After enjoying highlighted hair for a while, people often get tired of the maintenance and wonder whether they can go from highlights to balayage or even cover it with all-over single-process color. An even more important question is, "can I do it at home, or do I need professional hairdressing help?". Some hair color changes are easier than others, but with the proper technique and the right products, almost anything is possible. You need to do your research first and be realistic about your expectations.
Most people love their highlights for the first few weeks but then discover that regrowth is real, and you need more and more highlights to diffuse that growing demarcation line between your natural hair color and where the highlights start. People often get tired of the stripped effect highlights often give, with chunky hair highlights being the main culprit. Balayage is a lower maintenance alternative to traditional highlights and offers a more natural-looking way to go blonde.
Doing your balayage at home is not easy and requires technique and practice as the placement of the bleach is freehanded. Unlike highlights, you will need to figure out which sections of the hair to apply bleach and go with your feeling on what will look best. This can be pretty scary, so it's often better to start slow and build up your blonde over successive applications. On the bright side, balayage is very low maintenance and doesn't need to be retouched often to avoid visible root re-growth.
Before turning your highlighted hair into a beautiful balayage, we must be clear on what balayage is, what it isn't, and how balayage vs. highlights compare.
Balayage is a highlighting technique for the free-hand application of bleach to hair. It comes from the French word for "to sweep." Highlights are hand-painted on sections of the hair's surface, unlike highlights that usually involve foil and careful placement of bleach on entire sections of hair. Balayage gives a more lived-in look as if the hair had been naturally lightened. The key to successful balayage is knowing how and where to apply that seemingly random "highlights" to create a beautiful natural result instead of a patchy mess.
On the other hand, traditional highlights work by saturating carefully placed strands of hair with bleach and covering them in foil to ensure an even and more powerful lift. Unlike balayage, strands of hair are carefully sectioned with a tail comb. This creates thicker, chunkier strands of highlighted hair with a clear start point (at the root), making regrowth visible.
Both highlighting techniques use bleach and damage hair to an extent as any lightning process does. However, balayage highlights are thinner and more distributed on the hair, so while the overall effect is usually darker, the hair is less damaged. Balayage hairstyles often start lower down the hair shaft and increase the amount of lightened strands as you get closer to the tips, giving you a blonde look with darker roots.
You can get balayage on highlighted hair, but this is often considered a color correction and requires skill and knowledge of different techniques. You will be correcting the more chunky or blocky look of highlights by adding different intensities of balayage highlights and possibly some darkness to the roots or low-lights to break off the lightened sections.
You can see an example of how to do a balayage on previously highlighted hair here:
You can get balayage right after getting highlights if you are unhappy about how highlights look on you. Since your hair will be already lightened, you should be trying to add darker colors to break up the chunky highlights and create texture and depth. It would be best to use demi-permanent dye instead of permanent dye, as you want darker hair and cause as little extra damage as possible.
However, if you don't hate your highlights and are happy to live with them, it's better to wait a couple of months between highlights and balayage. This gives your roots time to grow and reduces the need to darken the roots trying to match your natural color. There will be a straight demarcation line on your highlights that some people can live with and others hate, but the result after balayage will make it worth it.
If you want a natural-looking hair color with balayage, you need to know a few techniques that will help blend your highlights without frying your hair.
You may not need to use all of them, but it's a good idea to watch a few YouTube videos to know the results and decide which hair coloring techniques work for you.
First of all, gather your tools. Transitioning highlighted hair to balayage, particularly if you don't have a grown-out root, will require several bows of dye and corresponding brushes as you will be working with different techniques and colors. Otherwise, the tools and preparation are similar to what you use to bleach your hair at home.
The key to a successful balayage transition from highlights is to mix different tones of highlights/low-lights to reduce the blocky effect of highlights. So choosing the right hair dye colors is very important!
The low-maintenance balayage look often involves a base color similar to your roots and natural shade, as the goal is to avoid a clear root line when hair grows. But of course, you can do balayage with any colors you like as long as you are willing to deal with the inevitable regrowth retouching.
