color specialists (including mine) to natural hair stylists to a salon owner. Take off your shower cap and let’s get started.

Protect Your Hair Before You Balayage

Yeluchi Co-Founder Antonia Opiah and her team of stylists who specialize in natural hair believe, “the best way to minimize damage when coloring is to work on hair that is healthy. If your hair is already damaged or breaking, adding more color to it will only make things worse.” They have a quiz that can help you determine if your hair’s actually damaged or not.

“Besides having a head full of already-healthy hair,” says Opiah, “doing a protein treatment and using a moisturizing mask once a month prior will help strengthen your hair and add moisture to it.”

Peter Oon of Oon Arvelo Salon suggests a professional-grade product called Olaplaex Bond Multiplier #1, which can be put on the hair either as a standalone treatment, or when you’re getting your color done. “It’s mixed in with the bleach and put straight onto your hair during the balayage process,” he says. Ask your hair stylist if she’s down with this during your consultation.

Lawrence Wesley, Principal Colorist at Antonio Prieto Salon, is all about a strength-building shampoo and weekly mask: Kérastase Bain de Force and Masque Force Architecte contain ceramides, he explains, which “fortify the bonds that are broken or compromised during lightening.”

The Products You Use Post-Balayage Can Make a Difference

Roxie Darling, hair expert and my go-to colorist at Suite Caroline Salon, has me brush my hair often post-treatment with a gentle brush. She likes the Free Your Hair brush. (I’m still loyal to my Maison Pearson.) She also says to “get trims often, try not to shampoo and use New Wash” — a product she helped develop that truly does wonders on bleached/colored/dry hair — “to wash in-between for moisture.”

For hair that has become extremely weak and depleted from chemical processing as well as summer sun, Lawrence Wesley recommends Kérastase Masque Therapiste.

Peter Oon likes “any kind of deep conditioning treatment,” and suggests Milbon Smoothing Hair Treatment or the Olaplaex Hair Perfector #2, both of which will help rebuild and restore any remaining broken bonds, “ensuring the strongest, shiniest and healthiest hair possible.” He also recommends Olaplaex Hair Perfector #3, an at-home treatment to use once a week that provides continuous protection from ongoing damage.

The Yeluchi stylists say that your hair routine shouldn’t change too much. “Avoid shampoos with sulfates and conditioners with silicones. Look for products that contain natural oils like argan oil. You may also want to deep condition a bit more often, but don’t over-condition (i.e. leave the conditioner in for longer than 30 minutes) because too much conditioner can make your hair brittle.”

“A lot of naturals swear by ApHogee,” says Antonia Opiah. “Their whole line is dedicated to treating mildly to severely damaged hair. They’ve got shampoos, conditioners, treatments, all dedicated to the various levels and types of damage you might have, or if you have chemically-treated hair.”

DIY Doesn’t Hurt (But…)

“At-home remedies such as coconut oil are definitely a plus for those on a budget, but professional products combine the best of everything and produce the most impressive results,” says Lawrence Wesley.

What To Avoid

Peter Oon instructs that you stay away from chlorine and swimming pools with chlorine.

Lawrence Wesley has an important note that’s up to you to relay to your hair colorist: “Never overlap the lightener when re-touching. This will cause the hair to lose all natural vitality, become limp and lifeless and eventually break. Once the hair gets to this point, no product or remedy is going to repair the damage and unfortunately, this is when it’s time to stop.”


Peter Oon recommends ten to 12 weeks in-between touch-ups, “but when your hair starts to break and feel brittle is when you’ve had enough.”

Lawrence Wesley says “regular maintenance for balayage is every eight to 12 weeks, but glossing every three to six weeks is crucial to keep the tone and shine that is compromised through heat styling and sun exposure.”

As for me? I’m writing this with my hair wrapped in a summer-prep mask as we speak, ready to dive into a bowl of pasta.

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  • Anne Dyer

    Are you living in either 1. my brain or 2. my google search history?! I vacillate between “blonde” and “balayage” searches on the regular. Always highlighting only to grow it out a bit and think maaaaaybe it’s time to do balayage instead only to find myself back at my stylist going super blonde again. And then I realize people are suffering far worse tragedies and probably it doesn’t matter. But really, what would look best?

  • New Wash…YES. Its amazing and makes my hair so soft and nice despite coloring it yearly and blow drying everyday.

  • I’m going to get balayage very soon! I haven’t had any kind of coloring done to my hair literally since “2002 Kelly Clarkson” highlights that were so awful. They were like blonde streaks that framed my face and looked terrible!

    Does anyone have any tips or things I should know before I get it done? My hair is dark brown, so I plan to keep it pretty simple.

    • Amy Bondeson-Boyce

      I had it done for the first time 3 months ago….I wasn’t crazy about how the texture of my hair changed, very dry and heavy. I went back like 6 weeks later and got a really good haircut and a conditioning treatment and I have been so happy ever since! I still wash/condition with a moisturing shampoo (been using True shampoo and leave in conditioner) every 3 days but that’s pretty much it. So my recommendation is to get a good cut and conditioning treatment afterwards.

      • Thanks! I’ll be sure to do a conditioning treatment after. My hairstylist will do the cut and color at the same time. I’m a little nervous to take the leap on my virgin hair, but I think the balayage will add a lot of depth to my hair.

  • Cynthia Schoonover

    I have low lights to camouflage my gray without worrying about roots and I shampoo with TIGI Bedhead Colour Goddess Shampoo. It does have argan oil in, so I don’t need a conditioner because tangles comb right out. It smells fantastic, and it takes only a little bit to get the job done. There is a conditioner to go with it, but I don’t use it. I use the TIGI Bedhead Small Talk styler when I blow dry my hair. It protects my hair from heat damage, and makes my style thicker and fuller. Again, it only takes a dab. These products are only sold in salons or in Ulta. Beware if you see these products in your supermarket or big box store as they may not be the real thing.

  • COOOOOOOOL could have used this last week…