Expert Nancy Braun talks history, artistry and the very best way to learn.
These days, you can hardly go a minute without coming across a video, an article or an afternoon class that promises to teach you everything you need to know to become a balayage master. And that’s okay—any information you can gather on this hair coloring approach—which has become the number-one requested service and number-one searched hair color term on social media—can be useful for helping raise your hair painting game. But if you’re truly serious about mastering the technique, offering the best possible balayage artistry for your clients and making balayage an integral part of your personal brand, you must take your balayage education seriously. For insights, we talked to Nancy Braun, a leading balayage expert who also spearheads balayage methodology for L’Oréal Professionnel.
The French Connection
Because balayage makes the hair look sun-kissed and beachy, many assume it’s a California-born technique. But the reality is, it’s as French as macaroon and the Champs Elysees. Braun remembers her first encounters with balayage in the early ’90s, at salons like Bruno Dessange, Frederic Fekkai and Jose Eber, which were all rooted in French culture and style. “The first time I saw a French hairdresser build out his color with Saran Wrap and cotton, I thought ‘What in God’s name is this?’” Braun says. “Then he removed the color, blew the hair dry and blew me away. It was such beautiful color. So special.”
That moment launched her journey to figure out how to integrate balayage into her work, and where to learn more. Turns out, at the time, learning more wasn’t so easy. There were virtually zero resources in this country, and very little demand from clients, who, at the time, were more inclined to request tons of foil highlights. So she simply jumped in, learning as much as she could from her fellow stylists at Fekkai in New York, and doing it on every client she could convince to try. “It took two years before I felt I really had it down,” Braun says,
“and three years before I felt I had hit every possible outcome, every type of hair, every texture. It’s really true what Malcolm Gladwell says in his book, Outliers. You must put in 10,000 hours before you become an expert in anything.”
In 1996, Braun moved to Southern California, and brought her hard-earned balayage skills with her. Although most clients still lived in foil world, a few were curious about the natural-looking, low-maintenance results from balayage, and word began to spread among customers and stylists. So Braun called L’Oréal Professionnel and offered to teach a class.
It started with a course called Balayage 101. “People would come and they would go back to the salon, and if they couldn’t do it, they’d give up,” she says. “The tipping point came in 2006, with the ombré trend. “You didn’t have to get so close to the root anymore, and you could smudge the color to hide your mistakes,” she says. “It became less scary.”
Enter the economic recession of 2008, which generated the need to of-fer lower maintenance services to accommodate shrinking beauty budgets, and the emergence of the Victoria’s Secret Angels, with their long, balayaged strands, and the technique was finally off and running.
A Balayage System
Doing is one thing. Teaching is another. As demand for balayage education at L’Oréal Professionnel exploded, Braun and a growing team of educators set out to systematize the technique. One of the hardest things at the time was to shift people’s vision of what hair color should be. Before, it was all about lightening dark roots with foil. Suddenly, people had to think about filling in the dark spaces, bringing brighter pops to the ends and taking a creative and visual approach to color.
Braun and the team went on to develop a comprehensive balayage program that includes certification and ongoing support. The process encompasses three, two-day classes—Balayage Methods, Balayage Techniques and Balayage Live. The first two classes are demonstrations on live models and hands-on mannequin workshops. In Balayage Live, students get a model each day for real-life salon experience.
“Each model has pre-existing color like any salon client,” says Justine Berger, AVP of education development for L’Oréal Professionnel. “So they must formulate, place the color, balance the previous color history.
There’s role playing so they can build their business. We cover the balayage consultation. What to charge. Maintenance. We want to set up students to win. And if the instructor doesn’t feel someone is ready, they don’t award the certification. Instead they offer next steps to help.”
A Balayage Expert’s Story
Jessica Todd’s path is similar to many who embraced balayage in the early stages, and her story proves the importance of a commitment to a solid and comprehensive educational plan. The 32-year old joined L’Oréal Professionnel as an educator at the age of 21, specializing in cutting, coloring and styling. But a trip to celebrate the company’s 100th anniversary in Paris changed everything.
“I saw how much there was to learn,” she says. “I started saving to attend classes. I loved foiling, but then I attended a balayage class with Nancy. I came home and decided to convert all my foil clients to balayage.”
Her first try, after one balayage class, was, in her words, a disaster. So she sucked it up and returned for more training with Braun, enrolling in the certification program at the L’Oréal Professionnel Academy.
“Like all hairdressers, it can be terrifying to convert a clientele,” she says. “The certification makes it easier. It gives you a plan.”
Once she mastered the technique, her book grew like crazy—so much so she decided to open her own salon in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. By this point she was part of the L’Oréal Professionnel Balayage Team, and she trained everyone on her staff. Soon, stylists from all over the city were coming to her for training as well. Today, the Jessica Todd Salon is the premiere balayage salon in Portsmouth, establishing itself early on as the go-to place for high-end color services in the area.
75 Heads and Not One Less
The takeaway is this: there are no shortcuts. “I tell my trainers they have to do 75 clients or models in a six-week period,” Braun says. “They must totally commit. And I always know when they haven’t done their 75 heads.”
But while the roots are strong, the tree must remain flexible—balayage education must evolve with the trends, like adding more dimension, playing with fashion colors, crafting bespoke effects for every client.
“Right now we’re seeing more pastel techniques, more metallic effects with balayage,” comments Berger. “So many creative options. That’s why we’ve created a new series called Color Addict and Paint Addict at our academies in New York and Newport Beach. They offer the opportunity for lots of creative play.”
And to be successful, it’s important to find education that’s ongoing. With instructors who make them-selves available for follow-up questions, continuing touch-bases online (such as L’Oréal Professionnel’s weekly Facebook Lives) and new classes like Braun’s recently launched program, Painted Haircut.
The final prerequisite for selecting the right balayage education program? Passion.
“We’ve cultivated trainers and educators, like Jessica, who are just as in love with the technique as I am,” Braun says. “People who are filled with passion, who wrap their arms around the students and make sure everyone walks out of L’Oréal Professionnel balayage programs with the knowledge they need to succeed.”
To learn more Balayage Techniques, visit L’Oreal Professionnel’s Pro Site.