For simplicity, I will focus on choosing colors for highlights to balayage using your natural base color. You will need a dye as close as possible to your natural color, one that is a bit darker, and toner for the bits of your hair that will remain blonde. If your hair is very light and you want to transition to a brunette with balayage highlights, you will also need a filler, as you can't just dye over blonde hair brown with regular dye, or you'll have to fix green hair instead.
Start with unwashed hair that is at least a day old, and brush out and detangle it. Section it into several large sections so you can approach each of them separately and get ready to begin the balayage.
Lowlights are the opposite of highlights: Small vertical sections of hair darker than your natural hair color, which brings contrast back into the hair that is overall too light due to blocky foil highlights. You want to take small sections and gently paint over each of them, starting where the foils start but without soaking the hair. Think of a gentle pressure that dyes the surface of the section. You should apply lowlights to the back of your head, as the hair around the face being lighter looks more natural.
You can see this in more detail in this video around the 3:20 mark.
Wrap them in foils to ensure the color doesn't bleed on your lighter strands.
If you want to diffuse your existing stripe highlights, you can also add some babylights to lighten the hair in between them. Babylights are tiny, thin highlights that you usually bring up nearly to the roots, just a couple of inches lower. Wrap them on the foil and leave the dye to process. Check the color for both the highlights and lowlights regularly to ensure you aren't overprocessing your hair.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that you should leave your existing highlights alone. Do not apply bleach on top of bleach, or you'll have damaged hair.
If your previous highlights are close to your scalp, you may need to do an optional shadow root. A root shadow, root blend, or root melt is a darker color very similar to the roots of your hair applied with a semi-permanent dye and then pulled down to where the highlights start. This breaks any stark regrowth lines and makes balayage low maintenance and easy to grow out. The key is to apply the dye to the roots and use a comb to bring it down the hair shaft gently and unevenly.
You can use a toner to darker your existing highlights or cancel any unwanted red or yellow tones that may have surfaced due to the bleach.
After this is done, make sure you wash your hair correctly and remove all bleach, toners, and dyes from your hair.
One of the most common complaints when doing a balayage on already highlighted hair is that the contrast between highlights and roots is too stark. This often happens when your original highlights are more than two levels lighter than your roots and lowlights. Even if you add some lowlights, the contrast may still be too much for your liking. However, this is something you can fix at home.
It is often easier to darken the hair than to lighten it, so if you think your balayage is too high in contrast, the best approach is to tone the ends to a darker color within two levels of the root color. You should use a demi-permanent dye two levels lighter than your roots. So if your roots are a level 4 brunette, you want your ends to be a level 6 dark blonde.
If you feel your balayage hair still has a clear line between where the roots end and the blonde begin, the problem is likely to be technique. The entire point of balayage is to be uneven and natural-looking, so the highlights shouldn't all start at the same distance from the root, and they should be spaced between 1inch and 2.5 inches so it doesn't look like an all-over blonde that starts in the mid-lengths. You can fix this by balayaging the hair slightly higher up towards the roots but spacing the highlighted sections and using a comb to backcomb the sections so the bleach doesn't cover the whole strand.
You can also go from highlighted hair to all-over color, but it's not as easy as applying a darker box dye. You'll need a two-stage process to get from highlights to all-over color, and going back to your highlighted roots will become more complex and time-consuming. So before you do this, consider if you instead use balayage to darker your hair or toner to warm up or cool off your hair tone.
First, you will need to pre-pigment the highlights with a dye close to your desired end color so you don't end up with green or orange highlights on a darker base. You can use the same permanent box dye to dye your hair afterward without mixing it with the developer. The highlights will get back a bit of the pigment that bleach lifted. After 10 minutes, dye your entire head, using permanent dye and developer, and let it develop.
If you go more than two shades darker but don't pre-pigment your hair, you may have patchy dark hair, green highlights, or orange sections. Prepigmenting your hair allows for the dye to attach evenly to what, in effect, are two different hair types: your original virgin hair and the bleached highlights.
Another alternative is to add more highlights, so your entire head looks blonde, lifting the base color of your hair to the level of the highlights. This is the equivalent of bleaching your hair, but you must be careful not to apply bleach to the existing highlights, or the damage may be too significant.