Reverse Balayage: The Complete Guide and Inspiration Photos
As it turns out, one of the easiest ways for blondes to go darker is with “reverse balayage”: A low-commitment, low-maintenance hair-color technique that’s low-key the coolest hair trend of the season. And if you’re not sure what reverse balayage is, not to worry—because we talked to some hair-color connoisseurs to shed some light on the trend.
“Reverse balayage is basically a good, low-commitment way to change things up for the season without, you know, doing something irreversible,” says Mark DeBolt, celebrity colorist and cofounder of Mark & Ryan Salon in New York City. “Because you can always easily change it back.” Read on to find out everything you need to know about the trend before you (potentially, maybe) decide to head to the dark side.
What Is Reverse Balayage?
Reverse balayage, as the name implies, is the “reverse” of balayage (AKA, lightening up your hairstyle with a “painting” or “sweeping” technique) by adding lowlights and darker strands instead, usually to reintroduce depth into a blonde, light style.
“Reverse balayage basically means adding depth back into your hair by adding darker color tones into your hair,” says Rita Hazan, celebrity colorist and founder of Rita Hazan Salon in New York City. “This helps make your highlights pop by adding contrast, and it’s a great way for blondes who just want to go a little darker.”
Instead of brown hair that appears highlighted, reverse balayage makes highlighted hair appear lived-in and sun-kissed with rich depth and dimension, sometimes with lighter roots that blend in to darker strands.
Because of the way it complements highlights, it’s typically most popular among blondes—it’s essentially all about injecting darkness in your hairstyle with darker lowlights and tones throughout. The best part is, since it’s so low-commitment, you can try it out for a season or two—like a test drive—and easily grow it out if you decide to change your mind.
Reverse Balayage vs. Balayage
Like we mentioned, the balayage color technique is all about lightening things up. The word “balayage” is actually a French word to describe the freehand painting technique—which usually focuses on the top layer of the hair, lightening it up with highlights and color. (For example, a common balayage style would be an ombré look with painted-on highlights, dark, smudged roots, and a blonde gradient.)
But, again, a reverse balayage is the reverse of that: Instead of focusing on the highlights and top layers, it’s all about what’s underneath: the lowlights and under-layers, and making them blend with the rest of your hair for a natural, lived-in look. “It’s all about lowlights and tone, and adding contrast with darker, shadowy pieces underneath,” says DeBolt.
The process involved is similar—the same painting technique is used—but merely focusing on different sections of the hair.
So if you’re looking to go for something sun-kissed, yet rich and dark—with deep lowlights and moody shadows—reverse balayage is definitely what you’re looking for.
The Benefits of Reverse Balayage
There are tons of benefits of reverse balayage—like we mentioned, it’s fairly low-commitment, and takes virtually no effort in regards to upkeep because the technique will usually preserve your natural regrowth. “It’s just low-maintenance,” Hazan says. “It should help your natural hair blend better with your new color.”
That’s the key: When your natural hair color is blended well with your roots, the grow-out process should be a breeze. In fact, it’s incredibly easy to just grow it out if you’re suddenly over it. That said, it’s always a good idea to use color-safe shampoos and hair masks to keep your color vibrant and hair healthy.
Also, similar to balayage, reverse balayage works for all hair types, hair textures, and skin tones.
The Downsides of Reverse Balayage
To be perfectly honest, there really aren’t many downsides at all to reverse balayage. But you should certainly be prepared to go darker before walking into the salon and asking for the technique. “It obviously will give you a darker effect, so make sure you definitely want to go darker before you commit, and that’s something you’re ready for,” warns Hazan.
Also, some styles will be harder to maintain than others. For example, if you decide to do a “reverse ombré” look with much lighter roots, you should expect more maintenance and touch-ups.
Depending on the salon, how experienced your colorist is, and how many lowlights are required to achieve the desired look, you can expect to pay anywhere between $150–$500 for reverse balayage, which is about the same cost as a full set of highlights.
Reverse balayage is a low-maintenance, low-commitment way for blondes to add some subtle darkness and depth to their hair. It’s perfect for someone looking for a darker, more lived-in look—without wanting to commit to a full-blown, allover transformation.
Basically, it’s an easy, practical, and chic way to usher in the earlier nights, lower temps, and darker moods.