Dear Reader

This post is linked on our Blonde page but it was originally written when the ombre trend was new in 2010. Ombre & balayage later peaked around 2015. We spent a lot of time explaining: balayage is a technique ombre is a look- 2 different things. Freehand color like balayage is less structured and is now fairly common, but it’s still a service that has A LOT of room for error. This post has over 6000 internal comments and has been viewed over 300k times. 11 years later, it is still linked by other beauty bloggers. I recently read through it because a blogger requested to use it as reference  I noticed my “prediction” about the corrective color market exploding proved true, making this post even more relative today.

In 2010 Pinterest was a new thing but Instagram had not been created yet. Since then, social media has both helped and hurt our industry.  Fake new or false information weren’t a thing yet. You can see glimpses of how it began in this post as I sort out the shift that was occurring in our industry and worldwide. As we enter the post covid economy, what occurred after the 2009 will likely happen again. As service based businesses try to recover, they will try to stay competitive so researching where you choose to do business will be more important than ever.


BTW, I wanted to keep the authenticity of the original post but both my writing style and our hair photos have improved. 😉

Original 2010 Post:

Hi readers! Today’s topic is BALAYAGE, sometimes referred to as Biolage, but that’s a shampoo brand-not a highlight technique! It’s ok, we hear lots of different terms for this newer (at least to KC) service. It’s actually been around for a very long time, but alas… trends move slowly to the Midwest from the East and West Coast. 😑

There’s a “Master Stylist” Epidemic

If I were a client seeking color, I would think salons probably know color equally. Nope. With balayage there is a whole new area of color work evolving- SPECIALTY WORK. This technique is unique. In the last 2 years, more clients have come to our salon seeking color corrections and they’re requesting “master” stylists. That’s not new, but we have had a big spike of corrective color projects since the ombre trend. I’ve seen some horrifying color lately.

I think the more stylists & salons use “master” to describe their work, the more confused people are getting. Even in our industry I can see that younger stylists are confused, so perhaps some older stylists who’ve never actually met a “master” stylist are confused as well. 

I recently learned my blog is kinda popular (blush) so people want information from a salon insider. I get that. Part of my job when you come in to the salon is to inform you about what’s going on in our industry. Blogging is a way to do that even if you’re not frequenting a salon. 

And what’s been going on lately in our industry is a lot of ego and twice as many gimmicks. So I’ve realized, our industry is going in a direction I don’t care for. I’m not sure what’s happening. Salons are either failing customers with misinformation, bad education, or flat out tricking folks. Maybe a little of all 3. I think most people are well intentioned so I think it might be somewhat unintentional. 

I’ve been doing balayage successfully for a while. I own a salon, I’m experienced, but I opened my salon when I was 24. Maybe that’s why I don’t think to refer to myself as “a master colorist”. I thought master stylist was all that was necessary to indicate experience, but if I keep seeing the type of color that comes in my door from other salons around town where everyone is a “master” something- that may change, SOON.

Naturally when I see one of these hair autopsies, I search the salons or colorists after the client leaves.  Let’s just say what is advertised online must be an inflated perception of their ability based on what I’m seeing in my chair. Yikes. Many stylists were already starting to use master stylist WAY too casually before this color trend. Now I’m seeing whack color from the newest nonsensical term “balayage specialists.” Let’s back up a sec and calm down because I was mentored by a famous “master stylist”. He is still famous, he is definitely a hair master. No offense master specialists, what I fix from your chair is nothing like the work that leaves his. 

Granted I’m older now so I can probably expand what my earlier criteria for a salon “master” but still.. I’m baffled. To me, if you’re a specialist then your balayage should be special- not something that needs fixed. Plus, Master is a title you earn when your master mentor tells you congrats, you’ve arrived at master status. I’m unsure who’s deciding what “master” is these days, I assume it’s self-given which explain why ‘m not impressed. 

