The ombre hair trend swept in last year in a flurry of bleached blond ends, and to my surprise, has continued to remain popular regardless of the season. Still, I’ve never been a fan of obviously artificial dye jobs. So when my older sister asked me to lighten her hair, I was a little reluctant to do an ombre look, especially on black hair.
Instead, I opted for balayage highlights. Balayage, a French coloring technique where small sections of hair are hand painted, provides a much more subtle, natural effect. Instead of the more obvious gradient of ombre, balayage offers a “sunkissed” effect, where small sections are lightened and the ends of the hair are lightened the most.
If you’d like to see what I used to color my sister’s hair and my tips for a successful at-home coloring experience, keep reading!
At-home coloring comes with a built-in risk factor, but I find that choosing the right dye kit can help minimize the chance of making a mistake. My sister didn’t want any drastically lighter pieces, so we went with an ombre hair dye kit made for soft black hair. Her hair is naturally black, but it has been colored and bleached before, so it’s no longer completely black.
The kit came with bleach, a developer, an after-color conditioner, and an applicator brush.
The included instruction packet basically lists out what you need to add to the bottle and in what order, making it pretty easy, but I wanted to include a few notes of my own from my experience. Coloring kits always come with two different caps for the bottle: a flat screw-on lid and a pointed tip for application. Make sure that after you shake up the bottle’s contents, you immediately remove the flat cap and put on the pointed tip. Otherwise pressure builds inside the container and it might burst.
In terms of this kit, since I was using a balayage technique, applying color to each section of hair took much longer. As a result, the tip of the bottle would get clogged with lightener that was beginning to dry, and I noticed pressure starting to build inside the bottle. Twice, when I squeezed the bottle to get more color out, a torrent of lightener just flooded out of the bottle. After that, I decided the best way to keep pressure from building up would be to take off the cap altogether. I loosened the cap and removed it, but it didn’t seem to make all that much of a difference. The lightener basically kept climbing up the neck of the bottle and coming out, which was really annoying and messy. Here’s what it looked like after I took the lid off:
I sectioned her hair into three sections from the ears down, from the temples down, and then the hair at the crown of the head and around the face. (You may only need two sections if your hair isn’t very thick.) I started with the base layer, just applying the bleach liberally to the ends and using my fingers to blend it upwards a few inches. I didn’t take any special care with this section, since only the very ends would be visible.
For the top two sections, I suggest taking small sections of hair (no larger than 3/4 inch) and painting the lightener onto the ends. Then take your thumb and index finger and blend the color gently upwards. You should see it basically disappear into the hair. This technique gives a very subtle gradient, and eliminates the possibility of giving yourself a harsh line across the back of the hair. Blending to slightly different heights each time will also help avoid this.
Every so often I also selected a very small section of hair and blended the color up to about an inch from the roots, to give a little variety. I wrapped these pieces in foil to speed up the lightening process and to keep the strands from transferring color to other sections of hair.
Around the face, I brought the color up higher, to around the temples, and concentrated the bleach on strands closest to the part, since these pieces of hair naturally receive the most sunlight. Blending is super important when working around the face, so that you don’t end up with a super stripey, chunky look.
The box suggested leaving the bleach on for 30-45 minutes, but we ended up leaving it for nearly an hour, since her hair is naturally very resistant to dye. Then I just rinsed her hair off with water and applied the conditioner that was given in the box. After rinsing that out, I just used a diffuser and a blow dryer on the “cool” setting to gently dry her hair.
Check out the results below!
Both of us were happy with the results, which add some subtle dimensionality to her dark hair. She prefers warmer tones (red and orange based) in her hair, but if you’re worried about brassiness, try using a blue or purple based toner after bleaching your hair.
All in all, I think the balayage came out pretty well, and is a great way to add some warmth to black hair.
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And if you end up purchasing this kit and coloring your hair at home, please send me pictures, I would love to see how it goes! You can tag me on Instagram @julepsandtea.