Hitomi Ikeda
Hitomi Ikeda

This question comes up regularly when highlighting: when should a stylist use foil and when should a stylist balayage? Sometimes the answer isn't so black and white explains Jenny Savage, artist at Atelier by Square in Las Vegas. In some cases, it might be appropriate to do both. "As stylists, it is important to educate ourselves on how to properly use highlighting techniques," says Savage. "With social media growing, our clients are learning new buzz words and we must keep the end result in focus. Each technique has a benefit and when used properly, any result can be achieved." Here, Savage shares her guidelines for open air processing and foil highlighting, while BluSand Beauty's Creative Artist, Hitomi Ikeda describes the technique she calls "foilyage." 


Balayage and hair-painting are great methods to give soft, sun-kissed highlights. Both balayage and hair-painting utilize a hand-swept highlight that processes in open air or with plastic film. The majority of the highlight lives through the mid-shaft and ends, but is softly connected to the base. This results in a color service with much less maintenance.

Choose open air or plastic film highlighting when...

  • you are not lifting more than 4 levels in a single service
  • a client requests less maintenance color
  • introducing a single process color or virgin client to the idea of highlighting
  • creating colormelts, sombres and rich ecaille
  • softening the regrowth of foil highlights


Foil highlighting is a great tool for achieving higher lifting highlights. The heat induction from the foil allows the lightener to lift higher in a concentrated area. 

Choose traditional foil highlighting when...

  • you are working with a dark haired client who wants to be lifted more than 4 level in a single service
  • a client wants dramatic color contrast between highlights/lowlights
  • when transitioning a very blonde client to a softer sombre to isolate the initial lowlights


There are occasions when a client will require both of these techniques in the same service. For example, a client might have dark hair or be resistant to lightening and would like to be a sunkissed sombre with pieces level 8 or lighter. This client could also want to wear fashions shades but the hair requires additional lift and control. 

One way of combining balayage and foil highlighting is "american tailoring," which is applying foil highlights and then hair-painting the remaining hair between the foils. This allows the stylist to use the isolation and heat created by the foils to create a distinct pattern. The balayage between the foils gives a softer color melt through the mid-shaft and ends. This is especially nice for dark haired clients who would like to go light but still sunkissed or for a client who wants the brightness of a foil highlight at the base but the beauty of a sombre or colormelt through the mid-shaft and ends.


A second technique to combine balayage/hair-painting and foil is Japanese colorist Hitomi Ikeda's "foilyage" method. This practice literally requires painting your balayage and then applying foil around the bayalaged piece. By feathering the lightener toward the root or oscillating the lightener placement, you can achieve a softer more lived in line of demarcation as the foil inducts heat and allows the highlight to lift higher. If you are interested in trying this technique, be mindful that you are incubating the highlight so adjust your developer strength to what you would use while doing a traditional foil highlight. 




For reprint and licensing requests for this article, Click here.