Here’s Why 

I’m getting an alarming amount of new clients who walk in my salon with terrible color from stylists with very impressive sounding titles. I think it’s to gain new business from ombre and the new balayage trend.  I know lots of salons are hurting from last year’s stock market crash. 2009 and 2010 were rough. I get it, and this whole mortgage crisis is dragging on, and dragging down the economy. It’s why ombre even started! People couldn’t afford to get highlights, so they grew them out. And since Prada did last year’s ombre bag collection (which I love) it’s a recognized hair trend. Over the next 10 years there will be probably be lots of spin off colors to follow. I recently learned that some stylists read my blogs, thank you!  I apologize, this is not meant to offend anyone at all, but I write for clients and they know I keep stuff real! 


 Fixing the balayage of a balayage “Specialist” = head scratch 🤔💭⁉ 

Look below at an example of what I’m talking about. This client received a “balayage” highlight from a local salon. She called us frantic the next day to fix it. I couldn’t say no, but what’s disturbing is in the last month I’ve had 4 new non referral balayage clients that have called equally distraught. I about lost my biscuits when 3 of the 4 clients said they were salons with “balayage specialists”. Wait. What? Here…? In Kansas City…?  

fail save

Balayage Fix

Hmm. Ok. Well, that’s weird. So, I looked up the salons and there it was, “ombre balayage” specialist. I started doing balayage in 2004. To. This. Day. 6 years later, the general public has no clue what this is. More suspicious: I’ve made it my business (literally) to know who does what in KC salon’s, and who does it well. And most importantly – who is doing what I do 

There’s already a suspect amount of “master” and there aren’t any elite salons left since Mario left KC.  I bet 98% of the “master” stylists whose work I’m fixing have never been in an elite salon. I’m not trying to be jerky, it says where they worked in their bio. Not that we had an abundance of elite cut & color salons, but KC had some. But if a stylist worked there, they’d say so in their bio- like mine. Elite salons are where master stylists come from. Fact. Or at least, that’s where the term comes from. 

I’m starting to wonder how many in our industry actually know that anymoreMaybe they don’t care, who knows, but since this new era of ombre color -there are hundreds of “master stylists” now! The last time I went to L’oreal Academy was just 4 1/2 years ago in 2005 – there were like maybe TEN legit master colorists/stylists in KC. SOOO looks like we had a sudden boom in “master stylists” since the economy dived. So weird. 

  Me thinks there’s a link to the sudden spike of talent in our area and the bad economy.  

But that doesn’t bode well for the credibility or quality of our industry, or its future but if it’s happening here, I can only imagine it’s happening in areas hit hardest by the recession. It must be working because the ladies I’ve seen paid good money for bad color, so it probably won’t stop anytime soon. In the case of client above I don’t think the stylist was necessarily inexperienced with color- just balayage which takes more focus than regular color. Even if you feel you’ve mastered regular salon color, techniques like aren’t the normal color scope. Ombre is hot right now so balayage will get more popular since people like the appeal of less maintenance. This “grown out” color isn’t my fave but it’s gaining in popularity. Which explains why I’ve been slammed with color fixes. 

And if that wasn’t bad enough, new client’s want more and more results in one appointment! When did this start happening? Salon client readers:  Despite what stylists are telling you- or what you see online, that is not how color works. Do you go to the gym one time and expect rock hard abs? Well maybe you do, but that’s not how color works and I speak color facts and the most important fact is- good hair is had with regular salon visits. 


Social Media Isn’t Helping

Now with this new site Pinterest, more clients are asking for exceedingly difficult colors. The worst is they expect it in one visit like I’m a Hair Fairy Godmother, then are shocked with having to maintain it every 4-6 weeks.   

I’ve had to assess how I price because some of the colors are major WORK. People are booking “highlights” but it’s not a highlight at all. Overhaul is more like it. So that’s probably a big part of it. It’s not just stylists and misleading titles. That combined with unrealistic client expectations- or at least not knowing what to expect at all, means a lot of corrective color is in my future. 

 And why are younger girls not getting haircuts? We can address that later because this is about some major shifts happening in the salon world.  I am very confident with color and balayage…but what people are expecting these days from one typical 2 hour visit is just not realistic, and part of the problem is stuff online just isn’t true but it’s making me reassess everything. 

Hashtag. Good, bad? We will see. 

