Balayage 3-Ways: The True French Technique Still Uses Cotton and Au Natural Color Placements for Sun


January 27, 2020

It struck me as I was sitting in Janelle’s chair. Dominic Mayson had just done this amazing balayage look on a stunning blonde. Of course, we jumped at the opportunity to get pictures of her for the website and social media; she was a sweetheart, happily obliging as you can see in the photo above. Once we were done with our fun, Dom came over to talk.

His passion is obvious, he started – what I can only describe as gushing – about what true French balayage is. The sweeping, the mixing, the bad granules of bleach, the placement… he was on a roll! Especially when it came to some passing off other techniques as true, French balayage. This is something he truly loves, you can tell.

Given his impressive background, I just had to know more. Here, I sit down with Dominic to get the inside scoop on the technique that started it all.

Let’s start with the background and history of French balayage. Tell me all you know.

Balayage à Coton first swept into Paris in the 1970’s with the Carita salon making the technique famous. The term, pronounced BAH-LEE-AHGE not BYE-LAHGE as some Texans are prone to say, is obviously French, meaning free-hand ‘sweeping’. The addition of ‘à Coton’ refers to the strips of cotton used to separate the colored/bleached hair from the untouched hair.

As French style usually does, balayage did not hit America until the 90’s.  

We're all familiar with foil highlights. How is French balayage different?

For starters, the technique is gently painted on the surface of the hair. It’s still done with bleach/color and strips of cotton. Yes, I still use cotton strips. Unless I have a very natural light blonde. Then the cotton isn’t needed because it creates more multi-dimensional highlights.

Bleach/color placements are au natural. This gives my clients results similar to spending the whole summer on the beach. It’s more free-flowing and organic. Which obviously is my thing.

Plus, it’s so much more creative. The bleach/color can be placed anywhere desired, giving me an advantage over foil. I can color widows peaks, cowlicks... basically places that are hard to put in foils. Highlights and lowlights are put right next to each other giving more vibrancy than I can with foil.

You obviously prefer this method. What are the benefits? Why is everyone in love with balayage?

Really, you can go months without having to retouch highlights. For me, the best part is that regrowth tends to not have a line of demarcation – that obvious place where you can see the line of roots growing in.

I love that I can place the bleach with the way the hair moves – much more randomly. This results in the most natural, sun kissed look.

What would people be surprised to know about this technique?

It’s not just for blondes! All hair colors can have balayage. I just don’t use bleach. So it’s great for low-maintenance brunettes, those darker-colors who want to try out some caramel color, even soon-to-be moms who have to ditch color while the baby is cooking.

This is obviously a technique that must be mastered. I wouldn't trust anyone to paint my hair with bleach and cotton. How did you learn?

Now, it’s very popular but not all can achieve the original French way. Initially, I learned when I first started working at Jacques Dessange Salon. I was an assistant starting out fresh from beauty school. A French colorist, Agnes, also taught me many things. She passed away from cancer many years ago. Then I just honed my skills over the years.

What are the biggest tips for stylists out there looking to perfect French balayage?

Mixing is so important. Bleach needs to be perfectly smooth and creamy. Any granular of bleach can create spots on the hair. If it’s too heavy, the hair will be weighed down, creating spotting or smears. I can’t emphasize how important mixing is. I also start with lower volume, going to a higher volume of developer as I work my way up the head of a client. This allows hair to process evenly. Those are the two biggers

Thanks for taking the time to walk us through this super-interesting method! Will you share with us some recent looks that you've loved creating?

This is la première (aka the first) post in a series dedicated to the different balayage techniques. Next up, we’ll share the two American adaptations from our owner, Janelle.

P.S. We're starting to interview our fabulous team members at Janelle Alexis Salon. Whose more apt to be first up the Dominic? (Yes, he is sick of me already!). Read all about his background, training, and more here.

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