At-Home Balayage on a Budget

Let me start off by formally apologizing to any professional stylists I have had and will have in the future - you are all incredible at your craft, I just can't afford you year-round. This post is for anyone else out there pinching pennies while lying about their effortlessly sun-kissed hair.

WTF is 'Balayage'?

Balayage is a free-hand coloring technique that creates a more natural, gradual highlighted effect. Because balayage doesn't extend all the way up to the roots, it's more subtle than a full dye job and, personally, much easier to maintain. 

Getting Down to (Non-)Brass Tacks

After my first balayage appointment in Chicago, I nearly choked at the register; almost $200 for my beloved blonde ambitions? The staggering price kept me out of the salon chair for half a year. When my roots reached DEFCON 1, I grabbed a box of at-home highlight with the thought,

"I already have that money earmarked for a stylist session, what's another $16 to try it out-of-the-box? If it's a disaster, I'll beg for mercy from my stylist and let her work her magic." 

With that in mind, here is some administrative tasks before your first DIY dye:

  • Make a note of exactly what brand/color dye you buy (snapping a picture of the box works). At future appointments, your stylist will need to know exactly what has been tampering with your tresses. 
  • Limit yourself to one or two box-dye sessions between proper, professional treatments. You deserve to treat yourself (and your locks) with love.


Two Shades of At-Home Hair Dye (for a final color with more depth), a few tones lighter than your natural hair color. Some at-home hair gurus insist that you use professional developer, but I've always used Garnier off-the-shelf and have never had problems.  

Hair Clips are a huge life-saver when you're in the middle of the process and wishing you had eight arms. 

A Tail Comb is the secret weapon to natural, rich color. 

Foil or plastic wrap (Optional); Some stylist like to use foil along with the balayage technique because it speeds the processing and offers an extra ounce of 'lift' with the color. I've dyed with and without the foils multiple times and had great results either way. Tear foil into roughly 5"x10" rectangles. 

Purple Shampoo, if you prefer your color on the cooler side, purple shampoo is a must. Jump in the shower when your color starts looking too warm or brassy, and the violet pigment will bring your hair back to a wonderful ashy tone. 

Don't forget to grab Nourishing Shampoo/Conditioner for Color-Treated Hair. We love our color, but we need to love our hair more. If you're coloring your hair, please, please, please be using a shampoo and conditioner that works to repair damage. 

How to At-Home Balayage

1. Gather Supplies

Change into an old t-shirt and (optionally) tear your foil into sections. Collect the rest of your tools - there's nothing worse than getting started and realizing your tail comb is MIA. 

2. Prepare the Dyes

Carefully read the instructions for mixing your dyes.

3. Section Hair into Two Halves: 'Front' and 'Back'

Starting at or slightly behind your ears, separate your hair into 'front' and 'back' sections up to the crown. Twist the 'front' section into a bun, up and out of your face, and secure with elastic. You'll be working first on the 'back' section of your hair. 

4. Clip Remaining Hair into Workable Sections

Starting at the top, pull a thin section of hair from the center, twist, tease near the roots, and clip forward. Teasing keeps the dye from coming too close to the roots and helps prevent an obvious 'dye line'.

Next, pull a small section of hair from the right, twist, tease, and clip forward. Pull a third section of hair from the left, twist, tease, and clip forward.

Continue sectioning off hair (center, right, then left) until one clip and one section of loose hair remains. 

5. Dying a Section

Pull your hair taut and use the end of your tail comb to weave evenly in and out of the hair. Separate, and clip the top half out of the way.

Using your lighter color, apply the dye by hand. Saturate the ends first before working from the middle-up. As the dye nears the roots, it should gently taper into either a 'V', 'W' or 'Slope'. Your sections should be fairly saturated; don't be stingy with your dye. Optionally, fold the dyed section into a square of foil. 

Unclip the second layer of the section and again, weave evenly in and out of the hair. After separating, use your second dye on the thicker section. Alternate between the 'V', 'W', and 'Slope' shapes for variation and a more gradual highlight. Again, optionally fold the dyed section into foil. 

The remaining layer of hair from the section will stay untouched to help with the gradual color shift.
6. Finish Dying the 'Back', One Section at a Time

Pull down one section at a time, repeating Step 5. Have some fun! This is not an exact science, and applying the dye by hand adds to the 'natural' look of balayage. 

7. Clip the 'Front' into Workable Sections

Pull down the 'front' section and find your part. Starting at the top, separate a thin section of hair along the part, twist, tease near the roots, and clip up. Continue to section off the rest of the hair. 

8. Dye the 'Front' Sections

Just like the 'back' sections, weave with your tail comb to create three layers, and dye using the 'V', 'W', and 'Slope' shapes. For highlights that frame the face, keep the long end of the 'Slope' towards the front, and extend further into the roots. Optionally foil each dyed layer.

9. Let Develop, Rinse, Apply Toner, and Dry Naturally

Following the instructions on the box, let the dye develop and rinse. Use the toner that comes with the dye, or finish with purple shampoo for a cooler tone. Let your hair dry naturally or blow-dry on 'cool'. 

Congratulations, you've survived a balayage at Salon Chez Vous! With the money you're saving, take your new beautiful bob out on the town!

1 comment

OMG girl, you should submit this for one of Brad Mondo’s DIY successes because this is FIRE! I’d be wayyyy too afraid to do my own but I couldn’t be more impressed, especially since your hair is as thick as mine haha

Madelyn Putman August 11, 2020

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