 In my last marketing meeting I learned about a “hashtag” because new social media sites like Instagram use them for search. We are seeing a lot of very edited pictures from clients where whoever is tagging it is saying it is a type of color it’s not.  Maybe they’re from fashion blogs that don’t know better but take the time to find out before posting or sharing. Stuff is like the wild west right now in the beauty world which is why I’m getting all Wyatt Earp in this blog.   

Ethics mean something or should anyways. 

With sudden information being part of how we display work, I’m seeing a lot of nonsense. Sorry, needs to be said. I’m not trying to be a traitor or a hater to my trade. The internet highlights why our industry has had a stigma in the past. But now professionals are being lumped in with nonprofessionals too because of false stuff I see online.  

I’ve heard of stylists watching a YouTube video about balayage then say they are “balayage” trained.  Um, no. Though online learning is helpful, that is not real training. Maybe it will be someday, but nothing replaces real school taught at an advanced academy by a real master colorist or stylist.  And quality color education is rare and hard to come by, especially in the Midwest. That’s why I went to New York for my color foundation. My 3 trips cost 10k. No one around here is investing money like THAT.  

A real balayager makes it look simply done. A hairdresser may think “I can do that”! By nature, we like to try new things! That’s a good thing. But a stylist who hasn’t received advanced hands on training on this should not be trying the technique on a client until they are skilled with it. It’s a color that you must do multiple times before offering. Schools may do it in the future, but they don’t now! At all! I’ve heard inexperienced stylists say, “fake it till you make it”. In our salon this is unacceptable, yet also why I fix color all day. 

A Studio 39  balayage or blonde colorist interns and trains with me directly. They must have a natural ability and talent for free hand color work. And that falls way outside of traditional salon work. Not all have it. It’s a skill for an outside the box thinker because it’s conceptual color, not by the book color. Like art, conceptual is more loosely defined and requires an artistic approach. The type of color taught in beauty school is about 60 years out of date because the State Board hasn’t changed much since 1950 but our industry has. 

A stylist also needs to know when to tell a client this service is not for them because if you have dark hair, your highlights won’t get light with balayage. At least not the first time. In 2002 I traveled to New York for the first time to learn advanced color. I loved this method because I love the Gisele and Jennifer Aniston highlights. I practiced for a year before I felt confident offering it. I made a lot of mannequin heads look spotty! When I finally felt confident, I hardly got a chance to do it because everyone still wanted those chunky thick highlights from 2003. Ew. 

Trends have changed and I’ve been asked by area salons and beauty supply stores to teach classes on balayage. Although I’m flattered, I always decline because I feel it takes more than a day seminar to learn this. But if they are asking- that’s where education is heading, I guess, so I’m not sure why I was shocked to learn large chain salons are teaching this in day classes now too. These are clearly places not owned by a stylist- let alone one who works behind the chair. 

Box retail salons and advanced color.  

 I would never have an inexperienced stylist perform this service on my salon floor. These places might be o.k. to buy a hair brush or nail file, maybe get your kids haircuts…but if clients don’t know those box salons aren’t where to go for challenging color techniques like balayage- the salon industry is doomed if people start lumping us all together. We have a recession that has caused bad hair but there’s a difference in salons, invest in a stylist who has invested in their education.  It will cost less in the long run!. 

 Ask these Questions for Balayage : 

If you book balayage with us, we guarantee your color. We will also tell you if you are not a good candidate for this service. It is naturally warmer and soft at the root. So, if someone is used to power blonde at the root-not for them. Be cautious when booking this service and always ask these questions during a consult: 

  1. How long has the stylist been doing balayage and where did she/he receive training?
  2. Do they use a special product designed for balayage? (Because they should.) 
  3. What method do they use? (freehand, paddle, etc.)

Number 3 is important. There are several types of balayage- most colorists just don’t know that! I do traditional French plus American Balayage. That’s a technique created by Beth Minardi. That may evolve as well but currently no-one in KC does it. So, ask and educate yourself so your hair doesn’t look like the before! If you do your research, you will end up with beautiful highlights that grow out well. If you don’t, you could end up with a corrective situation paying twice what you had panned and be wearing a hat until you get it fixed. 

Thanks for reading beauty friends!