What You Need to Know About Ombré, Sombré, and Balayage

Looking for a fun, change-of-pace when it comes to your hair color? Look no further. Whether you want some simple highlights or are looking for something more drastic, we’ve got you covered with ombré, sombré, and balayage coloring.


Ombré is a hair-coloring technique that gradually lightens from roots to tips. While the look can be fairly extreme—fading from dark brown on top to light blonde at the tips—it may just be the bold look you’ve been craving.


Sombré is a softer, more subtle version of ombré. It still fades from dark to light as you move from roots to tips, but is less extreme—perhaps simply fading from a medium brown to a golden blonde. This is perfect for those who like the idea of ombré but want the boldness turned down a few notches.


Balayage is a French word, meaning “to sweep.” Using traditional coloring techniques, a stylist would brush horizontally across hair, coating both sides of the section for even color distribution. However, with balayage, the stylist sweeps vertically, from roots to ends, just on the front, outside of the hair. The result is natural-looking, sun-kissed highlights. (Bonus: It’s a great alternative to full-process colors for covering up grays, as your stylist can specifically target those hairs as they sweep on the color.)

Brunette SmartStyle hair model
Your SmartStyle color expert can help you find the right shade and technique for you.
Redken Color Extend Magnetics Shampoo
Protect your new hair color with products like Redken Color Extend Magnetics Shampoo.

As far as the coloring process,bleach may or may not be required for balayage or sombré. Artificially colored hair will need a lightener (bleach) in order to be changed. Depending on your existing natural hair color—the coloring will likely be only 2-3 shades lighter than your natural shade. However, for ombré coloring, since it’s more of an extreme color change, bleach is almost always used on the ends. So if you’re wary of bleach, keep that in mind.


All of these coloring styles are very on-trend at the moment, but each look suits a different style. With ombré and sombré, though it’s a gradual fade, there is a definite line where hair turns from dark to light. Some people feel this too closely resembles the look of grown-out roots—but for some, that contrast is exactly what they’re looking for. It’s a daring look that gives off a very trendy, bohemian vibe.


With balayage, you don’t deal with the line of demarcation, and it’s a style that is more subtle and low-maintenance. Since the color is applied vertically, and often involves both highlights and lowlights for optimal depth of color, there won’t be an obvious line where your natural color starts. It’s a classic look that can take you from the beach to special occasions without missing a beat.

Share this article

Related Advice

Go pro: The benefits of professional hair color vs. drugstore brands


Style Tip
If you relax or color your hair, it’s especially important to condition regularly.
Style Tip

Ask the color experts: Your hair color questions, answered